When bamboo is fashionable

A Gucci artisan finishing up a Bamboo Shopper handbag (left) at the store opening; actress Cate Blanchett carrying the Bamboo Shopper handbag (right); the curved bamboo handles, held together with metal clamps (inset).

KUALA LUMPUR - When it comes to luxury designer handbags, only a handful possess a lasting appeal and distinctive character that would stand the test of time and win the hearts of women across the world.

The Gucci Bamboo top-handle bag is one such bag and it has been seen on the arms of royalty and international movie stars from Princess Diana, Elizabeth Taylor and Vanessa Redgrave to current Hollywood A-list stars such as Amy Adams, Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lopez and Beyonce. The iconic bag was also famously featured in the recent seventies-inspired hit-movie American Hustle where Adams' character Sydney Prosser carried the Bamboo Lady Lock bag in python.

Gucci is one of the world's oldest luxury brands and has been producing leather bags since the early 1920s. Their innovative solutions to supply shortages of materials for their bag productions before and after the war are commendable, yielding some of the best-known creations by the Italian house.

The Bamboo Bag, for instance, was created in 1947 when the Gucci artisans were faced with war-time rationing of resources shortly after the end of World War II. Bamboo was one material that could still be imported from Japan and they have cleverly developed a patented method to heat and shape the bamboo into a curved handle and attach it to the body of a purse using 4 metal rings.

"What many people do not know is that these handles are created out of the root of a specific type of Chinese bamboo (not the cane of the bamboo). It has to be light coloured and matured before we can use them," explained Onda Maurri from Gucci at the store opening.

"Each piece of bamboo is skilfully bent by hand with heat from a special flame, resulting in different characteristic fire marks on the raw bamboo. Effectively, each one will have a different shading and no two handles will look the same."

Once the bamboo has been bent, it is held together by a metal clamp to ensure a uniformity of the width of every handle ready for the bag assembly and baked in the oven to get rid of the water within. (A similar plastic clamp comes with every Bamboo Bag to hold the handles together when not in use to prevent reactions to climatic conditions.)

The bamboo handles are then coated with organic shellac -- a century-old type of component resin varnish that comes from a brittle or flaky secretion of the female lac insect found in the forests of Assam and Thailand, and harvested from the bark of trees.

Over the years, the bamboo handle has become an icon of the Gucci brand and was reintroduced in 2010 with the New Bamboo bag under the creative direction of Frida Giannini. She followed up with the contemporary Bamboo Shopper handbag last year, and for Spring Summer 2014, gave it an edgy new look with lots of fringing and a straighter bamboo frame on the swinging Gucci Nouveau shoulder bag