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Seven Essential Bag Lines to Know In This Minimal Bag Moment

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Handbags seem to fall on either side of two extremes. On one end, there are luxury bags by big name designers, loaded with recognizable details (Chanel's quilting, Proenza Schouler's hardware), crafted in Europe of premium materials, four digit price tag included. On the other, there are cheap-o fast fashion buys that are terrifically of the moment, but poorly constructed, with zippers that stick and seams that split before the season is up.

The elusive middle ground between garbage and opulence has long been a cloudy place of contemporary brands tacking on handbag lines and weird designers you only seem to see on flash sale sites.

That's changed quickly in the last few years as a new crop of exciting bag designers have emerged in the space. (Case in very successful point: Starts with "Mansur," ends with "wait list.") Here are seven brands founded between 2011 and 2014 that are making killer bags with great materials, intelligent design, and high production standards, all for $200 to $600.


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Photo: Spartan

All Hands

If you Google "all hands," you'll be prompted with an autofill directing you to Tinashe's "All Hands On Deck" music video. It's kind of a fitting slip if you're on the hunt for the accessories brand All Hands, which was born on a boat. Jen Stilwell was crossing the world by sea with an artisan development fund when she began the line, setting up a portable leather workshop on the bow of the ship. The nautical theme is woven through her work in quiet ways: rope handles, knot details, a style inspired by a "ditty" bag, the small canvas sack that hangs near a sailor's bunk.

Back on land, All Hands is entirely manufactured by hand in the US, with the goal of growing production overseas to artisan groups and women's collectives. Prices start around $160 for canvas styles and reach up to $650 for a large, all-leather tote, with lots of everyday styles in the $200—$300 ballpark.

Sailor bag, $220 | Onyx small crossbody, $370


Building Block

This Los Angeles design studio was founded in 2011 with the intent "to clear away conventional standards of luxury by magnifying what is essential and editing out excess."

As far as bags are concerned, this "less is more" attitude translates to smooth and finely-pebbled leathers in neutral hues, sleek silhouettes, and with minimal decoration. Details like lucite handles and mismatched draw strings (below, right) add enough intrigue to set the pieces apart without feeling like frivolous add-ons. The balance of restraint and cheerful design winks have landed them in stores like Opening Ceremony, The Dreslyn, and Net-a-Porter. The Disc style (below, left), a petite bucket shape with a sturdy leather base, has emerged as a buyer favorite in the line, where most pieces come in between $300 and $600.

Disc, $350 | Bucket, $485


Chiyome

Similarly obsessed with weeding out surplus, Chiyome's spring collection was designed without any hardware, replacing all points of access with tab closures ("quietness" is one of the company's core values, demonstrated here quite literally).

The bags are minimal with sharp lines and smart proportions, made by hand in New York City. Unlined leather is the material of choice, carefully sourced by the designer from minority-owned local businesses in NYC. Find the sleek styles at forward-thinking boutiques like Totokaelo in Seattle and online at shops including Ssense.

Suspend Pouch, $325 | Arid clutch, $410


IMAGO-A

Designer Yegang Yoo's resume includes gigs at Hussein Chalayan, Rachel Comey, and Vena Cava, a particular aesthetic mix that all kind of makes sense in her geometry-focused bag line IMAGO-A. Striking silhouettes in a clean palette of black, white, and metallic silver are enhanced by shots of tonal texture. The final effect plays with shadow and light in a way your canvas tote bag never could. Everyday crossbody styles ring in between $400 and $500, and cute hexagon wallets go for $115.

No. 27 Prisim Mini Chequered, $425 | No. 24 Cross Reverse bag, $395


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Phillipp Bree ran his family's handbag company BREE for over a decade before launching his own collection in 2013. He executes his vision with luxurious versions of simple materials like leather, linen, and brass, and equally streamlined silhouettes—even a drawstring backpack feels austere.

Both women's and men's bags are available from the brand, which can be found online at Ssense, The Line, and Need Supply Co., among others. Everything is produced in Europe, with prices that hover around $500 but can occasionally reach four digits.

AB 22, $670 | AB 1, $560


Viva Creatures

Much like leather, not all pleather is of equal grade, from appearance to environmental impact. Vegan brand Viva Creatures is careful about its material sourcing, with its first collection being made entirely of US-produced nylon microfiber. Construction of the bags are done stateside as well, further raising the bar on other faux brands.

Styles from the Colorado-based company are architectural and uncomplicated, including everyday options like totes and shoulder bags as well as a number of different clutch shapes, with most priced around $300.

Valkyrie, $320 | Juno, $305


Welcome Companions

This made-in-LA brand, designed by a trained architect, puts out some of the most smile-inducing shapes around, like a crossbody in the shape of toast, a tote whose front zipper is surrounded by a set of lips, and a wallet that looks like an office building on one side and a dollar bill on the other.

The good sense of humor, and expert color pairings has attracted smart celeb fans like Miranda July, who collabed with the brand, as well as Lena Dunham, and Tennessee Thomas. Cool shops have taken note as well—you'll find the happy pieces at Creatures of Comfort, TenOverSix, and Nasty Gal. Pieces start at $40 for leather bag charms in shapes that include popsicles and fried eggs, with most everything under $500.

Classic Square One, $440 | Palette-Mask wallet, $170


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