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SPRING IS IN THE BAG.

Byline: Stories by Barbara De Witt Daily News Fashion Editor

It's a good year for bag ladies.

After a decade of basic black leather or nylon go-with-everything purses, handbags are blooming with flowers, bright colors and nostalgic novelties.

Think of straw totes with gingham lining, nylon body pouches that wrap around your arm or waist, vinyl bags that look like they could carry a bowling ball, tiny drawstring styles, classic leather designs in shocking pink, and ladylike purses accented with plastic handles and fabric flowers.

If it sounds like a trip to ``Pleasantville,'' you're halfway there.

According to L.A. purse designer Julie Feldman, the goes-with-everything black leather bag is out, and colorful bags inspired by the '50s are hot. ``The old idea that everything matches - hat, dress, purse, shoes and gloves - is all the rage in Paris right now, and we'll be seeing more of it here,'' she predicts.

For those fashion-savvy retro fans, Feldman not only has ladylike satin purses trimmed with multicolor ribbon roses, Austrian crystals and big, splashy flowers, but a complete line of matching purse accessories, including money clips, nail clippers, hair brushes, pill boxes, small mirrors and magnifying glasses for boomers who refuse to get bifocals to read restaurant menus. Plus gloves and hair ornaments.

Feldman says her purse project began last year and has become a cottage industry located in the Valley. ``I wanted to create something that was happy and fun, and it seems to have caught on,'' she says, referring to her designs seen on TV shows such as ``Dharma & Greg,'' ``Sunset Beach'' and ``Caroline in the City,'' and sold in boutiques all over town.

Also helping to create a handbag heaven are Roniya Alexandra of San Francisco-based JuJu, who designs elegant organza evening bags with tassels that are available at Nordstrom stores; Sarah Shaw of Los Angeles, who uses vintage fabric and a pair of pinking shears for her trendy totes sold at Barneys and Nordstrom; and Karan Feder of Hollywood, who uses funky fake fur, clear plastic and AstroTurf-style artificial grass for her outrageous purses sold at Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.

The new kids in the purse department are giving last year's hot designer Kate Spade some major competition, and getting notice from traditional purse makers like Chanel, Fendi, Ferragamo, Hermes, Vuitton and Coach. To stay fresh, Chanel has introduced its new aeronautically designed 2005 handbag; Fendi has a new croissant-style purse covered in pastel sequins; Ferragamo has created its own version of the Kelly bag; and Hermes has reintroduced its canvas and leather-trim bag from the '50s.

Vuitton is still logo-conscious, but it has a clever little leather box with a handle that looks swell sitting on the table of a chichi restaurant, and the all-American Coach company has taken its comfy-but-clunky bags and made them smaller, smoother and more colorful. In short, more hip.

Even Miuccia Prada, who introduced the world to parachute nylon backpacks in the '70s, has waxed nostalgic with little silver leather evening bags. But she also has a line of brightly colored nylon body pouches to wear to the gym - or on the dance floor.

Donna Karan, once known as the queen of power suits, has gotten a big dose of '50s spring fever. Her latest collection includes small straw tote bags accented with flowers, much like the one Barbie carries in her postcard book, ``Nostalgic Barbie'' (Running Press; $8.95).

But DKNY fans need not worry. Karan, like Barbie, knows about our need to change accessories. And flowers soon wilt.

Purse trivia

Fashion mavens would have you believe that purses are packed with panache.

But that's just hype.

Oh, sure, a few of us actually have golden compacts and linen hankies tucked inside, but most purses are packed with less-glamorous stuff.

During World War II, women were known to carry gas masks and first aid kits in their shoulder bags, and some 50 years later our tote bags are still over-packed with life-savers such as mini-flashlights, cell phones, pepper spray and tubes of glue for broken acrylic fingernails.

And when push comes to shove, a few women - including ``Laugh-In's'' Ruth Buzzy - have been known to use their pricey purses as assault weapons.

Handbag History

Pre-purse era - In the B.C. years when Greeks and Romans ruled, men carried their money in little drawstring bags around their waist and women used pockets and their full, puffy sleeves to hide their necessities. Of course, women in those days didn't have cash, cosmetics, compacts and cell phones to worry about, so there wasn't much need for a purse.

13th century

Still no purses, but small leather pouches called aulmonieres were invented to carry alms for the poor.

17th century

The term pocketbook is used, but it held addresses, not wallets.

18th century

Women carried traveling bags, as well as a small elongated bag called a reticule. It was usually ornate with beads and lace and hung around the waist and hips with fancy cord.

19th century

The term pocketbook is passe, and women are talking about their purses and handbags still based on the reticule design. The hot handbag designers of the era are Whiting & Davis, known for those fringed mesh evening bags many celebs carry to the Oscars, and Georges Vuitton who created canvas bags with the LV monogram for his father, Louis.

20th century

Handbags become important accessories designed in myriad shapes and sizes to complement a woman's figure and ensemble and carry all of her feminine accouterments. It's also the birth of the first metal-frame bag by the Vuitton family.

1920s

Small clutch bags are all the rage, designed to hold compacts, lip rouge, cigarette lighters, gloves and embroidered hankies as well as money and keys.

1940s

During the war years, women carried military-inspired shoulder bags that left their hands free, as well as handmade corde or gimp bags, made of rows of braided fabric sewn together.

1950s

The war is over and women are excited about fancy clothes again, so they need purses to go with each outfit, and they copy what their favorite movie stars are wearing, whether it's a clear plastic box with handles, a straw tote, or Coco Chanel's famous quilted shoulder bag that remains a fashion favorite.

In 1955, when actress Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco, her favorite leather handbag by Hermes is officially named the ``Kelly bag,'' while Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren are linked with Ferragamo bags.

By the end of the decade, Gucci introduced the now-classic bag with bamboo handles and Vuitton has created the draw-string bucket-bag, originally designed to carry a bottle of champagne.

1960s

We're in handbag heaven with numerous styles from tasteful to tacky. In the early part of the decade there are purses for lunch, dinner and dancing, requiring women to constantly change purses. Once the domain of leather goods makers, purses now are inspired by designers such as Pucci, who was known for wild color combos in geometric patterns, as well as changing lifestyles. As air travel becomes commonplace, purses shaped like travel and camera bags become popular. Then the gypsy and hippie trends had women looking for handcrafted designs, particularly fringed leather tote bags worn slung over the shoulder.

1970s

Fashion takes a dive, and ladylike purses are passe. Straw purses that look like miniature picnic baskets, satchels, hobo bags and old-fashioned physician's bags become popular purse choices. Disco becomes hot, and women start carrying tiny bags to hold an ID card, cash, keys and lipstick. The bags have extra-long straps to wear across the chest while dancing.

1980s

It's the Reagan era and everybody's dressing up again. Status handbags by Chanel, Hermes, Ferragamo and Vuitton look great with power suits, but Chanel's small quilted shoulder bag with a gold chain is the ultimate must-have, and numerous designers copy it. Newcomer Miuccia Prada starts making her now-famous nylon totes, but they don't catch on until the '90s.

1990s

In the early part of the decade, grunge fashion inspires utilitarian bags such as totes and backpacks, although most women prefer basic leather shoulder bags without a designer label. By 1995, Coach becomes an American favorite, noted for its practicality and soft brown leather.

By 1998, hard-frame ladylike bags with handles are back, and the must-have is Princess Diana's fave, the Lady Dior by Christian Dior, which is noted for its gold charms dangling from the handles. For younger women, the popular purse is a dainty tote in gingham or straw by newcomer Kate Spade.

Black-tie galas are in, too, so women start investing in antique beaded bags or Judith Leiber's incredibly pricey ($5,000 and up) pave crystal evening bags like those worn by stars to the Oscars.

Sources: Womenswear Daily, Equity magazine and the Encyclopedia of Fashion.

CAPTION(S):

11 Photos, Box

Photo: (1--Cover--Color) On the cover: Julie Feldman purse available at Our Favorite Things in Tarzana, Portrait of a Bookstore in Toluca Lake, the Gazebo in San Gabriel, Nettle Creek Shop in Pasadena, Fleur de Lis in Beverly Hills and Fred Segal in Santa Monica. For custom orders, call (310) 998-9148.

(2--Color) Spring's newest handbags are handy - and colorful. Fresh styles include a red leather tote with wrought-iron handles by Frederic Fekkai in Beverly Hills; vinyl tote with feathers by Holland & Holland in Beverly Hills, right; a Lucite-handled bag in fuchsia microfiber by Guess? from Robinsons-May; and flower-trimmed satin evening bags by Julie Feldman.

(3--4--Color) Utility-chic styles, above, to stash your stuff include a gold-sequined tote by Tianni; a gingham microfiber tote by Esprit, a blue nylon shoulder bag by Polo Sport, and an orange canvas hobo style by Liz Claiborne, all from Robinsons-May stores. New evening bag ideas, left, include a green satin clutch by Valerie Stevens from Robinsons-May; an organza drawstring bag by JuJu available at Nordstrom at Topanga Plaza and Glendale Galleria; and a retro-inspired beaded drawstring bag by A at Lane Bryant stores. Flowers courtesy of GillyFlowers in Los Angeles.

David Crane/Daily News

(5--6) (6 color only) Grace Kelly, above, had a favorite Hermes handbag, top left, that was renamed the Kelly bag in her honor.

Purse photo courtesy of Sotheby's.

(7--8) Audrey Hepburn knew the power of purse panache, whether it was a ladylike handbag, left, or a straw tote, right, by Ferragamo.

(9--Color) Pucci purses, above, were the trendy tote of the '60s.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

(10--Color) Rachel Blanchard, right, plays a fashion maven-in-training in the TV series ``Clueless.'' Her matching pants and purse are hot again for spring.

(11) Ruth Buzzi often used her handbag in self-defense against Arte Johnson's character in the TV series ``Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In.''

Box: Handbag History (See text)
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Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 4, 1999
Words:1779
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