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Monogrammed handbags and the modern market

Monogrammed bags have always been a cornerstone of great designers' collections. But who are these iconic pieces aimed at today? Cari Quoyeser, the second winner of the writing contest open to IESEG students, deciphers the trend.

Cari Quoyeser

By Cari Quoyeser17 mai 2021

The monogram is becoming a strong means of expression for the younger generation (illustration Domenica Lucia)

Monogrammed handbags have been a staple in the luxury fashion industry for designers such as Chanel, Fendi, Dior or Louis Vuitton. Style cyclicity dictates that public opinion will always come back around, specifically when the item in question follows a pattern that would be deemed “classic”. What is up for debate in today’s fashion world, however, is for whom are these “iconic” bags for, and how will they continue to shape the market.

Love and loathing of the monogram

In the era of young Hollywood, the monogrammed trunk was a symbol of elegance and financial status. Coming into the 1990s and early 2000s, monogrammed handbags became more personalized, colorful, and ostentatious to reflect the trend of the era. This generation of consumers was younger and more concerned with self-expression over elegance. The brand modifications and color inversions of the traditional pattern by Marc Jacobs during this time resulted in skyrocketing popularity. It was a tidal wave effect that rippled out of the realm of luxury and into masstige and fast fashion. As history shows us however, there is an obvious downside to mass popularity in the fashion world. A CNBC article dated June of 2012 catalogues this affect in the then emerging Chinese Luxury market where the future popularity of Luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci was called into question. For the first time, possibly ever, the top luxury brands were under threat of being considered “common” because of their previous popularity (CNBC, 2012). The more attainable, more replicable something is, the less it can be considered luxury. Because, of course, the very nature of luxury is that it hinges upon the notion of exclusivity. Furthermore, the Monogrammed style was critiqued for being too easy to counterfeit, or tacky as they were largely popularized by illustrious “party-girls” of the time such as “Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Nicole Richie” (Satenstein, 2017).

The monogram is seen as a way to display status (Shutterstock)

More critiques of the monogrammed style are that they are entirely overt. While most luxury items have descriptors along the lines of “classic”, “timeless”, or “refined”, the monogrammed bag just screams money. Lacking subtly, often means lacking refinement, and for aspiring luxury purchasers, there is also a growing desire to be seen as having not only wealth, but taste. The loud modifications of the early 2000s created a big shock in the market and perhaps the falling popularity in the 2010s was only a symptom of the market rebalancing itself.

Scheduled resurgence

Given another decade to cool public opinion, the monogrammed handbag, has begun to make its resurgence. While at first these sightings may have been categorized as ironic, it’s been impossible not to notice the sheer quantity of Luxury Monogrammed bags in circulation, and it’s clearly not just a youthful fad. What are the desires of these new luxury consumers, and what are their values? For luxury labels Balmain and Montblanc who in recent years have rejuvenated and re-imagined their historic monograms respectively, there are two possible conclusions.

Olivier Rousteing reworked the Balmain house monogram in 2020. Here the 1945 bag (Balmain)

Under the leadership of Creative Director Olivier Rousteing, Balmain for the first time in 70 years changed its historic monogram to the new “B” design interspersed with the "P" for Peter. This was important, as the company was signaling a transition in values. While Balmain still marketed “timelessness”, and “modernity”, Rousteing believed the modern demographic demanded and deserved cultural inclusion, and that commitment to this principal required a statement. (Roderiguez, 2018)In the case of Montblanc however, the introduction of the new block print “M” monogram for their new product line of durable backpacks, luggage, and of course, handbags demonstrates that Montblanc had a different conclusion for the desires of the consumer: functionality (Jasman, 2021). What the two lines have in common is that they still emphasize tradition and quality, excellence and refinement, but have adapted to meet a new generation of luxury consumers.

With the launch of the Montblanc M_Gram 4810 leather goods collection, Montblanc introduces a new and original M pattern inspired by the House's heritage (Montblanc)

The monogram, a guarantee of eternity

What can be concluded is that while there have been big pitches to reinvent the Monogram, and while a primary objective of fashion is personal expression, a greater indicator of preference to these very traditional patterns is that they represent something more core to identity which is heritage. Whether they are old money, new money, or aspiring to luxury, owning one of these bags sends a message that you align yourself with the message of the label. The fact that older luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Chanel have been able to put the same print in circulation for decades shows that they have been able to continually position their products as something of an investment, something timeless. As efficiently demonstrated by a survey cast in a recent article of L’officiel, “62 percent of women” were more likely to “invest in a timeless style rather than splurge on a fleeting trend” (L'OFFICIEL, 2020). It’s a fair prediction that of course there will be more modifications to the traditional pattern from season to season, and that these changes will appeal to a certain, typically younger, demographic, but the heart and soul of these companies will continue to be reflected by their classic designs.


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