If you don’t know the name Luella Bartley, then you most certainly missed out on one of the great 'it-bag moments' of the last fifteen years. The year was 2002, and there I was standing with my then boyfriend (now husband) in the Robbi Ingham store in Oxford Street, Sydney (so sad it’s no longer there), when I saw a vision walk past… my first sighting of Luella Bartley’s Gisele bag. I quickly asked the shop assistant to tell me what I’d just seen, she ran outside to check and instantly recognised it as the new must have bag that was very hard to find (only available at a few limited stores at that time).
Some weeks later my very generous boyfriend presented me with a gift. And there it was. A cream Gisele bag. One of the best presents I’ve ever received, and such a surprise. Lucky he’s a very determined guy – it took many phone calls and much detective work to hunt down this stunning creation.
My well-loved cream 'Gisele'.
So now for a bit of education, something that’s definitely in order for a bag that was such a phenomenon. Many of you would know this bag as the Mulberry Luella Gisele. When Bartley designed the bag she didn’t have the funds to actually produce it, so cleverly, she approached Mulberry and together they made magic – Gisele was born. Well actually, at this point the bag was called the Mulberry Luella - it was renamed Gisele when Gisele Bündchen walked for Mulberry carry the bag and it became a huge hit. Suddenly the bag was spotted on many a celebrity arm – Kate Moss, Reese Witherspoon, Christina Aguilera…
What a coup for Mulberry. Until then the brand, though well established, was seen a very staid and was definitely not hugely in vogue. Their incredible scotchgrain leather wore like a dream, but you were highly unlikely to catch a celebrity wearing it. It appealed more to the type of person who liked to wear Wellies, a headscarf and Barbour. This was well before the Mulberry Bayswater or Roxanne, so the Gisele, which sort of resembles a more ‘rock-and-roll’ version of a Hermés Birkin, unshackled the brand and breathed new life into it.
Bartely now had enough money to start her own brand, Luella, and began making her own version of the bag. She was somewhat restricted in terms of design due to agreements that were in place with Mulberry, so the bag she created was slightly different (but not different enough to avoid confusion).
The main difference between it and the Mulberry version (the one I own), is that the Mulberry is made of harness leather (yes, the leather used for making horse harnesses). The leather is smooth, whereas the Luella version is made of grained leather. The Mulberry also has a shorter shoulder handle, and there are no logos on the studs. The other detail I love are the hearts with Luella stamped into them.
Left: Bartley's version of the bag. Photo: Starbags. Right: Mulberry's version. Photo: Popsugar.
I think the reason this bag was such a hit was not only its looks, but also its substance. It could hold just about anything… beauty supplies, water bottle, phone, pens; and all the other bits and pieces us girls like to take with us (but just remember, to avoid damage to your bags, take all these items out of your bag when you’re not using it! For more on this, see my previous article: What Would You Find in Most Women’s Handbags?).
'Gisele' on my handbag hanger (emptied out of course!)
Fast forward to 2011, my third child is born. We called her Luella. When she turns 16, my Gisele will be hers. Vintage ‘it-bag’.
Do you have a bag of special significance to you?