It is easy for the rich and famous, celebrities and royals have to have a large collection of luxury handbags. But the typical working woman or the stay at home mum can hardly afford to pay such high prices to realise her dream. The actuality is that most bag-loving women will go without other things in order to fulfil her desire for a new bag.
What sacrifice would you have been prepared to make to bid for the Hermes Birkin which recently sold at auction for over $200,000? Made of exquisite pink crocodile skin, it is adorned with 18 carat gold hardware and genuine diamonds. The basic Hermes will cost at least $8000, and you will probably have to be on a waiting list to get it!
Luxury handbags these days do not sell for much less than $500. In Fact, many of the more exclusive fashion houses sell their bags for well over $1000. I personally would have to save up for a long to be the proud owner of one of these amazing accessories.
While the ultimate 21st-century object of desire, luxury handbags are the not just for the well-to-do, celebrities and royals, but also for working women from all walks of life as well. Now, women of all ages are likely to spend more on a handbag than a holiday, jewelry or even a car. They all have this hidden desire to be noticed.
Clothes actually can take second place to luxury handbags. For instance, an ad made in 2007 featuring Kate Moss lying naked on a beach with nothing on except for her Longchamp handbag. Their message was clear: clothes are redundant – it’s all about the bag.
So why do women have this love affair with luxury handbags? One of the reasons is because they have become a personal fashion statement illustrating a woman’s wealth and status. They also point out how fashion conscious a woman is, and demonstrates her position and earning power. It is also because the ever growing popularity of the large purse, which over the previous 100 years or so, has followed the emergent social independence of women.
Previously a woman’s role was typically domestic and she would carry her personal things in a purse tucked into the folds of her skirt or in a small purse she carried discretely. But as women ventured more from the home, both for leisure and work, larger purses became a useful way of taking their stuff with them. Eleanor Roosevelt is said to have started the trend of using a large purse as a fashion accessory
Another reason why luxury handbags became more popular was the fact that rail and sea travel became more accessible, so there was more demand for fashionable luggage such as suitcases, dressing cases, as well as hat and shoe boxes. This lead to the development of the modern leather handbag.
It is not surprising, therefore that many of today’s top fashion houses, such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada and Hermes, originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And as women attained financial independence, the handbag industry flourished out of all proportion to its modest beginnings.
However, the way we feel about owning right handbag goes far deeper than just being a way to carry our personal effects. Both revealing and concealing, luxury handbags also embodies a feeling that is extremely private to its owner. This feeling is due to the fact that the handbag was first designed as a silk purse or pocket worn hidden, close to our body. Then, pockets were thought of as underwear – a secret place, hidden under layers of material and assessable only by an intimate opening in the skirt.
These feelings of intimacy did not disappear when the first luxury handbags were carried in the late 18th century. Called reticules, these purses were beautifully embroidered pouches with handles in damask, satin or velvet. Women used them to carry cosmetics, a fan for flirtation, smelling salts and carte de visite, all without compromising the slim-line fit of the Empire-line dress that were popular then.
At first, the idea of a woman revealing her personal bits and pieces to the outside world was as shameful as if she had taken off her knickers and waved them in the air. Thus, reticules were often labelled “ridicules” by those not ready to accept the change.
Luxury handbags were, and still are, seen as sexual objects because of the intimacy which in the past was associated with them, The expression “old bag” was used to refer to a woman who was passed her sexual prime and grumpy old women who show no emotion or feeling for others are still called that today.
Luxury handbags still have their sex appeal because they are so closely linked to all of our intimate belongings. A large purse is our survival kit which holds all our personal necessities which these days include a mobile phone, tampons, make-up, money and keys, to hair straighteners, laptops, I-phones, chewing gum, condoms to a change of clothes. Accordingly, its intimate appeal remains secret. Men are intrigued about what a woman carries in her bag, but would never dare to invade its privacy.
Bag-loving women feel naked without their luxury handbags. They believe that it is your bag, rather than your clothes, which make you stand out from the crowd. Even if your clothes are old and drab, a nice-looking bag makes you look and feel good.
Hence, the handbag industry has experienced unbelievable growth in the past few decades. By the mid-2000’s sales of bags were on the rise at a rate which was twice as high as the rate of clothes. The major fashion houses now make millions of dollars a year from the sale of luxury handbags alone.
So what are the features that set luxury handbags apart? The first thing is that they must have an exclusive design. They have to be instantaneously identifiable as a leading brand, e.g. Fendi, Gucci, Hermes, Louis Vuitton or from other fashion house. Fashion houses usually have their signature designs and this helps with branding as well.
Another significant feature for desirable luxury handbags is glamour and appeal. Naturally this is discovered when a particular brand is linked to a celebrity e.g.the famous Hermes Kelly bag which was originally produced in 1935, was not until bestseller until 1956. The bag shot to fame when the newlywed, Princess Grace of Monaco, was photographed for the cover of Time magazine shielding her pregnant belly with a classic Hermes bag. The handbag in question consequently became known as the Kelly bag in her honour. Fashion writers promoted the association between bag and star: Carrying a Kelly bag is still synonymous with class and old money.
Similarly, the Lady Dior became a sensation in 1994 when Princess Diana took to wearing it around town after she separated from Prince Charles. This handbag is a seductive combination of briefcase and handbag which has distinctive gold charms. It illustrated an attentive woman who was, on the other hand, glamorous and sophisticated. Currently, social media can endorse the status and demand for an individual bag just by been photographed on the arm of a style icon, celebrity or royal like Princess Kate Middleton.
Astute marketing undeniably plays an important role in creating a must-have bag. Whereas celebrities may be able to get their hands on the latest luxury handbags, for the working woman it is much more problematic, regardless of how much money they want to spend. Many high-status bags are inaccessible and may have waiting lists extending up to three years. The Hermes Birkin is in this category.
Women’s innate competitiveness is ingeniously managed by the best bag designers. For example. In 2005, Alexander McQueen drove customer demand to a peak when he made it known that the launch of his new designer bag was a limited with only 200 ever to be produced. It then became the ultimate fashion trophy and sold out before a waiting list was even compiled. This bag was called the Novak after Kim Novak, the legendary blonde actress who starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 masterpiece Vertigo. Prices started at £550 and went up to a massive £6,000 for the deluxe crocodile version.
It appears that a price tag does not discourage those obsessed with bags. In fact, fashion houses have worked out that a high price tag seems to enhance the desire to own it. There obviously is an endless willingness to splash out on designer bags.
Luxury handbags will last a lifetime if cared for properly. Some iconic styles come and go, some keep their value and others increase in value. However, it is only a minority that have the right qualities to become iconic. To become iconic, a bag is not just superbly well designed but it also surpasses time. The following brands have earned the right to call a bag iconic: Hermes Kelly, the Fendi Baguette, the Marc Jacobs’s Stam, the YSL Muse and the Mulberry Roxanne.
All of these luxury handbags share one thing in common; a clear, clean line; nothing fussy or over-designed, and a mixture of functionality with indulgence. An iconic bag earns its standing from the best traditions of pedigree, quality and craftsmanship. As it ages, an iconic bag will look as good as it did on the day it was bought. And, for a true bag lover, that is worth all the money spent on it.