What is it about a designer handbag that inspires reverence? Why does a piece of stitched-together leather send our pleasure receptors into overdrive? There’s no denying that a well-made handbag is a thing of beauty: supple calfskin, immaculate topstitching, polished accents… But it’s also about the care that goes into its creation. It hasn’t come off a conveyor belt, having been produced at rock bottom prices. The goal isn’t profit, it’s pride. Legacy. The right to be described as iconic. And if there’s one bag that has earned that right, it’s the Lady Dior.
The Lady Dior bag presents a square silhouette, rounded handle, and the maison’s signature ‘cannage’ quilting, said to be inspired by the chairs used at Christian Dior’s first show in 1947. It comes in lollipop shades, accented by gold hardware and embellished with a charm – a nod to the talismans that Dior, a superstitious man, kept on him at all times. Each bag takes eight hours and seven craftsmen to make, consisting of 144 parts, from hand-stretched lambskin to tiny metal feet and eyelets.
The mythology around the Lady Dior also comes from its illustrious history. Designed in 1995 by Dior’s successor, Gianfranco Ferré, it was initially named ‘Chouchou’, which is French for ‘favourite’. Then, the following year, France’s then-First Lady, Bernadette Chirac, bought the bag as a gift for Princess Diana. She loved it so much that she ordered it in every colour, and so, the ‘Lady Dior’ was named after its most famous fan.
Since achieving cult status in the 90s, the bag has gone through numerous iterations, from John Galliano’s leopard-print version in 1999 to the Lady D-Lite – a 2020 embroidered design by Maria Grazia Chiuri. The D-Lite is emblazoned with the ‘Christian Dior’ signature and available in ‘Toile de Jouy’ and ‘Mizza’ motifs, as well as timeless shades of black, grey and nude.
But it’s not just creative directors that get to put their stamp on the Lady Dior. Since 2016, Dior has been hosting Dior Lady Art, a project that recruits artists to imbue the bag with their own designs. Beautiful things happen when artistic talent and haute couture collide – and the results are available as limited editions in select boutiques.
For the sixth edition of Dior Lady Art, the bag has been gilded with hieroglyphics, marbled via impasto, and adorned by a bee-motif appliqué. One of the artists, Genieve Figgis, hijacks 18th-century aesthetics for her hand-painted creations.
Growing up, Figgis would use her sewing machine to make handbags from denim jeans, which she would pair with her father’s blazers and a pair of Dr. Martens. When she became an artist, she renovated an old Georgian house in County Wicklow, Ireland, where she paints in the company of her two dogs. “It’s very relaxing – I’m surrounded by my books, I’ve decorated and installed interiors myself and the garden is filled with birds,” she says.
Among books and birds, Figgis echoes the works of James Ensor, François Boucher and Jean-Honoré Fragonard, but as though they were “melting” or “dissolving”. The result is unsettlingly beautiful.
For the Dior Lady Art project, Figgis has transposed tiger and cat motifs, deformed by pearl embroidery, onto grape leather. Elsewhere, a distorted tableau of figures and fauna form a carnivalesque scene: “I wanted the bag to represent a happy collaboration with nature – humans and animals living in peace and harmony.”
The Lady Dior has achieved idol status already. But the French maison isn’t in the business of sitting on its laurels, instead constantly seeking to innovate, excel and surprise – much like the bag’s namesake.