Materials for bags are not easily purchased at retail, so designers source from suppliers and research tanneries and leather merchants. This section gives an overview of the materials used in your favorite handbag.

Visiting specialist trade fairs like Le Cuir and Modamont in Paris, and Lineapelle in Italy gives a sneak peek of what materials and fittings are available globally.

A high percentage of bags are designed in leather. The best leather used for leather goods, with the exception of exotics, are usually-full-grain, aniline-finished, calfskin.

(See dedicated section for leather: Leather Talk)


Prada bag made from PVC: the see-through trend was all the rage in the early 2000s

PVC (polyvinychloride) and PU (polyurethane) imitation leather has been growing in popularity over the last few years, being championed by the likes of Stella McCartney and Matt & Nat on ethical grounds. Imitation leathers have improved recently with advances in technology.

Most leather can now be imitated to some degree of success. Grains are embossed/imprinted onto the surface, and the materials are available in a variety of weights. These materials do not have a chemical smell. However, they are sold by the yard, so there is little or no wastage.

Gucci Babouska GG medium tote bag in coated canvas from the Fall 2008 collection

PVC and PU-coated fabrics are common in sporty accessories. When coated, these materials become enhanced by being waterproof and durable. Fabrics that are often coated are nylon, ripstop, polyester, canvas and acrylic. Synthetic fabrics tend to dye well and are available in a large range of color options.

Louis Vuitton signature monogram canvas bag: an enduring icon and material

Perhaps the most famous PVC coated material is the Louis Vuitton monogram canvas. Gucci also has lines of coated canvas called Gucci Plus and Gucci Crystal.

Performance fabrics and nylon

Tumi’s Tri-Fold carry-on garment bag made of ballistic nylon

Cordura/ballistic nylon fabrics are available in various weights, from ultra-light to heavy weight. Ballistic fabric is constructed with high-tenacity yarns that are woven 2×2 for enhanced durability and tear abrasion, originally made for the military. The fabrics are available in a variety of constructions and textures.

Cordura/ballistic fabrics are mainly used for more sporty products such as backpacks and hybrid bags using a mix of leather and ballistic. (Cordura is a brand name like Goretex). Kevlar can also be used, but this is a very specialist fabric used by the military for its protective bulletproof quality, it carries a heft price tag.