Faux leather is finally coming of age – and the best designer bags to buy

falabella faux leather
L-R: Charlotte Rampling, Ellie Goulding, and Rihanna all carry Stella McCartney Falabella bags, which are made from faux leather - Getty

Fifteen years ago Stella McCartney launched the Falabella, a catchy number with all the squish and hardware the zeitgeist required. An oxymoron was born: the vegan it bag. Over the years, the Falabella has metamorphosed: one season maximalist, the next sleek and plain. Sometimes diminutive and neat, at others seemingly bottomless. Studded, twinkly, fringed, it has been carried by Rihanna, Kate Hudson, Kate Moss, Sarah Jessica Parker, Gwyneth Paltrow, J Lo, Diane Kruger, Anne Hathaway, etc, etc. Animals lived happily ever after.

Paris and Nicky Hilton with their Falabella bags in Paris last year
Paris and Nicky Hilton with their Falabella bags in Paris last year - Getty
Sinéad Burke
Sinéad Burke wearing a Falabella at the Stella McCartney runway show in 2022

Except it didn’t quite turn out that way. Developing alternatives to leather turned out to be painstaking, laborious work – lab being the operative syllable, with numerous start-ups creating samples derived from all manner of plants including hemp, peach and grape.

Even in 2024 it would be overstating things to say the market has reached maturity. McCartney debuted bags made from mycelium (the root-like structures of fungi) on her catwalk two years ago. But most of her accessories are still made from polyester and recycled polyester coated with non-solvent PU (polyurethane), with recycled brass hardware. The luxury touch comes courtesy of the Italian artisans who still hand-punch the holes for the laces; the Falabella takes several hours to make.

faux leather designer bags
faux leather designer bags

From back: Alter Mat PU, Alter Suede and recycled polyester bag, £895, Stella McCartney; Hemp, Econyl regenerated nylon, recycled polyester and vegetable leather bag, £2,470, Gucci. Alt-nappa leather tote, £575, Nanushka. Cactus and recycled PU leather tote, £685, Kaai. Linen and apple leather bag, £1,750, Métier.

Luxury customers have certain expectations – memorable design, superior finishes and buttery softness among them. It took Melissa Morris, founder of cult accessories house Métier, ages to find a leather alternative to match the superior skins she works with (her brand being to bags what The Row is to clothes).

The solution came from the peel, rind and seeds of an apple juice producer in North Tyrol. Bound together with recycled PVC and combined with unbleached linen in Métier’s Roma bag, the results are clearly deluxe. ‘We test all our bags in a facility that simulates 20 years of use, and apple leather performs at the same level as our other materials,’ says Morris. ‘It won’t develop the same patina as normal leather, but it maintains its beauty and to me has the best feel of all the alternatives.’

Add to the mix Nanushka’s striking foldable soft totes with contrast blanket stitch, Gucci’s heritage monogram with vegan trim, and Kaai’s workhorse Pyramid – the options are growing. Luxury is taking a new turn.