It is the spring of 1997, and a woman in New York City is asking a man for directions. Instead of replying, he pulls out a gun and steals her handbag and shoes. This scene would not stand out in the Manhattan of the 1990s if it were not for the fact that the woman is Carrie Bradshaw, the character played by Sarah Jessica Parker in the hit TV show Sex and the City. What’s more, hers are no ordinary bag or shoes. The high-heels are by the Spanish designer Manolo Blahnik, and the handbag by the Italian label Fendi. Told to hand over her bag, she replies: “It’s a Baguette!” – surprised by her assailant’s apparent ignorance. The scene is from the third season of Sex and the City, and the 10 million viewers who tuned into each episode learned there is a clear difference between a bag and a Baguette.
“I have very sentimental feeling towards the Baguette, as something changed from that moment,” says designer Silvia Venturini Fendi, the heiress of the Italian fashion house. “At a time when bags were highly functional, the creation of the Baguette was a simple, personal desire for a change from traditional bags, originated by dissatisfaction with the 90s minimalism.”
In 1997, the same year that Fendi launched the Baguette, music by the Spice Girls was dominating the charts, TV host Ellen DeGeneres had come out of the closet and the world was reeling from the death of Princess Diana. But on the catwalk, the minimalism of designers such as Helmut Lang and Calvin Klein continued to reign supreme.
When Fendi released the Baguette, named so in a wink to the image of the French carrying a baguette under their arms, the idea was to put an end to large totes, which until then had been lugged from the office to a date without distinction. With the Baguette, Fendi wanted to make the handbag the star of an outfit. And the concept was such a hit that other designers soon came out with their own versions, such as Dior’s Gaucho and the Stam bag by Marc Jacobs, named after model Jessica Stam. It became a veritable fashion frenzy. “It was a bag with personality and the first bag to have its own name,” says Silvia Venturini Fendi.
After making the bag famous, Sex and the City then took it to new heights in a scene where Samantha Jones (played by Kim Cattrall) believes someone has stolen her Baguette in the Playboy mansion, only to be proved wrong and escorted out by Hugh Hefner himself.
“Having that bag during the decade of the 2000s was like buying a direct passport into the fashion industry,” says designer Miguel Becer, the creator of the brand ManéMané.
And interest in the Baguette has far from waned. In 2019, Parker herself redesigned the iconic item for the Sex and the City reboot And Just Like That…. In 2021, around 20 Italian designers organized a tribute to the compact bag with a show in Rome. And Kim Jones, who has been creative director at Fendi since September 2020, has promised to reinterpret it in different textures and prints every season. As Venturini Fendi explains: “I consider the Baguette a manifesto of individualism because it is always the same but always different, like a blank canvas where you could rewrite history every time.”