Back in the (Dior) Saddle: The history of an It bag

dior saddle
The History of the Hero: The Dior Saddle bagEdward Berthelot - Getty Images

Whether or not you enjoy equestrian pursuits, you’ve probably heard of the Dior Saddle. This little designer bag was dreamt up by the house’s former artistic director John Galliano, its shrunken saddle shape and stirrup-like ‘D’ charm a "tribute to the elegance of the equestrian universe". One should note, it’s probably not suitable for horse-riding.

The Saddle made its first appearance in 1999 in Dior’s spring/summer 2000 ready-to-wear show, slung upon the shoulders of models dressed in Galliano’s provocatively split mini dresses, horsebit-buckled hotpants and sexed-up denim. Speaking of sex, some conjecture that the Saddle bag was (at least in part) inspired by a 1976 Helmut Newton photograph entitled ‘Saddle I, Paris’. It depicts a model on all fours, wearing jodhpurs, riding boots, a push-up bra and, most importantly, a saddle – stirrups and all – upon her back. This theory has never been verified by Dior, though the house has never shied away from the Saddle’s sexy connotations; one only has to look at Nick Knight’s 2000 ad campaign, featuring two models passionately entwined, for proof.

But back to the bag, and specifically, its induction into the early-noughts’ (unofficial) It bag hall of fame. Sure, Galliano knew how to create objects of desire, but no one induced shopping fever quite like Carrie Bradshaw. Shortly after its release, the Dior Saddle made its way into season three, episode five of Sex and the City, as the means by which Carrie transported her contraband cigarette on her second date with anti-smoking Aidan. The Saddle in question, an equestrian-print version in pink, white and gold, is now near-impossible to get hold of, as you might imagine.

carrie bradshaw with her saddle bag
Getty Images

The Saddle’s It bag status was cemented and this was reflected in Dior’s 2001 accessories sales; WWD reported that they were up by 60 per cent. By 2003, the Saddle was at its zenith. It was toted by the era’s It bag-defining celebrities, notably Paris Hilton, who was pictured with one in white leather and another in indigo-rinse denim. Galliano reimagined the bag in various, highly-collectible guises, including leopard spots, the house’s iconic Oblique pattern, and the (now extremely rare) Christian Dior Daily newspaper print – popularised when the aforementioned Ms Bradshaw wore it in dress version, in the penultimate episode of Sex and the City’s third season.

If an It bag is defined by its zeitgeisty appeal, it’s ultimately destined to be retired to its dustbag, and the Saddle was no exception. It was notably absent from Dior’s spring/summer 2007 show, a subdued collection of taupe-hued skirt suits and discreet, ladylike handbags. The economy was on the down-turn and so too, the logomania amongst which the Saddle had thrived.

demi moore
Jeremy Moeller - Getty Images

The Y2K icon was now being resold on consignment and via eBay at a fraction of its original price tag (in some cases under £100), a vestige from a bygone era of maximalism and irreverence. It seemed impossible such an antique of the 2000s would return to favour, hence the bargain prices.

If anything is certain, it’s that fashion is a fickle mistress and that Beyoncé can do anything. In 2014, the singer signalled the Dior Saddle’s return, when she was photographed clutching one of Galliano’s original designs. Two years later, Korean popstar CL followed suit, proudly brandishing an ‘Adiorable’-print Dior Saddle, on Instagram. Y2K v2 was here. Saddle fanciers clamoured to eBay, Vestiaire Collective and the like to snap up their own archive pieces, and prices spiked. Those who had been prescient enough to buy a pre-loved Saddle bag between 2007 and 2014 had made a very wise investment.

street style
Raimonda Kulikauskiene - Getty Images

Dior’s now-creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri couldn’t ignore the Saddle’s unexpected renaissance and, in February 2018, at the autumn/winter show, reintroduced the iconic bag in beaded fringe, denim patchwork, an updated Oblique print, and grained leather – with the practical addition of a crossbody strap and with slightly larger proportions to accommodate a smartphone. According to Lyst’s 2018 Index report, customers started searching for pre-owned, Galliano-era Saddles as soon as the show streamed, months before the reissue bags’ official release.

street style
Edward Berthelot - Getty Images

If appetites weren’t already suitably whet, Dior then launched a social media campaign, for which 100 fashion insiders posted about the #DiorSaddle on Instagram. Within 48 hours, searches for the style spiked by a massive 957 per cent. Never underestimate the power of 2000s nostalgia.

It may have Y2K It bag status and a trending hashtag in its history, but the Dior Saddle has more to it than zeitgeist appeal, not least of all its impeccable craftsmanship. This year, for cruise 2023, Dior reinvented it once again, calling upon Andalusian artisans to lend their centuries-perfected craft to the Saddle. In this video, Seville-based leather craftsman Javier Menacho describes how his expertise in saddlery has been applied to this season’s Dior bags – apt, considering the Dior Saddle’s equestrian influences.

From 2000s icon to forgotten favourite to fashion phoenix, the Dior Saddle has had quite the ride – pun intended. As we find ourselves firmly back in the saddle, there’s no better time than to round up the very best Galliano-era and modern-day Dior Saddles across the web. Shop some of our favourites above. And, for more in-depth histories of the most iconic fashion items of all time, head this way.

dior saddle
Edward Berthelot - Getty Images

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