You are what you carry
The bag is not just a functional accessory, it is also a reflection of the zeitgeist. For centuries bags have transported and protected our most precious possessions, necessities and little secrets: love notes, fans, make-up, money, cigarettes, calling cards, business cards, mobile phones, face masks and even gas masks. Bags and their contents tell a wealth of stories about everyday life, past and present, such as the rise in popularity of make-up and cigarettes after World War I, thanks to their association with film stars, or the many voyages undertaken by American socialite Emilie Grigsby aboard the world’s greatest ocean liners, testified to by the labels on her Louis Vuitton cabin trunk.
Bags can also be a billboard for slogans, political messages and personal beliefs. In this exhibition you will see, for example, the I’m NOT A Plastic Bag bag by designer Anya Hindmarch, and a My Body My Business handbag by artist and activist Michele Pred.
Bags can come in all shapes and sizes. In this exhibition you can see some of the most exuberant, such as a nineteenth-century bag fashioned to resemble a pineapple, or a Chanel bag in the shape of a milk carton. There are also art-inspired bags and wearable art by artists and fashion designers such as Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, Martin Margiela and Raf Simons.
Handbags do not have to be made of leather. More and more designers are now experimenting with innovative sustainable materials. Prime examples of this are Stella McCartney's backpack made from upcycled plastic debris recovered from the sea, and an Elvis and Kresse bag made from decommissioned fire hoses.
Celebrities and their ‘It’ bags
One of the themes that BAGS: INSIDE OUT explores is celebrity association and celebrity endorsement. Just think of the Hermès Kelly bag – named after actress Grace Kelly – or the Lady Dior bag – eternally linked to Lady Diana Spencer (Princess Diana).
Since the 1990s, supermodels, actresses, social media stars and influencers have significantly increased the sales of luxury handbags. In this exhibition you can see the Fendi Baguette bag, carried by Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) in the TV series Sex and the City, next to the gold Louis Vuitton Monogram Miroir bag, designed by Marc Jacobs, an accessory much loved by Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian. You can also see the Delvaux clutch created here in Belgium in collaboration with Limburg supermodel Hannelore Knuts.
The BAGS: INSIDE OUT exhibition – curated by Lucia Savi and conceived in the V&A – features 270 unique bags. In Hasselt these are supplemented by Belgian designs and a look at Belgian manufacturers under the theme ‘Belgitude’. The common denominator in this section is fine craftsmanship and sustainability. Lies Mertens and Griet Aesaert, for example, work with leftover leather or explore plant-based leather alternatives.
For Belgian designers, humour and experimentation are essential ingredients. Stephanie D'heygere from Kortrijk, for example, believes that everything can be turned into an accessory. Besides bags, she also creates jewellery, hair accessories and belts, but always with an unexpected twist. A bag can be very quickly labelled as ‘male’ or ‘female’. But how can you design a bag in such a way that those labels become irrelevant? In their creations, young designers, such as Peterselie and Kuyckxmeers, challenge such artificial gender boundaries.
Especially for this exhibition, Belgian designer Niels Peeraer and creative agency Milk and Cookies came up with a campaign that highlighted craftsmanship. In the last room of the exhibition you can explore the complex production process in detail: from sketch to prototype, from stitching to sales. Interviews and a peek behind the scenes in their studios will give you an appreciation of the ingenuity of leading designers. Be sure to feel the different materials. To complement all this, a series of workshops gives visitors the opportunity to have a go themselves.
Bags full of stories
During your visit, you will be accompanied by an audio guide. Via this guide you will not only learn more about the bags, you will also be able to hear personal testimonials that reveal the wealth of stories that surround them. Veerle, Matteo, Tessa, Philip, Bjorn, Lieve, Eranda, Peter, Jasmijn and Hannah tell you what handbags mean to them and why they love them. From the soldier carrying 40 kilos in his practical backpack, to the shoulder bag that is a memento of a deceased father, to the care and attention lavished on a much loved Delvaux… These stories open up the handbag and reveal its secrets.
After the success of letting multiple voices speak out during our Activewear and DressUndress exhibitions, we are again opting for the same sort of polyphony. Fashion Museum Hasselt not only wants to inform but also to connect and to move its visitors. By sharing diverse and inspirational stories, we can fan people’s interest in fashion from the past to the present.