The origins of classic Chanel handbags can be traced back to February 1955, when the House’s founder, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, created her first pocket with a shoulder strap. Like most of her ideas, that bag, called 2.55 (to celebrate the month and year in which it was introduced), had a feminist foundation: the belt allowed women to keep their hands free instead of holding on to the handle. In 1983 the brand’s longtime creative director Karl Lagerfeld subtly updated the 2.55, replacing the simple Mademoiselle buckle with a C interlocking, and would go on to make other modifications. The reinterpreted bag is named 11.12, evoking the interior style code of the Lagerfeld medium-sized version, A01112. But while the shape of the purse has remained consistent over the decades, Chanel has continued to replicate its motifs, making use of the home’s small specialist workshops, called Métiers d’art.
This latest iteration of 11.12, adorned with an abstract bouquet of camellias – Coco Chanel’s favorite flower – is among the most complex and lush. Beginning of life In the 200-person factory in Verneuil-en-Halatte, 90 minutes north of Paris, the components of the lambskin handbag are cut by a subset of artisans – trained for at least six years – who specialize in ultra-decorative versions. . The pieces then travel to the Lesage Embroidery Workshop in Paris, founded in 1858 and acquired by Chanel in 1990. Here, two embroiderers spend more than a week on each bag — 120 hours or so — tying a tapestry of beads and Swarovski crystals in shades of Strawberry, fuchsia and navy, with cup-like shapes and mini roses. They use a tambourine hook technique called Lunéville, which is named after a town in Lorraine where it appeared around 1810, after it traveled the Silk Road from Asia. Virginie Viard, 59, created the design after Lagerfeld died in 2019 at the age of 85, but the embroiderers, who work on haute couture dresses as well, adapt slightly, so no two bags are exactly alike. After the embroidery is complete, the pieces return to Verneuil so the artisans there can assemble the bag into its iconic rectangular shape, creating elaborate piping and square edges to match the intricate decor. Almost all work is done by hand, and even those small machine-sewn parts are worked with an old-fashioned hand tool straight from the time of Coco Chanel. In an age when robots roam the factory floor, the delicately designed and heavily decorated handbags that emerge from this arduous process remain out of the reach of hungry manufacturing.