Louis Vuitton’s Speedy bag has been covered in graffiti, shrunk to nano proportions, stolen by the ‘Bling Ring’, and carried by everyone from Audrey Hepburn to Snoop Dogg. Evidently, a lot can happen in 92 years, which is precisely how long this iconic bag has been igniting desire.
The Speedy was originally launched in 1930 as the Express—its name reflecting the world’s new, faster means of travel, with commercial flights quickly gaining popularity. Distinguished by an elegant, duffle-like silhouette, the 30cm-wide bag was a smaller, more streamlined version of Louis Vuitton’s Keepall, launched just six years prior. Unlike its predecessor, the Speedy 30 was designed to be carried everyday, not just on travel days—though thanks to its cotton-canvas construction, it could be easily flattened to fit into a suitcase.
The first Speedy was made from logo-less coated canvas, soon afterwards reimagined in the house’s quintessential monogram. Notably, as the bag is constructed from a single piece of cotton-canvas, the monogram appears upside-down on one side—one of the many markers to keep in mind when deciphering real from counterfeit.
The Speedy 30 wasn’t Louis Vuitton’s first bag intended for everyday use (the company had exclusively specialised in luxury luggage since 1854). Just five years earlier, in 1925, Georges Vuitton (son of Louis) created the dome-shaped Squire bag as a custom design for Gabrielle Chanel. In 1934, with Chanel’s permission, the Squire went into commercial production and, having been renamed as the Alma in 1955, remains one of Louis Vuitton’s most popular styles to this day.
We have another gamine style icon to thank for popularising the Speedy. In 1965, Audrey Hepburn requested that Louis Vuitton make a smaller version of the bag, then available in sizes 30, 35 and 40. Given Hepburn’s star appeal after the success of 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the house acquiesced and the Speedy 25 was born. Hepburn wore hers everywhere in the 1960s—at Heathrow airport in 1965, with a fur-edged coat and knee-high boots; for lunch in Paris in ‘67, with a Givenchy trouser suit; and in Rome, ‘68, with a suede headscarf and matching gloves. The little bag was a big success, garnering a fan base that included Jackie Kennedy and Lauren Bacall.
Hepburn even reprised her beloved Speedy 25 in the 1980s—toting two at once, on at least two occasions—as various airport paparazzi shots prove. From these photos, one can see that her bag’s hand-stitched Toron handles (named after the Latin word for ‘small rope’) have developed a deep, amber patina—proof that the bag only gets better with age.
The Speedy had become something of a style stalwart—an enduring icon in the Louis Vuitton catalogue. Reliable, versatile, unchanged. That was, until the early 2000s, when a collaboration with Japanese artist Takashi Murakami spawned a Speedy renaissance. Murakami re-painted the house’s classic Monogram in candy colours (as well as covering it in cherries and cherry blossoms), and the resultant Speedy Multicolore found its way into the elbow crooks of the era’s most photographed women—Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, et al. Reportedly, Hilton’s Vuitton collection was stolen in 2008’s The Bling Ring burglaries.
Now discontinued, the Louis Vuitton x Takashi Murakami monogram can now only be procured by eagle-eyed Y2Kphiles in vintage shops and on resale sites, including Vestiaire Collective and 1stDibs. And if scarcity wasn’t enough to create fervour (and inflate resale prices), the Kardashian stamp of approval certainly would be; Kylie and Kendall Jenner were both photographed wearing the diminutive Speedy Nano Multicolore in 2019, after sister Kim Kardashian brought back eight of the bags from a trip to Japan.
The Speedy has proved muse for other artists, too, from Yayoi Kusama (who saturated the bag with her signature spots) to Stephen Sprouse, who graffitied the bag in 2001 and 2009—with creative director Marc Jacobs’ permission, of course.
The year 2011 brought the bag’s most practical incarnation yet—a new version in four sizes, four classic materials, and countless finishes, with an adjustable, detachable shoulder strap, and two-way zip. The Speedy Bandoulière can be worn crossbody; toted by the top handle; or carried à la Paris, in the crook of one’s elbow. It’s also possible to attach a new strap to a vintage Speedy, via the D-rings at the base of the handles.
Ninety-two years since its launch, the Speedy is still as relevant as ever, uniquely straddling the status of cultural icon and blank canvas—for the artist and the wearer. It’s been worn by 1960s starlets and modern-day rappers. It may be rendered in shearling (by Louis Vuitton’s late creative director, Virgil Abloh), smattered in sequins (Marc Jacobs), or artfully defaced (Stephen Sprouse), but there’s no mistaking the bag beneath.
This piece originally appeared in Harper's Bazaar UK