The story behind Chanel’s iconic handbags, the 2.55 and the 11.12

The liberated spirit of Coco Chanel runs through the house’s most memorable handbags, which are being put back centre stage by current creative director Virginie Viard. Here, Wallpaper* takes a closer look

Chanel classic 11.2 2.55 handbags
Bags, price on request, by Chanel, available at, as featured in the May issue of Wallpaper*
(Image credit: Photography by Neil Godwin at Future Studios for Wallpaper*)

The French couturier Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel had a long-held belief in numerology. In particular, the power of five: it was the number of her Zodiac house (Leo), the only date in a given month she would present her collections, and, of course, the number which adorns bottles of her heady first fragrance, Chanel No. 5.

It was serendipitous, then, that her most enduring handbag was born in 1955, a year with not one five in, but two. With its recognisable quilted exterior and chain strap – added, said Mme Chanel, because she tired of holding bags in her hand and losing them – the 2.55 handbag remains a trophy in Chanel’s glimmering roster of accessories eight decades on, endlessly riffed upon by the designers who have come in the couturier’s wake.

’The Iconic Handbag’: Chanel’s most enduring accessory

Penelope Cruz and Brad Pitti in car with Chanel bag

Chanel ’The Iconic Handbag’ campaign

(Image credit: Photography by Inez & Vinoodh, courtesy of Chanel)

These include the 11.12 (pictured top), first introduced by Karl Lagerfeld in the 1980s (in a nod to Mme Chanel, its individual numbers add up to five). Recalling the emblematic design of the 2.55, it is known by the maison’s atelier as the ‘Mona Lisa’ for its gently curved flap fastening, which reminds of the painting’s coy and mysterious smile. Its clasp also transforms into another Chanel emblem: the enduring double-C motif.

Together, the 2.55 and the 11.12 capture the liberatory spirit of the house, one continued under current creative director Virginie Viard whose collections return to the easy, unencumbered spirit of Mme Chanel’s early designs. For S/S 2024, Viard looked towards the French Riviera town of Hyères and its modernist Villa Noailles – known for its thriving artistic milieu in the 1920s – for a collection she described as ‘an ode to liberty and movement’.

Brad Pitt and Penelope Cruz behind the scenes of Chanel bag campaign

Behind-the-scenes of Chanel’s ’The Iconic Handbag’ campaign

(Image credit: Courtesy of Chanel)

But it was at the designer’s A/W 2024 show, held in Paris earlier this year, which saw Viard put the classic handbag back centre stage in a cinematic short by photographic duo and Wallpaper* Design Awards 2023 judges Inez & Vinoodh (the film played on enormous curved screens which flanked the runway). Based on Claude Lelouch’s 1966 movie A Man and A Woman, the ’iconic handbag’ had some equally well-known co-stars: Hollywood heavyweights Penélope Cruz and Brad Pitt. Originally played by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Anouk Aimée – the latter a perennial Chanel muse – they take on the role of a pair of lovers on a seaside sojourn to Deauville, northern France, where Mme Chanel opened her first-ever boutique in 1912.

Watch the film below.

A version of this article appears in the May 2024 Milan Preview Issue of Wallpaper*, available in print, on the Wallpaper* app on Apple iOS, and to subscribers of Apple News +. Subscribe to Wallpaper* today.

Fashion Features Editor

Jack Moss is the Fashion Features Editor at Wallpaper*, joining the team in 2022. Having previously been the digital features editor at AnOther and digital editor at 10 and 10 Men magazines, he has also contributed to titles including i-D, Dazed, 10 Magazine, Mr Porter’s The Journal and more, while also featuring in Dazed: 32 Years Confused: The Covers, published by Rizzoli. He is particularly interested in the moments when fashion intersects with other creative disciplines – notably art and design – as well as championing a new generation of international talent and reporting from international fashion weeks. Across his career, he has interviewed the fashion industry’s leading figures, including Rick Owens, Pieter Mulier, Jonathan Anderson, Grace Wales Bonner, Christian Lacroix, Kate Moss and Manolo Blahnik.

With contributions from