This is it! This is the fashion find that nearly stopped my heart and fulfilled a dream. It is not what it might appear however, on first glance. I didn’t just by this from Chanel. I tracked this down half way across the world. It is an original 2.55 handbag from between 1955 and the 1960′s. It was designed by Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel herself.
So if you are not familiar with the history of the 2.55, my find coinsides nicely with a long feature I had been writing on the history and design details of the bag. Together with some hints on buying genuine Chanel, not counterfeits.
The history of the Chanel handbag
In 1910 Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel opened the now famous 31 Rue Cambon boutique, under the name ‘Chanel Modes’. For the next 25 years her business continued to grow and by 1935 she employed 4000 staff! In 1939, however Coco retired during the war years, causing outcry worldwide! Coco it seemed could not be parted from fashion for long, as at the age of 71 she came out of retirement and continued to work until her death in 1971. After her death Alain Wertheimer (the grandson of her financial backer) took control, it was Alain who was responsible for ‘reducing availability’ of the Chanel perfumes, hence creating high demand. He also convinced Karl Largerfeld to leave Chloe and join Chanel in 1983.
Coco’s revolutionary designs are known the world over; she reinvented female attire for comfort and practicality. It was in February 1955 however, that a design for a practical bag was born. This bag named after its birthday was the 2.55. Today this same design still holds no rival, it is the epitome of luxury, but also, and perhaps more importantly, style.
In 1955 the bag didn’t actually look like what most of you will be imagining now. The current popular design was actually an updated version by Karl Largefeld in the 80’s. Coco’s 2.55 is the design which is now termed the ‘reissue’. Both bags have the classic shape but the clasp and straps differ. Coco’s 2.55 and the ‘reissue’ have a full chain strap and a rectangular twist lock. The chain was inspired by her orphanage guard’s similar to one from which their keys would hang. The twist lock simply practical and secure, now often termed the ‘madamoiselle’ lock, after Coco who never married. Karl’s 2.55 introduced the familiar interlocked CC logo of the house of Chanel into the twist lock design, the leather threaded through the chain strap was also a later addition. This design is also referred to as the ‘classic flap’. In 2005, the 50th anniversary of the 2.55, Largerfeld ‘reissued’ Coco’s 2.55, so today both styles can be purchased in various colours and materials.
The very first 2.55’s were made of jersey and leather with the quilting hand stitched! Apparently the back stitching was done in a ‘secret stitch’ to ensure durability. The chain and lock were gold coloured metal and the interior the famous blood red grosgrain. Coco wanted a bag that kept her hands free. The original mademoiselle lock does not have ‘Chanel’ stamped below, this was an introduction on the reissue. The clasp is separated into three segments and sometimes has a smaller central divide, which tends to be equally segmented on the reissue.
The only flaw on my bag is the gold on the chain has rubbed, this can be re-gilded by Chanel, but I kind of like it as it is. Otherwise it is pristine!
The general design of the 2.55 has remained consistent, and there are some features which you will recognise. Starting with the quilted ‘diamond’ design, which was influenced by jockey’s jackets, Coco loved horse racing. First is the front flap which comes over the bag and is slightly rounded at the corners. The chain handle is one continuous loop which threads through two holes in the top of the bag. This allows the chain to be worn at two lengths, depending on whether you pull one side out or both for a double strap. On the back is one half moon shaped pocket, in which Coco stashed her extra money. The bag also has two little dimples on either side just under the strap holes. The front and the back have raised quilting whilst the bottom and sides will be flat.
Inside the bag there is a small zippered pocket on the reverse of the flap, this tiny pocket is where Coco hid her love letters! This whole section should mirror the colour of the bag, as should the zipper pull which should be a basic tab of the same material. Now you see the ‘second’ or ‘double’ flap, a second flap which fastens with a press stud. This will open to reveal the dark red signature inner, the colour of the children’s uniforms at Coco’s orphanage! Here you will find stitched and slightly raised the large double CC logo. The main compartment has a sectioned compartment on the back wall divided into two pockets and a central ‘lipstick’ pouch. There is also a pocket on the front of the bag underneath where the clasp post is.
Here are some photos of my ‘classic flap’ 2.55 so you can see the differences. I was torn at the time between this and a black leather with gold hard wear reissue, so glad I chose this! It is black caviar leather with silver hard wear. I cannot even begin to explain what it felt like to buy this. I worked hard to pay for it. It was more than buying a bag though, as I remember going with my mum to buy her first 2.55 and it was such an achievement to have worked so hard building up a business to finally be in the position to own a brand new 2.55. It is more than a bag, it is almost like a medal.
The 2.55’s come in different sizes, colours and materials so there is a great choice these days, however most colours and special fabrics are seasonal so hard to get hold of. The regular size is generally classed as medium, with small referring to the ones about half this size. The size up from medium is large and then there is jumbo or XL. Then there is the East-West which is the same style but longer than it is deep, more of an elongated shape.
The main fabric is leather in soft calfskin or ‘caviar’ which has a textured effect. The calfskin is very delicate, whilst the caviar more hard wearing. The bags have also been produced in suede, fur, exotic skins, vinyl and a selection of fabrics such as satin, jersey and tweed.
The general colours are black and white; however red, purple, brown, beige, navy, blue, and pink occur throughout the season. These do sell out quickly though so if you have your heart set on a colour snap it up quick. The hardware is also available in gold or silver, or with the reissue in a pewter or black. The reissue’s also come in metallic coloured leathers.
Occasionally the bags have accessories added; a personal favourite is the addition of camellia flowers! But brooches and emblems can appear on the front as can charms dangling from the strap. You can also add your own embellishments using bracelets, key chains and brooches. I sometimes pin my camellia brooches onto the chains strap which I think looks so summery!
I am also lucky enough to have this large size classic flap, which again is basically the same design but with the odd difference.
The large doesn’t have the ‘love letter’ pocket, double flap or segments in the main compartment.
“I would shed tears the day no one copied me”
Coco famously declared, however I don’t think she would have the same opinion on counterfeiters! Imitation is a natural progression for all fashions, but there is a huge difference in buying a Topshop chain handle bag or Zara tweed jacket and buying direct counterfeits.
How to Spot Fake Chanel Handbags
Counterfeit bags (and other goods) are those which illegally breach the original trademark owner’s copyright, if a bag bares the Chanel name or CC logo but is not a product of the house of Chanel then it is illegal. There is also the morality issue, you might think a big company like Chanel won’t be affected if you buy a counterfeit bag – it’s not like you would ever buy a real one? Well counterfeiting is just like any other illegal organisation and your purchase can be contributing to child labour, sex trafficking and drug dealing to name a few. It matters of style carrying a fake just looks tacky, trust me you are fooling no one! If you want the Chanel style on a budge go for the high street, where you can find Chanel inspired pieces at a fraction of the cost yet are still going to be good quality. That’s another thing about counterfeits, whether they declare to be AA replicas or ‘mirror’ bags they will never, ever be high quality.
The best way to detect fake bags is to educate yourself on the key features genuine Chanel bags have. There are loads of tips pages on the web but the best and most concise is:
If you are looking to buy a Chanel bag, the lovely ladies on the Purse Forum will gladly help you out. They can take a look at ebay auctions for you and give their opinion on authenticity. I am a member but rarely find time to log on. I don’t have time to offer authentication’s but I am happy to help out followers of this blog with any tips or questions you might have. It breaks my heart to see people bidding hundreds of pounds on fake bags I see on ebay. I have actually wrote to ebay but I really don’t think they were interested, they suggested I contact Chanel about my concerns!
Anyway here are a few things a new bag should come with. All modern bags, and any from the 1980′s on wards will have an authenticity serial number. This is a modern one, it will have Chanel in black (just where my nail is) and have to CC logos in gold. There will be gold glitter embedded in the tag and an 8 digit serial number. There will also be a huge X cut into the tag (sorry it didn’t show up in the photo), this is to ensure the tag is destroyed on removal attempts. In fake bags these stickers just lift right off intact.
The serial number on the tag will match the number on a small plastic ‘authenticity card’, Ive obscured the number here as it is my own. Counterfeiters can use this information. The cards in the fake bags are so exact to the originals it is scary. But two main features give it away, the real cards do not come in a plastic cover. The real cards also only have matt gold trim, fakes have a rainbow sheen which luckily usually shows up against a camera flash. You will also get a little envelope (on the right) and sometimes a special fabric care card (left). These are counterfeited very well too I am afraid.
This is a mademoiselle lock from a reissue, just to show how the Chanel lettering can appear below the twist lock on the modern bags. Sometimes on smaller and oversize bags it is not included.
This is an authenticity tag from a vintage 1980-90s bag. Often these have not stood the test of time and you sometimes only have the white ‘horse shoe’ remaining.
If you are still aching for a real Chanel then why not go vintage? Granted an original Pre-Largerfeld isn’t going to come cheap, but an 80’s or 90’s one could be picked up for a reasonable price. The condition and colour will of course weigh into the equation, but that really depends on preference. A well loved but still in good, overall condition navy classic flap could come in at around £300. I think current retail on a new one is £1400, as the price increases each year.
If you would like to see two more fine examples of original 2.55′s check out:
Another thing to note is the way the CC’s interlock. The usual way is for the right hand C to overlap the left at the top. This is often a good way of spotting a bad counterfeit as they mix this up. However on the original bags it is the otherway around on purpose! I do wonder when it was decided to settle on one way or the other – it is frustrating how little official info there is available.
These are the images of the classic and reissue from the Chanel website, they are both classed as ‘classics’ which means they are always produced, unlike seasonal items.
There are two variations from this seasons Cruise collection, in bright blue with charm, and in tweed.
Here you can see the three main sizes, medium, large and jumbo.
And of course Coco herself with her 2.55.
A lady toting her 2.55 in the 1960′s, this kind of image gives me goose bumps as I think, that very bag could actually be my vintage one, who knows!
Victoria Beckham is a huge fan of her vintage jumbo classic.
Jessica Alba favours the classic.
Whilst lucky Lily Allen has a classic and a reissue.
Alexa Chung has this stunning large classic in a milk-shake pink.
This is a Chanel window showing the highly ornate gold reissue from the Paris-Moscow collection.
The famous tweed classic worn in the SATC movie by Jennifer Hudson, appearently she didn’t get to keep it! I would have had it written into my contract!
I love this fluorecent trimmed classic Rachel Bilson has, it also came with a pink trim.
And one of my favourite ever, the super huge reissue from this season – trust me this girl needs a medal for being able to carry that, it was really heavy!(Credit:Jak&Jil).
And finally a super, super sized croc reissue in the Chanel window.
These are my two favourite high street versions top is £28 from Topshop and botton £25 from ASOS.com (sorry the images are so tiny, don’t know why that happened). The Topshop one has the most amazing pearl and gold chain twisted strap, whislt I like how the ASOS one has a twist lock.
So there you have it, I hope this information is useful. I hope to post some more on other parts of the history of Chanel soon, but let me know if theres any thing specific you would like to know about. I am off to see how many outfits I can find to go with my brown bag, and polish it’s hard wear! Do you remeber how exciting Christmas was when you were a kid, you wouldn’t be able to sleep for days in anticipation. That is how I was waiting for this bag, I still get giggly looking at it now. I think ‘sheer joy’ is the best investment you can make.
Have a great week,
P.S The nail varnish is Chanel Jade Rose
N.B. For those of you wondering where I scored the bag it was actually a private sale with a collector. If you want any help hunting out vintage pieces let me know and I can give you some help. Best thing to do is to leave your interest with collectors, dealers and auction houses so they can give you a heads up if the get something you would be interested in. Also sites like decades vintage get a lot of rare items.
For those other Chanel lovers out there I am sure you have see Le Chanelphile blog, if not it is one of my favourite blogs. If you are lucky enough to have been in San Francisco the Chanel boutique there had an exhibition Secrets of The Chanel Handbag. The following was given out at the event with some great insight into the making of the bag. Thanks to Le Chanelphile for sharing this with us.
You can now download my FREE eBook ‘A Guide to Spotting Counterfeits: including Chanel 2.55, Louis Vuitton scarves and Vivienne Westwood Pirate & clothes’ HERE
Update: 16/6/2012: The cost of a standard Chanel 2.55 has now risen to £2,600 so vintage prices will increase to reflect this.
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