Kelly Chen’s handbags join world’s first ‘It bag’ and more in Hong Kong show

In the third season of Sex and the City, there’s a scene in which Carrie Bradshaw, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, finds herself lost south of Houston Street in New York. Before long, a robber is holding her at gunpoint and demanding her handbag, to which Bradshaw, without missing a beat, points out: “It’s a Baguette.”

The Fendi Baguette skyrocketed in popularity after the episode, becoming the world’s first “It bag”, and subsequent editions have become a mainstay in the fashion world.

Bradshaw’s purple-sequinned Baguette is now on display in Hong Kong at “Bags: Inside Out”, an exhibition presented by London’s Victoria & Albert Museum and Hong Kong property developer Swire Properties.

Running until July 16 at Pacific Place in Admiralty, the show is the final stop on the exhibition’s international tour and explores the story of bags – including their history, design, functionality and relationship with celebrity culture.

The purple-sequinned Fendi Baguette that appeared in “Sex and the City” at the “Bags: Inside Out” exhibition. Photo: Mabel Lui

Curator Lucia Savi began working on the exhibition in 2018, when few institutions had presented comprehensive exhibitions on the accessory. Upon digging through the V&A’s archive, she realised how bags represented much more than meets the eye.

“I started to see the inside of the bag not only as a practical aspect – with many pockets and zips and compartments – but also as insight in terms of our private lives,” she says, referencing bags with theatre tickets and letters hidden within them.

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Savi and her team chose to focus on “bags” and not just “handbags” to give them a significantly wider scope.


“Bags, not handbags, for me was key,” Savi says. “With bags, I could almost stretch the terminology, so I could use briefcases, luggage, military bags, wallets.”

The exhibition is divided into three themes – function and utility, status and identity, and design and making – and features over 240 bags, with the earliest dating back to the 16th century.

The exhibition at Pacific Place. Photo: Swire Properties
There is also a special section that features bags from Hong Kong singer-actress Kelly Chen Wai-lam’s personal collection.

“Bags: Inside Out” opens with a display of two mannequins: one shows how the first precursors of handbags in England were worn on the waist as tie-on pockets hidden underneath dresses. By the early 1800s, women began wearing these pockets visibly, attaching them to chatelaines – decorative belt hooks also worn on the waist.

Also in this section are a number of military bags and specialised bags, including ones used for embroidery, opera-going, transporting documents, hunting and travel.

One display shows how the first precursors of handbags in England were worn on the waist as tie-on pockets hidden underneath dresses. Photo: Mabel Lui

The act of carrying something the moment you move is embedded in the history of humanity, Savi says. But aside from practicality, bags can communicate to others who we are, or who we aspire to be.


“Right away, when you see a briefcase, you see a businessman,” she says. “He might not do any business, but you see a briefcase [and you] immediately associate it with that. So it’s really something that goes beyond mere functionality, like with everything in fashion.”

In that vein, it was important to Savi that the exhibition also investigated the role of bags in fashion, celebrity culture and exclusivity.

A limited-edition Entomology bag, which was a collaboration between Prada and artist Damian Hirst, on show at “Bags: Inside Out”. Photo: Mabel Lui
The Portobello House handbag, by British designer Lulu Guinness, is one of several bags humorously inspired by everyday objects displayed at “Bags: Inside Out”. Photo: Mabel Lui

Among the bags on show are examples of the Hermès Kelly and the Gucci Jackie, which rose in popularity in the 1950s and 1960s and were both subsequently named after style icons – Grace Kelly and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, respectively.


Spurred by celebrity endorsement, the “It bag” phenomenon emerged in the late 1990s and 2000s. Bradshaw’s Baguette is a prime example – its popularity is so poignant that it has spawned over 600 iterations.

“People didn’t expect that kind of explosion,” Savi says. “It’s a piece of history in terms of celebrity culture.”

Curator Lucia Savi (pictured) began working on “Bags: Inside Out” in 2018 for the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Photo: Swire Properties
A display from “Bags: Inside Out” that looks at “It bags” includes the Chanel 2.55, Chloé Paddington and Dior Saddle. Photo: Swire Properties

Other iconic bags are also on display, such as the Lady Dior, Louis Vuitton Speedy and Chanel 2.55, which was named after its release date in February 1955.


There is also a wall of collaboration bags that represent the intersection between fashion and art, including the Graffiti Keepall 50 by Stephen Sprouse for Louis Vuitton, and the Entomology bag by Damien Hirst for Prada, which ran in a limited edition of 20.

The exhibition extends to the floor above, where the maker’s section and table showcase different components of bags, including zips, clasps, fabrics and other hardware – all of which Savi calls the “unsung hero” of bagmaking.

At the maker’s table, viewers can take a closer look at the different components of bags, including zips, clasps, fabrics and other hardware. Photo: Swire Properties
The exhibition also includes an array of quirky, limited-edition and novelty bags. Photo: Swire Properties

The maker’s table is bookended by pieces from Chen’s collection that mark special moments in her career. An avid bag lover, the Hong Kong singer-actress has lent 13 bags to the exhibition, including a Ralph Lauren canvas and leather rucksack that was used in Jacky Cheung Hok-yau’s music video for “So Close, So Far”, which marked Chen’s screen debut.


“This bag holds some really precious memories and experiences of my career,” Chen says.

The singer-actress is also showing a bedazzled cupcake minaudière, one of which was also once seen in Sex and the City; the first Chanel bag she received from her parents; and a Louis Vuitton x Yayoi Kusama bag that she keenly searched for, after missing out on the fashion house and artist’s first 2013 collaboration.

Some of Chen’s bags that she lent to the exhibition. Photo: Swire Properties

“At times, bags can be the protagonist, acting as the highlight of the outfit,” Chen says. “At other times, its purpose is to blend and match with the clothes of the day, to allow the whole look to be eye-catching.

“That’s why bags mean a lot to me.”

“Bags: Inside Out”, Garden Court, Level LG1 and Level L1, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty, Mon-Sun 10am-10pm. Until July 16.


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