Understanding designer tote bags is a key to appreciating them (and replicating them)
On a recent trip to NYC, I became enthralled (obsessed really) with how designer tote bags are constructed. Bags of all kinds have become a reverse engineering project for me. In this post, we’ll specifically take a look at designer tote bags and tote bag features.
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This post is written with a maker in mind. BUT if you’re not a maker yet are on the hunt for designer tote bags, this will be a helpful list of bits and pieces to keep your eyes on.
NYC People watching … really bag watching
In New York City, we found ourselves looking at both legit luxury designer bags and their knock-off counterpoints. I was impressed and surprised by how quickly my daughters pointed out the differences between the two.
Beyond just looking at the bags themselves, we became eagle-eye spotters of what designers the locals were carrying on their arms. So many Louis Vuitton, Goyard, Prada, Chanel, and Gucci tote bags being held by every style of person imaginable. It was FANTASTIC people watching, all with an educational purpose (of course!).
Designer tote bag (from home???)
What was both delightful and surprising is that I really believe a lot of the features used by these exclusive craftspeople can be replicated at home. While most of us don’t have access to the full array of materials and hardware that a world leader in the design industry has, we can try. With a little creativity, practice, and inspiration there’s no reason why anyone of us can’t make a beautiful bag that features many of the same incredible elements as the luxury brands.
There are WAY too of what I”ll call the best designer tote bags to highlight in one blog post. For the sake of brevity, I’ll use the following four high end tote bags (favorites of mine) to use as examples throughout the post. Be sure, however, that the features are consistent throughout all high-end shoulder bags.
Tastes and preferences are completely subjective, of course, so what this post is written to share are the features that stand out in these gorgeously crafted investment-grade tote bags. Many of which, you can look for in your own purchases or – if you’re a maker – add to one of your projects.
designer tote bag feature 1: Leather straps
Quite simply, the straps of luxury designer tote bags are leather or are accented with leather. There is perfectly applied stitches to hold the leather firmly to the bag so they can carry a LOT of weight. Even the thin straps are STRONG because they use great leather and expertly applied seams.
Many of the bags also have multiple straps, which makes the bags much easier to carry on the go. Short handles for hand holding, shoulder straps for normal carting around, and some with cross-body adjustable straps increase the versatility of tote bags. Definitely something to consider for your own designs and purchases.
designer tote bag feature 2: trims
Details are HUGE factors in the craftsmanship of designer tote bags. Specifically, trims. Trims to create a unique aesthetic and those to improve the function.
The leather feature around the top perimeter of the bag not only works beautifully with the straps but also contributes to the longevity of these super expensive accessories. When you pay between $1,000-$4,000 on up for a tote bag, it better last a LONG TIME!
designer tote bag feature 3: hardware
Clasps, side cinches, zippers, and more are all normal finds on bags of all kinds. The difference seems to be that the designer bags all have custom printed hardware. This got me thinking … how can any ol’ maker do the same? Here are some ideas:
There’s also the option of hand engraving your name onto metal tags using a stamp letter set or engraving tool. There, just like that, you can have custom hardware just like the exclusive designers!
designer tote bag feature 4: stitching & seams
If you take the time to look carefully at the seams and stitches used to hold the designer tote bags together, you’ll be amazed. The craftspeople most likely have the very best industrial equipment at their disposal. However, the techniques they use can be applied with time and attention to detail.
One method that is very polished is covering the seams and seam allowances with bias or leather. This is tricky to do but with practice truly ups the appearance of any shoulder bag.
So yes, it does take additional time to cover the seams. Yes, it does take practice and patience to get it right. Yet if you want your projects to look completely polished, this is a key component.
As a side note, when the seams are finished off in this way, many of the bags become reversible. What a fun extra bonus!
There’s always the option of simply buying one of these gorgeous bags too!
designer tote bag feature 5: treated canvas
This was a surprise to me! CANVAS is used in a ton of designer tote bags. Yes, even the Louis Vuitton Neverfull isn’t made of leather. This isn’t to say that leather isn’t wonderful, because it does make great bags. BUTTT, how much more approachable do these bags sound when you learn they’re made with canvas!?
To be fair, this is a specially treated canvas. Not your ordinary JoAnne Fabrics kind of canvas. That said, however, it gives us options to aspire to come close.
I’m playing with some different options right now that I’ll follow up with and update this post as I go. These include waxed canvas, Otter Wax, and a home concoction of Mineral Spirits and Clear Silicone Caulk. I’ll let you know how these options workout!
designer tote bag feature 6:
high-end luxury interior fabric
The linings are all high-end, even the “simple” cotton (which isn’t simple at all).
For the Goyard and Lora Piana, the bags exterior and interior fabrics are one, making the designer tote bags feel as if there is no lining. This creates a really clean construction and super functional for a bag that will be used on a daily basis.
In the Louis Vuitton Neverfull and the Gucci Vintage Canvas Tote, the interiors are classic to the brand. The Neverfull is fused to the exterior like the prior examples. While the Gucci has a loose lining of a durable and strong, best-of-quality cotton.
What is our lesson here? Use interfacing to connect your interior and exterior fabric to create a clean look in your tote bag.
Don’t go cheap when it comes to the interior fabric. Use sturdy and well-made fabric even if it costs a bit more. This will add longevity to your piece and, of course, bring you that much closer to creating a designer tote bag.
designer tote bag feature 7: bonus bag
Louis Vuitton calls it a zippered clutch. Goyard prefers the French “pochette”. Loro Piana goes for three simple pouches. Regardless of what they call it, the included additional bags that come with these designer tote bags are AWESOME!
This is an add-on for your own tote bag projects. I know, that means more time making and more money buying supplies! I get it BUT a matching mini-me is incredibly versatile. They take a large everyday bag that you carry all over the place into new places where big doesn’t cut it. Just purge the none-essentials and take the little version out.
Some of the more functional bonus bags are real-life hacks for the on-the-go lifestyle we all seem to experience.
This is a game-changer for your custom projects. Put as much love and attention into the little version of the carryall you love and it will pay off in heaps and bounds of use.
designer tote bag feature 8: dust cover bag
When you spend multiples of $1,000 for a single tote bag (with a bonus clutch, pochette, or pouch in some cases) you want to take care of it. Pamper it even! That’s why the dust cover bag-for-a-bag that comes encasing the designer tote bags isn’t so much an indulgence but a perfectly logical and practical must-have.
If you’re making a bag that is inspired by a designer tote bag then the money and time you put into making a dust cover are also well worth the final step. Make a protective sleeve, drawstring case, or slip-cover for your handiwork.
Use a soft fabric such as an ultra-suede, microfibre, or flannel and add a label to make it even more special.
If you don’t feel like making one, they’re super cheap to buy!
designer tote bag feature 9: multiple sizes
Whether it is simply clever marketing or a smart woman behind the concept, one size does NOT fit all!
All of the bags featured in this post come in a variety of sizes to suit what you’re doing, what you carry, and if you’re carrying for one or many (mom-bag).
For the single woman who is out and about a smaller version is great!
Are you a career gal who is carrying her entire office in a bag, there’s a size for you too!
Mom with kids’ gear and your own constantly hanging off your shoulder? Covered!
If you LOVE the designer tote inspired bag you’ve made, do it again in a small and larger size. Make a matching set so you always have the right option available for you as you head out the door.
designer tote bag feature 10: a signature element
For some, the presence of their logo is enough. Gucci has its stripes. Louis Vuitton has huge fan support for their signature custom LV fabric. Goyard also uses its herringbone fabric.
What is your signature element? With some thought, there are creative ways to add your own unique spin to all of your pieces without too much trouble.
Interior Fabric – While colors can change, maybe all of your pieces use a stripe ticking throughout the interior. Santee makes one that comes in lots of color combinations, as an example.
Custom Keychain with Clasp – A keyring clasp is easy to incorporate into most tote bags. Make this a feature with a keyring included that is special to your pieces. Add a personalized leather tag, fabric accent, or any other little do-dad that makes it special to you!
Custom Construction Method – I have begun adding an external base to some of my bags. I love the distinctive look it gives to them, despite it taking additional care to finish. This is something that might become a feature that I use on all my totes.
Is there a part of how you make a bag that is unique? That might be a great signature element!
If you’re not sure what this technique might be, get some help from a book. I learned about external bag bottoms from Nicole Mallalieu’s book, The Better Bag Maker: An Illustrated Handbook of Handbag Design.
Designer Tote Bags are in Reach
For many of us, paying well over $1,000 dollars isn’t a reality (for right now). Yet as a maker, the craftsmanship, materials, and features pull at our heartstrings. Now you can make your own high-end, luxury designer tote bag using the above 10 features to elevate it from crafty to exquisite!
Want a designer tote bag with zipper? Making it yourself gives you that option!
Handmade doesn’t have to look patched together. With practice and care, we can all create our own portable pieces of art to love and use daily as we work through the highs and lows of life.
Make your life special by making it yourself!
Not so into making yourself but love the idea of having a custom tote bag made just for you? Send an email. We can help!
The best part, they’ll come back
What I love about really great quality and classic looks are that I know the style will always come back in style. So, if you buy a new designer tote bag and it loses your favor in a year or two, just tuck it away. Give it another 10 years and pull it back out. By then you can claim it’s “vintage” and be retro in a great way!
Most designer tote bags aren’t sold online, excluding resale sites. I’ve found some, however, that are sold online and are WONDERFUL! Take a look:
That’s it for today, my friend! If you enjoyed this post, take a look at a few others:
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Have a fantastic week! Namaste,