The Handbag Bubble
House prices may be hitting the headlines, rising at their fastest pace since their peak in November 2006, but a quick analysis of the inexorable inflation of luxury bags throws those figu marc jacobs res into the shade. When Lehman Brothers crashed in 2008, a statement handbag might have set you back 500, or 650 if the lure of a fat padlock on a Chlo Paddington was too overwhelming. Now, a basic spec designer handbag with that catnip blend of mood alteration, newness and status can cost you 1,000 or more.
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Currently onthere are 131 bags priced at more than 1,200. Mulberry’s Willow tote bag in new season colours is 1,500. A Burberry Crush pouch in alligator and mink is 8,500. Louis Vuitton, the biggest producer of peerless arm candy, has raised prices on bags such as the Speedy and NeverFull by about 10 per cent in the Euro region since the beginning of the year, according to an HSBC analyst. And what about those black glass tile clutches they’ve run up for spring? A veritable snip at 16,000.
Bags, along with perfume, are now the laurels on which the fashion industry is resting. Prada will concede that leather goods accounted for 70per cent of its group net revenues in the first quarter of 2013; where sales of clothing and footwear di marc jacobs pped, sales of leather goods rose 29 per cent. It’s a similar story at Burberry, where “spring/summer 2013 was a standout season”, according to Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts. Quarterly retail revenue advanced 21 per cent to 339million in the three months to June, and outerwear and large leather goods aka handbags accounted for more than half the growth.
Sometimes oh, the injustice no amount of money can get you the bag of your dreams. Billionaire TV personality Oprah Winfrey had her heart set on a crocodile Tom Ford bag costing roughly 24,000, but last week revealed she was refused a viewing by a shop assistant, who allegedly told her it was so expensive that she wouldn’t be able to afford it. Racial prejudice, of which Winfrey claimed she was the victim, is intolerable. But almost as startling is the price of the bag that Winfrey was ogling.
Not versed in the exhausting odyssey of the handbag? Let’s recap. After a brief, late Nineties hankering for nylon rucksacks (thank you, Prada), we entered the new millennium craving bags large enough to carry a small child. We wanted them with enough chains and hardware to stock an aisle in B We gave them names: Marc Jacobs created the Stam bag in honour of model Jessica Stam; Luella Bartley gave us the Gisele, after Gisele Bndchen. We elevated them to “It” status, investing them with life changing properties and price tags to match. The handbag was God.
Then, post recession, we wanted them logo less and discreet polite bags for a politically correct customer but still expensive. Big, brash, genetically enhanced exotic snappers were out and butter soft receptacles in grown up colours and structured shapes were in. Latterly, instead of naming the bags, we wanted our own initials embossed on them. Even David Cameron fell for the narcissistic charms of a customised valise, commissioning Mulberry to provide personalised bags for heads of state at the G8 conference in June, presumably as light relief from the growing clamour for a Syrian peace conference.
Brief attach flirtations since then have included neon satchels, printed pouches and h marc jacobs eavily embellished clutches. What has remained is our dogged belief that we will find ‘the one’ the perfect balance of slouchy and stiff, roomy and neat, practical and pretty. And the other thing that marc jacobs hasn’t changed is the price.
READ: Harrods’s huge handbag invasion
So what’s keeping the bag trade buoyant? Bag inflation, according to a Vuitton spokesman, is partly down to rising prices of raw materials and a greater demand for bespoke leathers and finishes. But there’s also the fact that hoiking up prices has coincided with increased sales and trophy handbag hunters seem entirely undeterred by cost. Burberry, for instance, admitted in April that it would increase average prices to target wealthier customers seeking more exclusive pieces.
Thankfully, there is a silver lining to this capitalist nightmare, and to run with the property analogy, it doesn’t involve plumbing the subterranean depths of your terraced house. Improvements in quality at the luxury end have had a trickle down effect. The high street has upped its game in terms of quality and range, and mid range designers and diffusion lines are providing top notch, highly stylish and much more reasonably priced options.
First time buyers will find that Zara, as ever, has the high street bag market sewn up. The totes are particularly good: roomy enough to accommodate peripatetic lifestyles, while injecting that much sought after shot of nowness. Marks Spencer also has some reasonable day time options, as long as you steer clear of the pleather.
READ: The investment dresser: the classic handbag
Moving up the handbag ladder, Marni, Coach and Marc by Marc Jacobs are all producing smart bags in peppy colour combinations that won’t cost the same as a maisonette in Manchester. Also worthy of special mention is British designer Sophie Hulme, who enjoys a cult following among fashion folk for her minimalist designs in heavy cow hides, produced in an Italian run factory in Hungary to keep costs down.
If your heart still desires that Knightsbridge priced bag but your means preclude it, there are an abundance of websites where you can rent a purse for an evening or a month, including. You’d be feeding the buy to let bubble, true, but a far more dangerous solution would be to let a man buy you the bag instead. For as Anita Daniel observed in her 1945 article entitled “Bagology” in
The New York Times
: “Men keep women in eternal dependence by buying them beautiful handbags. What female heart would not melt at the sight of a luscious alligator bag, or soft suede or brocade?”