From a singing Birdcage to Rapunzel’s Castle, discover the stories behind the wearable works of art that made Lulu’s name. And see which have been re-issued, 20 years on.
In 1993, four years after founding her eponymous handbag business, Lulu Guinness had a creative brainwave. “Roses were my favorite thing,” she says. “And I remember thinking one day, it’d be so great if you could carry a vase of roses around with you all the time.”
And so The Rose Basket was born - a bag like no other and a witty, whimsical creation that we now know as ‘quintessentially Lulu’. Vanity Fair described it as: “Deeply desirable, poetically rich. It was a covetable object, a symbol that could float through a party like something in a séance, sit on a table as if painted there by Magritte.”
The reference to Belgian artist Magritte is relevant because it’s the art world that has always been a huge inspiration to Lulu, particularly surrealism - from Elsa Schiaparelli to Jeff Koons. The Rose Basket was a sell-out success and the beginning of what is a now a rich archive of famous and collectible pieces, with wit and enchantment built into their DNA.
Lulu’s next imaginative leap came in 1998 with ‘The Original House’ bag (as it’s now known) – her first in a long line of hand-made collectibles produced in limited editions of 100 to 500. “I was thinking of shapes you could put things inside,” recalls Lulu, “and the house was square and simple as a shape. It was almost childlike in its design”. It had a scalloped red suede roof and hand embroidered flowers climbing the walls. This edition sold out several years ago and can now only be bought at an auction or from one of the 200 original collectors, unfortunately even Lulu doesn’t own one of these early handbags.
The House, along with The Circus Tent, Rapunzel’s Castle and The Birdcage are Collectible designs that have been re-issued for Spring 2022, for a new generation of Lulu aficionados to enjoy and collect. “I love the unexpected”, explains Lulu. Which is why if you look closely at The Castle, you’ll see Rapunzel’s long blond braid hanging from a high tower window. The pale-blue Birdcage - a favorite of Lulu’s - you press a button underneath and it sings. “I loved the idea of creating a bag that made you do a double take - and the narrative behind a piece is very important to me.”
Lulu’s Collectible bags have been described as 'tomorrow's treasures', with many museums, including London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, housing them as part of their permanent collections. They have also been the subject of two exhibitions in Sotheby’s London and New York. At the time of the New York exhibition in 2011, Sotheby’s Amy Todd Middleton spoke about Lulu’s designs to Vanity Fair: “It’s a combination of completely original design with an element of handcrafting you don’t find in a lot of bags. They’re so dainty and elegant and sophisticated, but charming and whimsical all at the same time. You just get caught in the Lulu spell.”