Why are women still so attracted to designer handbags?

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The It bag may be dead, but designer handbags have lost none of their appeal, despite the rise in popularity of cult mid-range brands. Marie Kelly explores the enduring appeal of expensive arm candy.


Handbags are to women what cars are to men: a way to show off their sense of style and their financial standing. For this reason, handbags are a big business – a very big business – and they have been since Hermès renamed its original 1935 top-handle leather bag the “Kelly” in 1956 after the actress and newlywed princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly, was featured on the cover of Time magazine protecting her pregnant belly from predatory paparazzi with a classic Hermès bag.

From that point on, owning a Kelly bag meant aligning with the class and sophistication of its most famous wearer, as well as the wealth and status of the iconic French fashion house. The first in a series of celebrity handbag christenings – the Birkin (again Hermès), the Jackie (Gucci), the Amal (Ballin) and the Alexa (Mulberry) – the designer handbag trade has peaked in the late 1990s and 2000s, fueled by a new kind of celebrity culture and fashion-centric TV shows like Sex and the city. No one has ever cared about the handbag Rachel Green wore, but Carrie’s Fendi wand is still sought after on pre-loved websites more than 20 years after the show first aired and is featured in the exhibit. of the V&A. Bags: inside out, alongside Margaret Thatcher’s gray Asprey handbag and Princess Diana’s Lady Dior. During New York Fashion Week last February, Fendi hosted a party to celebrate the reissue of the baguette style.

The cult of the designer handbag embodies all the contradictions and complexities inherent in the fashion world at the dawn of a new decade. Designer bags represent conspicuous consumption, sartorial overbidding, and a form of narcissism that can make their owners seem elitist and far removed from reality. Yet they are also synonymous with quality, craftsmanship and longevity – buzzwords today. Like great art books and the first edition, designer bags have become treasured family heirlooms, and unlike fast cars, they don’t depreciate the moment you leave the store with them. Indeed, some informed buyers now research the resale market before making their choice to ensure a return on investment.

I think for many women buying a designer handbag is a rite of passage. In my twenties, and still on a budget, I wondered what it would be like to walk into an upscale store (or float; the rugs are so thick and soft), to stroke the supple leather of an item that I would never have dared to touch, then watch the salesperson package it for me with the care and precision you would use to tuck in a sleeping baby. Brands don’t just sell a handbag, they sell quite an experience, and that’s what luxury retailers hope to give them an edge in what has become a very crowded market; Thanks to social media, mid-range handbag brands such as Danse Lente and Cult Gaia have gained strong notoriety and almost instantaneous credibility.

In 2018, WWD reported that luxury handbag brands including Louis Vuitton had started inviting esteemed customers to apartments and private lounges on Fifth Avenue loaded with their favorite drinks and snacks so they could purchase the items of their choice in privacy and luxury. This is not a surprising development given the escalation in the cost of designer bags over the past decade. The most expensive bag on Net-a-Porter right now is an alligator tote from The Row which costs $ 41,400. This is more than what the average worker earns in a year in Ireland. At Brown Thomas, the most expensive is a Bottega Veneta tote at € 3,900. Lisa Aiken, fashion director at Moda Operandi – an online platform that allows customers to shop directly from full designer runway collections – revealed last December that Bottega Veneta is her handbag brand. the most sold, despite an average price of over € 2,000.

Why are women still so attracted to designer handbags? At these prices, it’s not just about publicly declaring that you have a Chanel draped over your shoulder. I have a friend who buys a new car every four years mainly because she doesn’t want to bother with an NCT but also because she is bored of cleaning the interior and just wants to start fresh with a brand new car, which she promises to keep clean. I think buying a new handbag is a bit like that. It’s a new beginning, and it offers an opportunity to be a better version of yourself; to be someone who doesn’t let the bottom of his bag become a miserable tardis of old receipts, lidded pens, half-used lip balms and nickels. It’s a chance to be the YSL woman who only keeps a diary, wallet, phone and Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream in her suede-lined bag and carefully puts it back in its protective cover all nights. Fashion can be transformative. It can inspire confidence, happiness and optimism. That’s why women love it so much, handbags included. And is it all worth the hefty price of over $ 2,000? If it makes you feel better then yes. It may cost more than therapy, but it’s much cheaper than a sports car.

Photograph by Jason Lloyd Evans. This article originally appeared in volume 2 of IMAGE magazine.


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