Having swapped my heavy leather tote for the roomy pockets of my puffa jacket this past year, I have become accustomed to the feeling of unencumbered comfort and freedom. The handbag — along with all the loose coins, crumpled tissues and miscellaneous clutter that always seem to collect at the bottom — feels like a relic of pre-pandemic life. 

Fortunately, designers are now offering a range of chic and diminutive receptacles for all of life’s appurtenances, and are downsizing classic styles to dinkier proportions. “We all want to be carrying less stuff,” agrees Heather Gramston, head of womenswear buying at Browns Fashion. “The accessories business is evolving to offer solutions to whatever it is that you need, whether that’s a water-bottle holder to go to the gym or a bag that just fits your credit card and lipstick.”

Dior cashmere rollneck, £1,500, wool and silk trousers, £1,100, and leather Saddle micro bag (held in front), £1,800. Succo bamboo socks, €32. John Lobb leather Lopez loafers, £1,015. Accessories, from left: Alexander McQueen leather The Curve phone holder, £420. Lemaire leather Mini Camera bag, €490. Del’ep leather Smart glasses case, €145
Dior cashmere rollneck, £1,500, wool and silk trousers, £1,100, and leather Saddle micro bag (held in front), £1,800. Succo bamboo socks, €32. John Lobb leather Lopez loafers, £1,015. Accessories, from left: Alexander McQueen leather The Curve phone holder, £420. Lemaire leather Mini Camera bag, €490. Del’ep leather Smart glasses case, €145 © Kenny Whittle
Raye silk-blend knitted polo shirt, £395, and cashmere rollneck, £225, from matchesfashion.com. Joseph wool Morissey trousers, £395. Accessories, clockwise from top: Gucci metal-free leather single porte-rouges bag, £225. Loewe leather and brass Balloon bag necklace, £495. Hermès leather Hermèsway smartphone case, £1,750. Au Depart reflective jacquard and leather AirPods case, £275. Fendi leather Pico Peekaboo charm bag, £650. Tod’s leather T Timeless micro belt bag, £860. On bike: Métier linen and leather water-bottle holder, £325. Larq stainless-steel water bottle, £95
Raye silk-blend knitted polo shirt, £395, and cashmere rollneck, £225, from matchesfashion.com. Joseph wool Morissey trousers, £395. Accessories, clockwise from top: Gucci metal-free leather single porte-rouges bag, £225. Loewe leather and brass Balloon bag necklace, £495. Hermès leather Hermèsway smartphone case, £1,750. Au Depart reflective jacquard and leather AirPods case, £275. Fendi leather Pico Peekaboo charm bag, £650. Tod’s leather T Timeless micro belt bag, £860. On bike: Métier linen and leather water-bottle holder, £325. Larq stainless-steel water bottle, £95 © Kenny Whittle

From Fendi’s logo-emblazoned water bottle with woven raffia bag (£490) to Métier’s elegant beige linen holder with contrasting brown leather straps (£325), the new raft of luxe water-bottle bags chimes with both the anti-plastic sentiment and our demand for hands-free practicality. Similarly, at Hermès, the new Hermèsway phone case — which debuted in its recent autumn/winter 2021 collection — comes complete with a card slot, lipstick holder and built-in AirPods compartment. 

Lemaire’s miniature leather accessories, which range from a geometric camera bag with lens-shaped closure (from £470) to a pendant-like moulded key holder on a thin leather cord (£230), can be worn in a variety of ways: some go across the body or around the neck; others can be threaded through a belt loop. “We like bags that free your hands,” says the design duo Christophe Lemaire and Sarah-Linh Tran, “and everything that makes you feel light: ergonomic bags, deep pockets, light coats, soft shoes.” 

Petar Petrov silk jacket, £1,314, and matching trousers, £836. Joseph cashmere Cashair rollneck, £275. Accessories, from left: Yashica D camera, stylist’s own. Chanel crumpled leather handbag, £3,030. Louis Vuitton leather Papillon Trunk bag, £1,810
Petar Petrov silk jacket, £1,314, and matching trousers, £836. Joseph cashmere Cashair rollneck, £275. Accessories, from left: Yashica D camera, stylist’s own. Chanel crumpled leather handbag, £3,030. Louis Vuitton leather Papillon Trunk bag, £1,810 © Kenny Whittle

Feeling light is great, of course, but unless you have a personal assistant to ferry about all your other belongings, you probably still need another more capacious tote day-to-day. One solution is to layer up various vessels like jewellery, to ensure all essentials have been accounted for (and for the satisfying jingle-jangle of chains and hardware). Or consider a belt bag such as D’heygere’s grommet with detachable zippered pouch (€280). “The purpose of an accessory is to accessorise your outfit, so I think it’s interesting to give it another dimension,” says Stéphanie D’heygere, whose namesake Paris-based brand offers a range of irreverent yet functional accessories, such as an e-cigarette holder necklace (€230) and a belt whose buckle doubles as a lighter compartment (€260). 

Drome sheer top, £480. Joseph wool Morissey trousers, £395. Top (seen underneath), model’s own. Accessories, from bottom: D’Heygere leather and metal pocket belt, €280. Louis Vuitton monogram canvas leather LV Palm Springs belt, £825. Pierre Hardy suede leather Alpha Pad Nano bag, €395
Drome sheer top, £480. Joseph wool Morissey trousers, £395. Top (seen underneath), model’s own. Accessories, from bottom: D’Heygere leather and metal pocket belt, €280. Louis Vuitton monogram canvas leather LV Palm Springs belt, £825. Pierre Hardy suede leather Alpha Pad Nano bag, €395 © Kenny Whittle
Dior cashmere rollneck, £1,500, wool and silk trousers, £1,100, and leather Saddle micro bag (held in front), £1,800. Succo bamboo socks, €32. John Lobb leather Lopez loafers, £1,015. Accessories, from left: Alexander McQueen leather The Curve phone holder, £420. Lemaire leather Mini Camera bag, €490. Del’ep leather Smart glasses case, €145. Throughout: D’Heygere silver Vice Versa ear cuff, €230. Smartech Urbanized Gents 52 Graphite bike, from selfridges.com
Dior cashmere rollneck, £1,500, wool and silk trousers, £1,100, and leather Saddle micro bag (held in front), £1,800. Succo bamboo socks, €32. John Lobb leather Lopez loafers, £1,015. Accessories, from left: Alexander McQueen leather The Curve phone holder, £420. Lemaire leather Mini Camera bag, €490. Del’ep leather Smart glasses case, €145. Throughout: D’Heygere silver Vice Versa ear cuff, €230. Smartech Urbanized Gents 52 Graphite bike, from selfridges.com © Kenny Whittle

Though the hands-free bag might seem like a hallmark of the modern era, Lucia Savi, curator of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition Bags: Inside Out, tells me that women wore bags around their waist long before they started balancing them in the crook of their arm. “I find it very interesting that today we’re seeing more and more accessories with chains and straps designed to be worn close to the body and easily accessible,” says Savi, who cites the 19th-century châtelaine as a predecessor. This waist-hung appendage, suspended from a hook or brooch, was designed to hold a woman’s most essential household tools — scissors, thimbles, magnifying glasses and miniature notebooks. 

The thimble and scissors may have been replaced by AirPods and hand sanitiser, but the desire for a bag to be both practical and decorative, provide easy access and allow the wearer to move freely and unhampered, is one that remains unchanged.

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