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The Chanel 11.12 Bag: A Modern Classic

Few things are as timeless as Chanel’s Classic Flap bag, since last year officially called the 11.12 bag, which has remained practically unchanged for nearly four decades. In fact the style — distinguished by its instantly recognizable rectangular shape, quilting, double C clasp, and metal chain interlaced with leather — dates back even further. In February 1955, the French maison’s founder Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel created the instantly iconic 2.55 bag (named for the month and year of its introduction) to suit her own needs as a modern woman.

An avid equestrian, Chanel wanted a bag that would move with her. So at a time when most women carried clutches, she designed the 2.55 with a shoulder strap in order to go hands free. The bag was as functional as it was elegant, constructed from quilted lambskin in a diamond motif reminiscent of saddle blankets and jackets worn by stablehands. Everything about the 2.55 served a purpose, from the lining in a contrasting raspberry red hue to make it easy to find what she was looking for, to its seven pockets each specially designed to hold daily essentials from lipstick to documents and business cards. There was even a special “secret” pocket behind the interior flap, which legend has it is where she kept love letters from her beau Arthur Edward ‘Boy’ Capel.

When Karl Lagerfeld arrived at Chanel in 1983, the legendary artistic director made a few key stylistic tweaks to the 2.55 bag: he added the now iconic double C clasp in place of a simple rectangular turnlock, swapped out the flat metal link strap for the current leather chain model, and standardized mini, small, medium, and large sizes. And thus a modern classic, the 11.12, was born. The name is a reference to internal style code for the Medium Classic Flap, A01112.

Part of the genius of Lagerfeld was to recognize that to add newness to Chanel’s accessories offering, he didn’t need to do what other brands do and reinvent the wheel. Why constantly design new It bags whose shapes are destined to look outdated in a matter of months or years? Instead, for 36 years until his passing in 2019, Lagerfeld kept the 11.12’s shape and hardware remarkably consistently, while providing seasonal refreshes via new fabrications and embellishments. Each collection’s 11.12 bags became instant collector’s items.

Virginie Viard, Lagerfeld’s longtime right hand who succeeded him as artistic director, honors his legacy by putting 11.12 bags in each of her runway collections. So today, whether you choose a patent navy style from 2008 or a multi logo one from 1996, you’re buying a bag that looks as modern and timeless as the current season 11.12s in Chanel boutiques. All Chanel bags have an eight digit serial number that indicates the year of their provenance. A netted denim bag from Chanel’s epic resort 2011 show in Saint Tropez would have a serial number starting in 15, for example, while a black tweed Lagerfeld’s final collection for fall 2019 would have a serial number starting in 27, 28, or 29. Each is a piece of Chanel history.