A Speedy History Of Louis Vuitton’s Most Chameleonic It-Bag

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After it was founded in 1854, Louis Vuitton swiftly cemented its place as the last word in luggage. However, it’s with handbags that the Parisian maison has really captivated generations of consumers. Thanks to timeless designs like the Neverfull, the Noé, the Keepall, the Alma, the Sac Plat and the Petite Malle, LV is a constant in the world of It-bags.

Among the brand’s many instantly recognisable styles, the Speedy is perhaps the most coveted. The classic top-handle is also back in the limelight after Louis Vuitton appointed Pharrell as its creative director of menswear, who duly gave the familiar piece an ultra-luxe makeover. Pharrell has been spotted carrying a yellow crocodile Speedy – complete with real gold chunky chain and diamond-encrusted padlock – from his debut collection worth a reported $1million (it was immediately dubbed “the Millionaire” by the internet).

But of course, the Speedy pre-dates the era of celebrity creative directors taking the helm at heritage brands.

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In 1854, Louis Vuitton opened his first shop in Paris. After his passing in 1892, his son Georges took the helm, introducing the iconic LV monogram. The brand caught the attention of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, and fashion lore has it that she commissioned a custom version of the brand’s Steamer bag in 1925, one designed for everyday use rather than travelling. It ultimately became the Squire, the creation of Georges’ son, Gaston-Louis Vuitton, which went into mass production with Chanel’s blessing in 1934 and was later renamed the Alma. It quickly became one of Louis Vuitton’s most popular pieces. The success of the Alma informed the brand’s decision to diversify its product range by introducing smaller luxury goods, ultimately leading to the creation of the Speedy bag.

Inspired by the travel revolution and increasingly fast-paced lifestyle of the early part of the 20th century, the Speedy made its debut in 1930 under the name the Express. Perfectly suited to the needs of city-dwellers, initially the Speedy was available in a 30cm size, a more practical alternative to other, more capacious Vuitton designs of that time. As demand grew, the brand expanded the range, introducing 35cm and 40cm versions. During the 1960s, Audrey Hepburn made a special request for a smaller version of the bag, resulting in the exclusive creation of the Speedy 25. Hepburn’s petite 25cm style became a hit, and retains its trophy bag status to this day. Now, the Speedy comes in an assortment of iterations, and is permanently in demand on the resale market as vintage fashion becomes ever more popular.

Marc Jacobs’s tenure at Louis Vuitton brought about a series of new looks for the Speedy. Think of the cherry- or cherry blossom-printed bags from his collaboration with the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, or the instantly recognisable Multicolore collection that became the uniform of Noughties It-girls like Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie and Lindsay Lohan. And who could forget the Yayoi Kusama versions, daubed with the artist’s signature polka dots? (Current creative director Nicolas Ghesquière tapped the now 94-year-old Kusama once again recently to add her signature flourish to Vuitton designs.)

Just as screen icon Audrey Hepburn was repping the style in the Swinging Sixties, some of 2023’s most influential dressers – think Rihanna, Bella Hadid and Dua Lipa – all have a Speedy bag in their wardrobe.

“It’s a totem in the legacy of Louis Vuitton – the Speedy is a standout,” says Misty Guerriero, founder of the designer resale site Vintage by Misty. “To me, it’s the most iconic bag the LV brand has to offer – when I hunt for [them], I look for collaborations – meaning novelty styles – because those are the bags that you want to collect, because they hold the most price and style value all at once.”

Pharrell spotted with his million dollar Speedy. Jacopo Raule/Getty Images
Pharrell’s debut came with an array of Speedy bags in sprightly colours. Victor VIRGILE/Getty Images

Pharrell’s debut Vuitton collection saw the house icon reimagined in lively colours and new sizes – including a miniature version that can be attached to another bag. He has also found a new poster girl for the style as part of the Speedy’s reimagined identity, in the form of pop superstar Rihanna, who is the face of his first Louis Vuitton campaign. The images find Rihanna toting multiple Speedy bags, all in a lively shade of yellow. Some 93 years after its creation, this classic Louis Vuitton bag has never felt more relevant.

Rihanna is the face of the new-era Speedy bags. Instagram / @LouisVuitton

This article was originally published on British Vogue.

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