Can Britain’s first It bag spark the same obsession 20 years on? Mulberry launches a new range of its iconic Bayswater… hoping they can ignite a frenzied bag addiction for a new generation
The thrill of it all started with the smell. Unboxing a new Mulberry Bayswater, the iconic British ‘It’ bag for celebrities and fashion-obsessed civilians alike, was an almost spiritual ceremony.
Long before you’d had time to separate the layers of protective tissue paper — as if you were revealing not a new handbag but the Turin Shroud — there was that glorious, heady hit of butter-soft leather.
It smelled of quality, heritage . . . and, quite frankly, money. The status symbols of the early 2000s included the lowest-slung jeans, boho blouses and lace-up pirate boots, but none of them loomed as large as the Bayswater.
Instantly recognisable with its briefcase-like bulk and wide flap, there was even a specific way of carrying the Bayswater — its artfully battered handles nestled in the crook of your elbow, with the signature buckle lock visible but consciously unfastened.
This shabby nonchalance was the epitome of British cool, as modelled on the bag’s most aspirational fans, style icons like Alexa Chung, Sienna Miller and, most notably, Kate Moss, who seemed to have one in every shade, from turquoise to black to beige.
In the early 2000s the Mulberry Bayswater was the epitome of British cool. Pictured: Kate Moss with a green Mulberry Bayswater bag
Supermodel Kate Moss had a range of Mulberry Bayswater bags from tan to black to bright green
Femail compiled the six bags the Mulberry Bayswater bag has to beat
For my part, I had three, in tan, red and a green snake effect
It’s hard to believe that this fashion movement that captivated so many of us happened 20 years ago. To mark the occasion, Mulberry is launching a new range of Bays-waters, hoping that they can ignite that frenzied bag addiction for a new generation of It girls.
Yet in an age of ever bolder — and ever smaller — It bags in eye-watering shades of neon, can the solidly sensible Bayswater really hope to compete? Or is its heyday long past?
If my tan Bayswater could talk, she’d tell you tales of being felt up by complete strangers in the street. ‘Oh, my god, you have a Bayswater! I’m on a waiting list! Can I . . . touch it?’
I was then the editor of Glamour magazine, and a Bayswater was almost always my bag of choice for the front row at fashion shows. I’d perch the bag on my lap like a coddled, favourite child. To this day, I’m not sure if that was to keep it safe from stiletto scuffs or as a visible style security blanket.
I suspect the latter. In a time before Instagram, the Bayswater was the validating ‘blue tick’ of its day. For me, an editor who’d risen through the ranks via my writing talent — and not my fashion sense — it was the expeditious route to looking like I belonged.
I wasn’t the only one. At the height of the Bayswater craze, you’d spy at least 25 of them lined up along the front row at every fashion show around the world. It was still a golden age for print publishing, and we magazine editors were spoiled enough to be gifted Bayswater bags along with all of those hot celebrities.
And this, truthfully, was one of the key secrets of the bag’s success; Mulberry was one of the first brands to understand the emerging power of influencers. I used to joke that their PR was practically hanging out of the fourth floor window of their Bond Street HQ, hurling free handbags at celebrities and the fashion press.
Four versions of the new Mulberry Bayswater bag have launched including this pink rose bag costing £1,295
The new collection also includes a mini Mulberry Bayswater in pink, costing £895
The East West bag from the new collection will be sold for £1,095
This strategy worked. It got the bag noticed, talked about and photographed. Obsessively.
But to be fair, its popularity was cemented by its quality. Simply put, it was a brilliant bag for a fair price. It’s a stylish shape, with gleaming hardware details that look and feel luxe. And back then, it was reassuringly, but not terrifyingly, priced at £495.
Three figures would get you a lot of bag back then; these days you’d be hard pressed to get a tiny designer clutch for less than £1,000. The new Bayswaters in the classic style cost £1,295.
Truly though, one of the things I adored most about my Bayswater was the now unfashionable notion of practicality. It’s made for the likes of me who need to cart half of my life around during the working day. Most of today’s coveted bags — like the Bottega Veneta’s Jodie Mini or Jacquemus’ insanely tiny Le Chiquito — will barely house a phone. They’re aimed exclusively at the one per cent who’ll just leave all their junk in the car with the chauffeur.
Actress Emma Roberts wearing a bright pink Mulberry Bayswater while out in Beverly Hills in 2009
Tennis star Andy Murray’s wife, Kim Sears, spotted with a tan Mulberry Bayswater bag on her way to Wimbledon in 2012
How could we forget Shiv Roy’s husband Tom gloriously withering put-down of a woman’s ‘capacious’ bag — one the size of a Bayswater, in fact — in the latest series of Succession. ‘What’s even in there, huh? Flat shoes for the subway?’
This might be the thinking behind Mulberry’s releasing of smaller versions of the Bayswater, priced from £895, as part of their relaunch. Perhaps there’s a slight niggle that today’s younger fashionistas just can’t recalibrate their tastes to welcome back the bag size that gave every Noughties woman a bad shoulder.
I admit, I’m very taken with the new, more compact version, the East West Bayswater, especially in that fresh white. But hedging your bets with different options doesn’t strike me as the most confident relaunch of an iconic bag.
Then again, my 18-year-old daughter tells me that when she sees a Bayswater, she immediately thinks of the 2000s, which is probably good news for Mulberry considering that TikTok has ushered in Gen Z’s rabid demand for all things ‘Y2K’.
And the Bayswater wears its vintage status well. It’s a bag that only looks better — cooler — as it ages.
Looking at mine, she’s certainly seen fresher days. But she’s definitely wearing her age with more swagger than me.
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