Mulberry was launched with just £500 in 1971 by mother-and-son team Joan and Roger Saul. The Somerset-based lifestyle brand helped to popularise ‘le style anglais’, inspired by English country pursuits such as hunting and fishing. Back then, Mulberry’s leather offerings included dispatch satchels, poacher bags and binocular cases, made in its Somerset factory, the Rookery, which is still the company’s manufacturing base. In 2003, Singaporean businesswoman Christina Ong invested £7.6m into the rejuvenation of the Mulberry brand and set about changing the company into a high-fashion, product-focused mega-brand. The result was its first star product: the Bayswater bag.
The Bayswater’s launch
Designer Nicholas Knightly, who joined Mulberry in 2002, immediately recognised the brand’s heritage appeal. He set out to create a timeless handbag that was supple yet structured. The Bayswater’s key features, rumoured to have been inspired by unlikely style icon Princess Anne, are still evident today: comfortable, shoulder-sized handles, a postman’s lock closure, metal feet and adjustable side straps that allow the bag to expand. The Bayswater became an instant hit with style editors and the public alike. Waiting lists developed and a design icon was born.
Quality and social responsibility
To maintain the standards of craftsmanship used to create the Bayswater, Mulberry launched an apprenticeship programme at the Rookery in 2006. Emma Hill, Mulberry’s current creative director, has described this factory as a magical place where lambs run around outside in the spring. ‘What we’re doing down there is almost like the old YTS [Youth Training Scheme], which doesn’t exist any more,’ Hill told Time Out magazine. ‘Somerset doesn’t have a great employment rate, but we’re in a position to employ a lot of people.’ Three generations of some local families have a hand in constructing each Bayswater.
The bag’s quality is responsible for its recession-proof appeal. ‘We’ve had this incredible run where lots of people who could afford … more expensive bags were buying Mulberry instead,’ Hill told Time Out. ‘I think our Englishness helps … The recession worked in our favour, almost, because people have been supporting home-grown product.’ The Bayswater is also a conscience-soothing choice with its vegetable-tanned leathers and low carbon footprint.
Symbol of the Mulberry brand
In 2011, Mulberry’s stock valuation hit the £1bn mark and, because the company’s success started with the Bayswater, the bag has become a logo in its own right. The Bayswater was used as a graphic throughout Mulberry’s 40th anniversary celebrations. Gold foil Bayswater balloons decorated venues around the globe and an enormous, inflatable Bayswater heralded the opening display of the company’s flagship store on London’s Kensington Church Street.
While the basic silhouette of the bag has remained the same over the last decade, each successive creative director has kept it fresh and modern through material and colour makeovers. Knightly was the first to experiment with colour and fabric. ‘Consumers are becoming more educated about fashion. When you get playful, people appreciate it and consume it,’ he told the Guardian newspaper. His successor Stuart Vevers adapted the Bayswater to suit his designer collaborations, winning the British Fashion Council’s Accessory Designer of the Year award in 2006. Emma Hill, who was made a CBE in 2012 for her work at Mulberry, has experimented with mirrored gold leather and more feminine detailing such as those on the Cookie Bayswater. The Bayswater’s influence is seen in later ‘it’ bags such as the Alexa and the Suffolk. New for autumn/winter 2013/14 is a smaller, boxier version of the Bayswater, with a metal top handle and quirky Mini Meadows hardware consisting of two giant ladybirds. We predict it will be extremely popular – after all, it has an excellent pedigree.