It’s almost impossible to speak of 20th-century fashion without mentioning Coco Chanel (1883–1971).

Chanel clutch bag: black patent leather with printed cartoon design
of Coco Chanel. Also has original box. 2003

Her first shop opened in Paris in 1914, and by the 1920s she was one of the leading designers, producing everything from the little black dress to costume jewelry. The clean lines of her suits and the timeless style of her accessories earned her the devotion of women enjoying the new freedoms of the 1920s.

Clutch handbag by Chanel: cocoa-colored, pleated lambskin with lizard skin trim and retractable chain strap. 1970s

It was not until 1955 that she released her famous handbag, known as the “2.55.” Chanel believed modern women should not be encumbered by a hand-held bag, so the 2.55 was designed to be like a French soldier’s shoulder bag. It was diagonally hand-stitched to give it a quilted appearance. The house of Chanel still makes updated versions today.

A 1970s black leather shoulderbag by Chanel with signature quilting, chain straps and CC medallion

Chanel enjoyed a revival from 1983, when Karl Lagerfeld took charge. He introduced a wide variety of new designs, including the printed clutch bag shown here.