Why One’s had the same handbag for 60 YEARS: It’s as robust, discreet and quintessentially British as she is —no wonder she has 40
- The Queen has carried similar variations of bags made by Launer for 60 years
- The brand has seen sales soar by 400 per cent as the Royal, 91, endorses it
- Launer produces just 30 of their bags each month with the help of 15 employees
- CEO Gerald Bodmer revealed why bags from Launer have stood the test of time
Discreet, dignified and distinctly regal, the small black bag propped up on the front row of the catwalk at London Fashion Week had much in common with its owner.
Here was the 91-year-old monarch sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with U.S. Vogue’s Anna Wintour, watching models in psychedelic prints and motorcycle helmets sashaying down a runway.
Everything about the scene was utterly extraordinary — everything, that is, but Her Majesty’s trusty handbag.
For more than 60 years, the Queen has carried near-identical versions of this very same bag.
Made by Launer, a 77-year-old British company based in Walsall, West Midlands, the royal handbag is as much a part of her trademark look as pastel-hued coats and pearl earrings.
The Queen (pictured with Anna Wintour) has alternated between similar Launer bags for 60 years with a collection of between 30-40 bags
Her favourite style is the Traviata, a £1,850 bag made from calf leather and finished in black patent, which has — unsurprisingly — become the brand’s biggest seller. In fact, thanks to repeated royal endorsement, Launer has seen sales soar by 400 per cent in the past four years — with huge demand from China and Japan.
‘She doesn’t feel fully dressed without her handbag,’ explains CEO Gerald Bodmer, who bought Launer in 1981 and, at the grand age of 85, remains at the helm today. ‘But if the Queen doesn’t like what we’ve made her, she won’t wear it. She definitely knows what she wants.’
So just what does Her Majesty look for in a handbag, and why does she have such unwavering allegiance to this fairly plain-looking style?
The secret to Launer’s success lies in its heritage. Founded in 1941 by Sam Launer, a Jewish refugee from Prague, it started life in a workshop in the heart of Soho.
Launer soon acquired a reputation for exquisite craftsmanship and Harrods began stocking his bags, while the firm also made leather goods for design houses such as Gucci.
The Queen Mother bought her first Launer bag in the Fifties and gave one to her daughter, who found them to be the perfect size to loop over her arm during walkabouts. She bestowed the Royal Warrant on the company in 1968.
But despite continuing royal support, Launer’s fortunes began to wane — it simply wasn’t modern enough to attract new customers. It wasn’t until Gerald bought it in 1981 that it came back from the brink of collapse.
Gerald, a classical clarinettist turned leather salesman, had set up his own company in the late Sixties, supplying bags for Russell & Bromley and Mappin & Webb. Dressed in a Savile Row suit, with a smart documents case under his arm, he set about deploying his charisma to woo a new clientele.
Among its many devotees was Baroness Thatcher, who carried a black Launer bag when she arrived at No 10 to take office in 1979.
Timeless style: The Queen (pictured in 1977) chooses bespoke designs from Launer
Her style of choice was the £1,450 Bellini — or, for smarter occasions, the £1,550 Adagio. The brand ended up naming a bag after her, the Maggie, in gratitude for her loyal custom.
When war broke out in the Falklands, Gerald spotted a cartoon depicting Baroness Thatcher whacking Argentina with her bag. He sent it to her, along with a new handbag. ‘She wrote to thank me,’ he says. ‘And a few weeks later, her shopper appeared in our showroom.’
Indeed, it is thanks to Baroness Thatcher’s love of Launer that the word ‘handbagging’ entered the modern lexicon. The late Tory MP Julian Critchley coined the term to describe a Thatcher-style dressing down.
During her time in office, she alternated between just four of the company’s bags and repeatedly eschewed offers of more.
The Queen is similarly thrifty, owning 30 or 40 which date back decades — and even some that belonged to her mother. She likes their practicality — simple designs in classic colours with a solid frame and easy-access clasp — as well as their quality.
Only 30 handbags are produced every month in the small factory; all 15 employees devote painstaking care to each one. From hand-cutting the leather to affixing the twisted rope logo, each bag takes up to eight hours to make.
The secret to their longevity is their ‘turned’ edges, a process that involves moulding the ends of the leather so they are attached on the inside of the bag.
Each of the Queen’s designs is, as one might expect, bespoke. Gerald and his team work with Angela Kelly, Her Majesty’s right-hand woman and dresser, to fulfil her precise requirements. ‘We tend to work on a bag we already have, then personalise it with what Angela knows the Queen wants, or for specific engagements she may have,’ says Gerald.
Common requests from the Palace include longer straps, silk linings (lighter than suede) or smaller proportions, so the bag doesn’t swamp her petite frame.
‘She likes a slightly longer handle so it doesn’t get caught up in her clothes when she is greeting people. She’s not keen on shoulder straps, zips or partitions.
Launer CEO Gerald Bodmer revealed The Queen (pictured) usually requests bags with a long strap and silk lining
‘We use a frame in the middle so she can reach deep inside, and she wants a strap that she can easily get her hand through to lift the lock and access the contents.’ As well as the Traviata, Her Majesty owns the Susanna clutch (worn to a state banquet in Paris in 2014 — then costing £580); the £1,020 Lydia (worn to a Maundy Thursday service in 2016); the £1,650 aptly named Royale; and a £740 Lulu in cream.
One of the biggest coups for the company was her decision to wear the £930 Lisa bag to William and Kate’s wedding in 2011.
Launer, which also counts the Duchess of Cornwall — and Princess Diana, who bought a bag but never carried it (something Gerald says ‘drove him mad’) — among its fans, is resolutely discreet when discussing its most prestigious customer.
But the custom of a ‘very nice lady’, as Gerald describes her, wouldn’t be enough on its own to keep the firm in business.
Of late, Launer has relied on booming trade in Asia, Russia and Australia to boost sales. A resurgence in vintage fashion has helped, as has the brand’s popularity with A-list celebrities such as Dame Maggie Smith and actress Cameron Diaz.
Launer’s designers have branched out, too, making bags in bright colours and launching a cross-body range — perhaps hoping to woo royal bride-to-be Meghan Markle, who’s shown a fondness for the style.
But some things simply are not ripe for change. And after six decades of carrying this iconic accessory at her side, Her Majesty’s handbag is more of a symbol than a fashion statement.
Constant, dependable and elegant after all these years — it says more about her than she would ever admit.
What does The Queen keep in her bag?
The contents of the royal handbag is a secret so closely guarded even her bagmaker doesn’t know the particulars.
But over the years, royal aides have let slip fascinating details about Her Majesty’s most prized possessions:
- A lipstick, believed to be the same Clarins shade she had commissioned to match her coronation robes in 1953.
- An S-shaped hook, so she doesn’t have to put her handbag on the floor.
A guest of the Queen’s cousin once revealed: ‘I watched the Queen open her handbag and remove a white suction cup and discreetly spit into it. The Queen then attached the cup to the underside of the table. The cup had a hook on it, and she attached her bag to it.’
- A compact mirror.
- A glasses case.
- Mint lozenges.
- A fountain pen.
- A crisp £5 or £10 note folded in half. Sally Bedell Smith, author of Elizabeth The Queen, says she keeps a single note in her bag for the church donation plate — the only cash she ever carries.
- Personal items, claims Phil Dampier, author of What’s In The Queen’s Handbag, such as miniature dogs, horses and saddles (good luck charms from her children) and a few photographs, including one of Prince Andrew on his return from the Falklands in 1982.
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