This question popped in my head while inspecting a Chanel Camera case.
I have on hand a 2014 caviar calfskin in navy blue colour, features silver-tone hardware, has a measured size of approximately 10” in length, 7” in height and 5” in depth with a drop length of about 9”.
You can click here for more pictures. For a bag size like this, the bag has some depth to it. Besides, a 9” drop length is pretty tight-fitting. Personal opinion it fits better as a top-handle, carried with your hand or over your arm, i.e. like a handbag.
The bag is roomy; you can put a Costco roasted chicken in the bag without anyone noticing.
Back up a little and to my question from another perspective, I wondered, was it just a style name Chanel given to this product or a functional bag designed for putting in cameras?
Forgive my ignorance of fashion. In my memory, a camera bag was equal to a Billingham or a Domke, be it a genuine one or an imitation. This robust canvas bag comes with multiples pockets and compartments, and a long crossbody strap. Oh yeah, that looks so cool on a person, be it a professional photographer or not, it was a must-have. Trust me when in those days I had my CHINON CP5 and two Sigma lenses in a beat-up Billingham (I inflicted some of the worn and torn on purpose), people took confidence in me to be a veteran photographer and won’t make a hiss to my instruction on posing. That could come in convenient and saved hours of shooting time; people could have strong opinions on the better way photographing themselves. Contrasting to nowadays, with the blessing of digital cameras, we can do on-site review shot by shot and make adjustments accordingly.
(Photo credit: Left: Billingham 550, Right: Domke F-2)
TRACE OF ORIGIN
So, I turned to the Internet for answers to my question, hope to find background stories or inspirating tales of innovation of some sort on the birth of this piece of fashion. Nupe, nothing to that nature. Other than sparse brief notes here and there, I found only sales listings. That said, worth notes, At 1stDibs (click), there is a large selection of CHANEL Camera cases, vintage and recent models. It worth having a look; it is like a museum collection, very impressive. Also, I realize most other luxury brands also carry camera bag/ pouch/ case in their collections. Their design and built is vastly resembled each other: An oblong shape, Top opening with one long metal zipper from end to end, a crossbody strap (Chain links or leather strap), various combination of length and height, but usually with a depth from 2” to 3” max.
In addtion, some useful clues nonetheless. For example, Amanda Mull at PurseBlog (1) mentioned:
Designer Camera bags are named that way because of their petite, boxy proportions, which would have been perfect for the chunky little point-and-shoot cameras of the mid-2000s.
I have doubt on the timeline. I guess Amanda is from 90’s, cause Point & Shoot goes way before. By suggesting a pioneering fashion brand like Chanel first launched a product for P&S from the mid-2000s is really saying Chanel is behind the curve. If that truly was the case; if I was Chanel; I would have dropped the project entirely. It was from Chanel itself that confirms my theory. On their website under Chanel news in 2018 (2) (here is the link), it mentioned in brief that the origin of their Camera bags were first launched in the 80’s inspired by the lovers of photography.
So two important clues: Point &Shoot Cameras and the 80s
A CONTEMPORARY DEVELOPMENT OF CAMERA
The 80’s was certainly a special era for someone. There were two turning points in the camera industry.
First, it saw the release of all-in-one film processing and printing machines, or so-called "One-hour photo processing machine". Which if you recall, they could be found installed in pharmacies, grocery and retail stores. It made it easy for the general public to take photographs. That was huge. People no longer needed to go to a specialty photography store to have their film developed.(3)
Second, the flourishing market of point-and-shoot cameras (4). Kodak made the first debut of P&S in 1977; the market demand took off a couple of years later. In the early eighties, Canon, Fujifilm, Kodak, Nikkon, you name it, all big names launched their P&S, products by then were really beef-up, no more flimsy, plasticky, toy like trifles. I still remembered my first P&S was Nikkon L35AF (5). It was epic.
(Nikkon L35AF. Photo Credit: Nikkon)
This little fellow had multiple first-in-the-world cool gadget functions. Suppose you happened to own and used an SLR before. In that case, you probably remember the hassle of loading the 35mm film into the camera. And it was as though a lesson never learns, and frequently, you would come across someone who ended up with a blank negative because the film did not engage appropriately into the spool or to the sprocket gear. But the L35AF worked like magic. Inserted the canister and closed the back door. After seconds of some motoring humming sound, it was good to go, guaranteed working.
These two major events I accounted for being decisive factors that changed the entire landscape of the photography industry. It opened an enormous market potential on female customers. You see, prior to that point in time, photography was somewhat a thing exclusive to men. So by then, it no longer required abs and biceps to shoot pictures.
Take a look at the ads from the 80s below, I found them from ClickAmericana (6) and make your judgement on my suggestion.
(Photo credit: Clickamericana)
As the story unfolded, the P&S went from 35mm to APS in the late 90s. Short-lived, obliterated by digital cameras in the early 2000s. In turn, by 2016, the global sales of digital P&S dropped to 12 million units, one-tenth the peak in 2008, the year before Apple's iPhone debuted (7). It is an oversimplified version, my apology. P&S had sprouted out to numerous variants. For one, the super-popular disposable camera you could find them everywhere: Pharmacy, retail, theme parks, even at corner stores during the mid to late 90s. For the sake of more cohesive content, I highlight only the relevant information. There is plenty of information available on the internet, and you will find no problem locating them in your pursuit.
Another trivial but interesting point. When you buy photography equipment, it almost always come with a carrying case. Filters, lenses, tripod, camera, you name it. Whether it was part of the factory original package or a 3rd party no-brand taken as a perk the retailer offers along with the purchase, it has been in practice like a ritual. And they serve more as garnish on the dish by the initial intention. Hence, both the design and built are always in the minimalism, in the simplest and most practical form.
Below are photos I found on the internet on P&S camera bags from the 80s. Notice the familiar shape and the feature of zipper top opening.
(Photo credit: Esty.com, Ebay.com)
In conclusion, I do not have a definite answer on where was the original camera case design came from. Nor have I pin down which brand was the first to launch this style of Camera case product. But I have a theory after all. Base on the information so far, I suppose the simple oblong shape with zipper top design originated from camera factory-made carrying case accessories. Then, in turn, Designer brands adopted the design and added their styling improvisation. For instance, in Chanel camera cases from the 80s, they had a tassel, a cohesive design style along with other Chanel handbag collection in the era.
Note that the production of Chanel camera cases halted and reintroduced in 2013. The bag I have with here is a 2014 version and is seen with another design modification. The crossbody strap is dropped and replaced with a handbags style top handle. Personal opinion, it was a reasonable move. By the time in 2013 and 2014, you won’t actually expect to purchase a bag for P&S cameras. So, I suppose the Camera case has undergone an identity transition from once which had a functional purpose in mind to become more of a style name for a handbag.
You may also know that the crossbody strap has returned to Chanel camera case, plus a reduced depth in the late models. Something closer to the original version in the 80s.
I hope this is not too trivial to you. And thank you for reading to the end.