This French Purse Designer Subverted Gender Roles 140 Years Ago

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A photograph from the book Lancel: Parisian Maison Since 1876. Photo: © The Lancel Archives

In 1876, the same year Alexander Graham Bell placed the first-ever phone call, the Parisian couple Angèle and Alphonse Lancel released a debut line of smoking accessories signed “a. Lancel.” As Maison Lancel grew, Angèle wanted the brand to make more than just pipes, and insisted they design useful accessories for women. The brand’s first leather handbag was structured to be practical, featuring several interior pockets for extra storage. At a time when many women were confined to traditional roles within the home, Angèle’s work was pioneering — in building Maison Lancel, she helped redefine opportunities for women in French society.

Lancel went on to popularize women’s handbags and continued to create innovative designs, collaborating with artists and celebrities including Brigitte Bardot, Josephine Baker, Patrick Demarchelier, and Viviane Sassen. To celebrate the brand’s 140th anniversary this year, 200 pages of photographs and vintage ads are showcased in the book Lancel: Parisian Maison Since 1876, out now from Rizzoli. Click ahead for a preview, featuring illustrations by Marjane Satrapi and colorful photographs by various artists.

Lancel and illustrator Marjane Satrapi 

Photo: Omar Victor Diop/Omar Victor Diop

Lancel and photographer Omar Victor Diop 

Lancel and illustrator Marjane Satrapi 

Lancel and artist Dan Cretu

Lancel advertising poster, 1987. 

Photo: Omar Victor Diop/Omar Victor Diop

Lancel and photographer Omar Victor Diop 

Photo: 2001 SNOWBOUND, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Lancel and illustrator Tristan Galdos Del Carpio 

Advertisement for Aviona luggage, L’Illustration, 1929. 

Illustrations/photographs by Omar Victor Diop, Dan Cretu, Marjane Satrapi, Tristan Galdos Del Carpio, Cyrille George Jerusalmi

A French Purse Designer Subverted Gender Roles 140 Years Ago