The History Behind This Burberry Bag Riccardo Tisci Revived From the Archives

What does a handbag have to do with Africa and the British Parliament?

In this new series from W magazine, an expert dissects the history of a particular, iconic fashion item—then has room to let their mind wander down a path of free association. Here, Colby Mugrabi examines the Burberry TB bag.

The TB Bag, which made its debut in Riccardo Tisci’s inaugural collection as Burberry’s creative director, references the initials of the house’s founder, Thomas Burberry, which were turned into a clasp logo by Tisci and the British graphic designer Peter Saville. The TB Bag is now available in a broad range of colors, sizes, fabrications, and styles; there is one with an artful monkey print guaranteed to satisfy even the wildest accessories collectors.

The English anthropologist and primatologist Jane Goodall knows a thing or two about monkeys and apes. Since her first visit, in 1960, to a forest that is now part of Gombe Stream National Park, in Tanzania, Goodall has been analyzing the social and familial interactions of wild chimpanzees. In the process, she has promoted myriad conservation efforts on the African continent.

Yves Saint Laurent was also captivated by Africa, and brought the safari to his spring 1968 collection. Throughout his career, Saint Laurent transformed utilitarian clothes into high-fashion pieces that were worn by the era’s It girls, such as the famous model Veruschka, who was captured on the savannah in this iconic photograph by Franco Rubartelli.

Veruschka also made a cameo in Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 mystery thriller, Blow-Up, which depicts the London scene during the Swinging ’60s. The main character in the film was based on actual bad-boy fashion photographers of the time, including David Bailey, Terence Donovan, and David Montgomery.

It’s hardly surprising that the renegade sister of Queen Elizabeth II would have been drawn to London’s taboo-breaking creative class. In 1960, Princess Margaret married the style photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones, more commonly known as Lord Snowdon, in the first royal wedding to be broadcast on live television. Although Armstrong-Jones always underscored his bohemian leanings, he had no trouble adjusting to grand environments such as Westminster Abbey, where the couple were married.

More than half a century later, the push and pull between rebellious outsiders and traditional British institutions is very much alive. The street artist Banksy, for example, is known for his trademark anonymity and timely cultural narratives. But while he flaunts an anti-establishment persona, his pieces have been sold for millions of dollars at auction. Appropriately, one of his masterworks is Devolved Parliament, a 14-foot wide painting that depicts Britain’s House of Commons populated by chimpanzees.