The Only Designer Bags You'll Need to Know in 2021

Distinctly at odds with our voracious buying of tracksuits, puffer coats, pyjamas, track-soled boots and house dresses, the past year has also seen a sharp increase in the volume of über-luxurious designer and heritage handbags that style-conscious consumers are investing in. It was an unexpected result considering handbags have been of little to no use for so many people of late, but the message from high-fashion stores is that shoppers have used this time to finally take the plunge and pick up their "forever" bags.

Where contemporary handbag brands had previously been flourishing thanks to their cool trend-led designs at equally cool mid-ranging price points, 2020 led many to really think about purchasing even more sensibly in order to secure items that will stand the test of time—maybe the pieces they're going for already have. We've witnessed a return to the classics just within our own wardrobes, but the concept is most definitely backed up by retailers, like Net-a-Porter, that have reported a resurgence in longstanding favourites such as Gucci's Soho Disco bag or Loewe's Puzzle. Interest has also been at an all-time high for the very sophisticated likes of Bottega Veneta and Saint Laurent, and MatchesFashion has seen a 26% YoY increase in tote-bag searches (perhaps the most practical shape of all). Even the newer, hipper kids on the block—like Telfar and Savette—all have a decidedly more pared-back aesthetic to match the mood.


(Image credit: @pernilleteisbaek)

So what does that mean for the key designer handbags of 2021? We delved into the collections of the most important names in the luxury world to find out. Below, you'll discover the handbags that will not only rule spring/summer but will also be wise investments and heirloom pieces well into the future. From Prada's Cleo (which has already been snowballing into superstardom this week) through to what's happening over at Saint Laurent, keep scrolling to find your forever bag.


(Image credit: Courtesy of Gucci)

Oh, Jackie, how we love thee. This iconic Gucci handbag was first created in the 1950s and made popular by its namesake, Jackie Kennedy. It has been revived by the house on multiple occasions since its peak in the '70s, and it now remains an important focus for the heritage brand going into 2021. Creative Director Alessandro Michele has crafted versions in different sizes and with many different finishes varying from monogram canvas to python print to buttery-soft pastel leathers, and now it has been toted by yet more agenda-setting celebrities, including Harry Styles. Not only has a resurgence in vintage Jackies been playing out online, but it has surely sparked a general trend for the hobo shape, and we predict other labels will follow suit with this silhouette in the New Year.


(Image credit: Courtesy of Loewe)

Net-a-Porter has told us of a sharp increase in sales of Loewe's most beloved bags during the pandemic—with the Puzzle and Flamenco being top of the list. Why? Well, they are beautifully crafted with enough design detail to feel exciting, but they are both incredibly practical too. The next development for Creative Director Jonathan Anderson? The Flamenco Clutch, a soft-as-a-pillow, drawstring-fastened, extra-roomy clutch that we'd all be thrilled to cuddle up to. Whimsical pastel shades abound for spring 2021, and we expect a soon-to-be-available sage-green Flamenco Ondas style to be the first to sell out.


(Image credit: Courtesy of Celine)

Celine's girls might be rock 'n' roll through and through, but they still need a handbag to carry at least a few essentials in. Cue the Tabou—a very chic flap-fronted bag that features a little gold padlock detail to bring a tougher edge to a prim satchel style. Directly inspired by the brand's archives and reimagined for the autumn 2021 collection, this vintage-feel saddle is now available and coming through in an array of go-with-everything hues like white, navy and tan. Sign me up.


(Image credit: @alyssainthecity)

It's hard to almost pick just one Prada bag. In the past week a flurry of the brand's raffia net shoppers has taken over my social channels, and the 2000 re-editing crystal-dotted shoulder bag has all but sold out in a matter of moments. However, since the beginning of 2021 it was clear to see that the Prada Cleo would burn bright and still look good many seasons later. This shiny, brushed-leather shoulder bag has been toted by every possible influencer we could dream, becoming an Instagram phenomenon in mere hours back in January. Although, we must say we had eyes for it back in September of 2020, when it graced the S/S 21 runway as part of the first collection by both Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons as co-creative directors.

We can see that some colourways have already sold out, with black proving to be particularly hard to come by. Do not expect this style to wait for you.


(Image credit: Courtesy of Mulberry)

In November 2020, Mulberry made the very sensible decision to relaunch one of its most iconic bags, the now-10-year-old Alexa. The reaction that met this announcement was fervent to say the least. During these strange times, it's perhaps no great surprise that a classic, practical, well-made handbag that you can cram plenty into without it looking overladen is still a winner. We've seen shoppers snapping it up in the various colourways that have been introduced (there's everything from loden green to tan to mustard yellow) and different sizes, but this mini cream version really says "spring 2021" to us. 

Additionally, a collection recently just launched in conjunction with Alexa Chung herself, where the icon has applied her design magic to a couple of new styles. You can shop the range here.


(Image credit: @lindseyholland_)

Dior's Caro bag has all the hallmarks of a modern classic. From the CD clasp (recognisable yet abstract, and even reflected in the intricate chain) through to the distinctly Dior patterned quilting, it is no wonder girls have been falling for its charms left, right and centre. The Caro comes in classic, minimalistic colourways and different sizes, but you'll also find it in brighter hues, cosy shearling and cool denim.


(Image credit: @threadsstyling)

Bottega Veneta is known for its intricate woven leathers but also, in more recent seasons thanks to Creative Director Daniel Lee, has turned those signatures on their head. The mini knotted-handle Jodie (a kind of micro hobo bag) has been crazy popular for months on end now, with pieces flying out of stores as quickly as they come in. This shade of pea green has led the Jodie pack and continues to be hard to get hold of. The brand's Pouch, Tote and Casette styles all remain de rigueur, but all have the potential to be a "forever" purchase.


(Image credit: Courtesy of Chloé)

Chloé girls are known for being the types who throw on their garms, ready to spring out of the door for the next adventure. It's all about being laid-back and chic in the most traditionally French way. So it makes sense that this casual Chloé-stamped canvas tote is enjoying such adoration. The Woody Tote comes in various sizes and colours, as well as in a raffia basket-style carryall and a bucket style. It's the ultimate summer piece, which is why many of the iterations have already sold out on Net-a-Porter. But have no fear—more are coming back into stock soon.


(Image credit: Courtesy of Chanel)

Chanel has many wonderful bags on the roster for spring 2021, but there's just no denying the allure of the French fashion house's signature Flap bags. They come in many colours and finishes, and you'll find that one from next year's collections can look just as current as one bought decades ago. Now that's the kind of investment worth making.


(Image credit: Courtesy of Saint Laurent)

As you can see from this bumper gallery, heritage brands are leaning into classic shapes and simple hardware detailing. Saint Laurent's Le Maillon satchel has all the charm of a vintage crossbody style but with a little bit of extra polish—and the double link on the front clasp is just so chic. (Maillon translates to "link" in French, you know.) It has already been carried by some of the internet's coolest women.


(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Burberry's Pocket Bag is the best of both worlds—a super-versatile creation from Riccardo Tisci that can be carried by the top handle during your more officious days and then slung across your body once you fasten the longer strap onto it for casual moments. Combining archival and equestrian influences, somehow it manages to still be totally modern and street style–ready too. The Pocket also comes in canvas with leather trims, which is a trend that we're increasingly noticing ahead of summer 2021. 


(Image credit: Courtesy of Givenchy)

Liane Wiggins, head of womenswear buying at MatchesFashion, has told us that in terms of cult items for spring 2021, Givenchy's new Antigona Lock bag is definitely going to be up there. You may recognise the main body of this style, but new Creative Director Matthew Williams has developed the idea into a different form with longer, shoulder-ready handles and a chunky silver fastening. It comes in a few sizes, but we have a feeling that this mini one will become the leader of the new Antigona pack.


(Image credit: Courtesy of Valentino)

Studs are now synonymous with the Valentino aesthetic, but it's phenomenal how Creative Director Pierpaolo Piccioli can continue to reinvent them. Take this hot-pink Roman Stud bag from the resort 2021 collection, for example. Pink bags are clearly going to enjoy an extended time in the spotlight next year, but the addition of chunky gold hardware stops this cuddly crossbody style from being too twee. The hot pink isn't yet available, but we'll let you know when it is.


(Image credit: Courtesy of Alexander McQueen)

Harness silhouettes are something of a signature over at Alexander McQueen, so it makes sense that the brand would apply this recognisable design detail to its latest bag launch. The Curve is a sculptural bucket style with a very tactile criss-cross front and dipped opening—perfect for if you like a practical bag that doesn't look practical or run-of-the-mill, for that matter.


(Image credit: Courtesy of Louis Vuitton)

There is a plethora of new bag styles to get excited by from Louis Vuitton but we have a favourite in this three-pocket, chunky chain–handled style called the Chroma Key/ Coussin bag. High-shine finishes were featured across many of Nicolas Ghesquière's latest handbag designs, which look really fresh against very earthy, neutral, natural clothing fabrics. 

Next up, your autumn/winter 2021 trend guide.

This story was published at an earlier time and has since been updated.

Hannah Almassi
Editor in Chief

Hannah Almassi is the Editor in Chief of Who What Wear UK. Hannah has been part of the the Who What Wear brand since 2015, when she was headhunted to launch the UK sister site and social channels, implement a localised content strategy and build out the editorial team. She joined following a seven-year tenure at Grazia magazine, where she led front-of-book news, fashion features and shopping specials as fashion news and features editor. With experience in both print and digital across fashion and beauty, Hannah has over 16 years in the field as a journalist, editor, content strategist and brand consultant. Hannah has interviewed industry heavyweights such as designers including Marc Jacobs and Jonathan Anderson through to arbiters of taste including Katie Grand and Anna Dello Russo. A skilled moderator and lecturer specialising in the shift to digital media and e-commerce, Hannah’s opinion and work has been sought by the likes of CNBC, BBC, The Sunday Times Style, The Times, The Telegraph and, among many others. Hannah is often called upon for her take on trends, becoming known as a person with their finger of the pulse of what’s happening in the fashion space for stylish Brits. Hannah currently resides in Eastbourne with her photographer husband, incredibly busy son and highly Instagrammable cat.