The One

The Queen Mother of All Handbags

Launer’s Traviata purse is the choice of royals, and it happens to be on trend, too.

Photographer: Jess Bonham

The Characteristics

Launer, a British purveyor of leather goods, earned its Royal Warrant in 1968 after Elizabeth II started carrying its handbags. Since then, the company’s Traviata has become part of the queen’s signature look (she’s rumored to use hers to secretly signal staff) and has attracted other fans, including Margaret Thatcher and Judi Dench. Even with such affiliations, the label languished until 1981, when Chief Executive Officer Gerald Bodmer centralized manufacturing in Walsall, an English city with a long artisan tradition. Launer is back in vogue thanks to the trend of structured, 1950s-era styles. It launched a candy-colored range of hues in 2011.

The Competition

The Traviata shares details—including its shape, gold-plated hardware, top handle, and removable shoulder strap—with another royal icon, the Kelly from Hermès. A few inches wider than the Launer bag, the rival was named for Grace Kelly, the Princess of Monaco, after she used one to shield her baby bump from paparazzi on a 1956 cover of Life. Both bags come with the kind of quality that a one-craftsperson-per-purse process affords, but the price for the Kelly regularly reaches five figures, much more than the Traviata, which starts at $2,300. Gucci’s Jackie hobo, an unstructured option at about $3,000, was made famous by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

The Case

A simple emblem in the shape of a twisted rope on the flap is the Traviata’s understated status signal and one of the few embellishments beyond turned edges. Elsewhere are more practical features: a center divider, back pocket, interior pocket, leather-covered mirror, and a steel plate to secure the handle. The bag can be worn over the shoulder or arm, the strap’s length keeping contents within easy reach. Its suede-lined interior is welcome to the touch. The Traviata comes in fine calf leather for aspiring royals who prefer to go incognito, but exotic skins such as python (pictured) can provide more pomp.

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