Clutching at Style: The Art of the Clasp

When we look at handbags, and in particular evening purses and clutches, we see them as complete objects that either appeal to our senses or not. We are first allured by the shape and colour of a bag, the texture of the material and the ‘feel’ of it in our hands or on our shoulder (Is the leather soft and supple? Does it feel sturdy? Does it look elegant?).

But the real beauty of a handbag also lies in the small detail. So in an effort to focus on the detail, this article is dedicated to the sometimes forgotten part of the handbag: the clasp. Why, you may ask, would I be interested in knowing about this piece of hardware that really only serves a functional purpose. Well one important reason is that the clasp, also known a handbag’s ‘hardware’, can tell you if the bag is high quality or not. Sometimes the only way to distinguish an authentic designer handbag from a replica is by looking at the quality of the clasp. Also, many designers will embellish the clasp as a way to showcase intricate craftsmanship – an aspect that’s in high demand.

Here is a list of 8 facts that demonstrate the importance designers place on the clasp:

1. The clasp was introduced on ladies purses in the late 19th century, when the design of a purse was meant to look like miniature luggage — fitted with locks and keys

2. The 1920s saw another innovation with regard to clasps. As women were becoming more expressive with fashion, and as new forms of dance were becoming popular, women needed smaller and more compact purses; therefore, a new clasp was designed that could secure these sturdier handbags, replacing flimsy drawstrings

3. Clasp designs follow the ebbs and flows of history: The discovery of King Tut’s tomb in the 1920s saw major designers like Cartier make clasps with Egyptian motifs; during 1940s wartime clasps were more modest; the post-war era was dominated by wildly shaped clasps and the urge to return to feminine ornament

4. The famous Hermes Kelly handbag is identifiable by its distinctive metal-tipped clasp (and a hidden key that dangles from the handle)

5. One of the most expensive Chanel bags showcases a clasp with 334 diamonds. Only 13 were produced, each costing $261,000

6. Since we’re on the topic of expensive handbags, the most pricey handbag ever created at $1.9 million by Japanese jewellery house Ginza Tanaka, includes a detachable diamond clasp that can be worn as a broach

7. High end designers, such as Chanel, Fendi and Valentino, embellish their handbag clasps with motifs based on beasts of prey — symbolizing strength and power.

**The title of this article is taken from a heading found in Handbags: The Power of the Purse (2002) by Anna Johnson. Workman Publishing: New York, pp.326.

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