If you’re not familiar with Karen Blanchard, the north London native who calls New York home, now is the time to get to know. Vlogging veterans will be well versed in the sartorial stalwart’s charm and style as Blanchard has been sharing her shopping secrets on YouTube since 2008, amassing a mighty 20 million views (and counting) in the process. For the uninitiated, Blanchard has a knack for a stellar dress and a popping print, but it’s her enviable bag collection that really gets our hearts racing.
As with the rest of her wardrobe, Blanchard expertly fuses the best of the high street with vintage treasures and luxury investments, resulting in the most covetable handbag collection we’ve seen in some time. Card-carrying members of her 176k-strong Instagram following will recognise some of her favourite handbags, from the quilted Chanel 2.55 to beaded Mango Maltesers bags, which she keeps on display shelves in her newly renovated Victorian home in Queens. "The rest are stored on the top shelf of my clothes wardrobe, but displaying them helps me get dressed," she tells us before giving us a peek at her most prized pieces.
Blanchard's first bag memory is of the backpack she wore to school – "I remember it being heavier than me!" – but her first serious handbag purchase was Balenciaga’s rock and roll Motorcycle style. "I was really into the brand’s rock chick vibe; I loved Kate Moss, a black smoky eye and a cut-off Western boot, so the Motorcycle was me in bag form. Anything else wasn’t edgy enough." Has her taste in handbags changed since that first piece? "I think I’m attracted less to logo-based designer bags and more to quiet luxury – I’m loving brands like Loewe and old Celine – because I’ve increasingly realised that the quality of the bag itself, the material and the design, is enough. Neutral colours stand the test of time in my daily wardrobe, too, and are easy for grabbing without having to think about too much."
Her Loewe Puzzles are currently her most used – "The quality, versatility and unusual design drew me in" – but which bags in her collection evoke the best memories? "I have a vintage metal bag in the shape of a round shell that I wore when I got married," she says. "I didn’t plan on wearing a bag at all but, like all my vintage finds, that bag was just there – I like to say that I don’t find them, they find me. I just loved how it looked with my dress. That bag is an extra special piece for life and looks good enough to wear on any summer day." Blanchard's ability to snaffle out one-of-a-kind vintage pieces is one of the reasons she is loved by so many. What's her best find so far? "A vintage tanned leather fringed bag that I bought in a vintage shop on the lower east side of Manhattan that’s no longer there. I took it off the display mannequin and prayed that it was for sale. To this day it’s one of the best vintage fringe bags I’ve found, and that was a decade ago."
Like the rest of us, this year has seen Blanchard’s bags packed with all the essentials, from face masks to hand sanitiser, but she was a self-proclaimed Mary Poppins before the pandemic brought extra paraphernalia into our lives. Which contemporary handbag brands should we be following right now? "It changes daily based on my mood but some of By Far’s bags are interesting," she says. The heritage label she loves the most, though, is Chanel. "It’s such a strong traditional brand that has an iconic aesthetic that very few other luxury brands can touch. Chanel has its history and that alone sets it apart, so when you own a piece it feels like it’s forever."