Later this month, the glittering baubles and watches that line cases in Cartier's boutiques will be competing for the spotlight with Marcello de Cartier bags.
Marlin Yuson, creative director for Cartier leather goods, admits jewellery and watches are always going to be the main event. 'The bags are the supporting cast but an important character,' says the designer, who has worked with Ferragamo, Polo Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, and spends her time between Florence and Paris.
The fact that the brand is not known for its leather goods has long represented a challenge for Yuson. 'In a way we are battling a common perception of the brand. Most people don't realise that Cartier does leather bags,' she says. 'If you weren't part of a generation that knew that Cartier did leather products, then the Marcello bags would come as a surprise. I still get that, even after 10 years with the brand. There's no bag campaign and there won't be. The leather goods are part of the family, but they'll never be independent products.'
Yuson says Cartier bags were considered 'it' bags in the '70s and '80s, modelled by celebrities such as Tina Turner. 'Then it stopped. Cartier did other dressy bags but very, very classic bags. And then the whole handbag accessories craze took over.'
When designing the Marcello, Yuson knew what a contemporary bag should - or rather, shouldn't - be. 'I really don't see it as an 'it' bag, not something as ephemeral as what's in trend,' she says. 'I didn't want it to be too old-fashioned and seem like a relic, either. I didn't want to stick a panther or leopard on it; that would be too easy. I haven't put in animal prints, either, yet. And it's really not for 'ladies who lunch'.'
Yuson decided to maintain the hard corner of Cartier's earlier bags. 'I wanted to keep that iconic bookend sort of arch. The bags needed volume and pockets to be practical for the woman on the go.'
Yuson says that she doesn't have a particular muse but she'd love to see Alexa Chung or IMF chief Christine Lagarde carrying her bags. 'Strong, confident, influential women who didn't sacrifice their femininity in their business,' she says. 'Women on the move, who have children, or are working ... they're the ones I hope will embrace the bag, for its practical purposes.'
The Marcello is a large bag with the interlocking Cs logo that will be joined in stores with a series of evening clutches in September.
Cartier's first evening bag came out in 1906. 'Initially, the evening bags were very much about jewellery,' says Yuson. 'The finishings on the bags were precious, and the bags themselves were one-off pieces for royalty and unique order customers.'
She says that when she was creating the designs, she carried the bags around during her travels to observe their functionality.
'Translating the Cartier bag to the present and keeping that identity - that luxury feel to it - is hard, especially where there are so many fashion brands around,' she says. 'I stuck to a family of colours to keep it coherent: red and black, tobacco or cognac.'
The primary inspiration for the bags came from the materials, she says.
'Looking at the quality, texture and colours, concepts come to mind,' says Yuson. 'Even something as trifling as a buckle becomes a starting point. Texture is really important. We don't have too many prints, so the material has to resonate.'