Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine (September 2008).
Walk through the downtown of any major world city, and you’ll see the intersection of fashion and status carried on women’s shoulders or stacked like oranges in the corners of stores by Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci, Hermes, Bottega Veneta, Fendi, Christian Dior, Valentino, and Yves Saint Laurent-handbags with prices ranging between $1000 and $10,000 each.
America hasn’t known rationing since World War II, but Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue both recently restricted purchases of the popular Yves Saint Laurent Downtown bag to three per customer. Similarly, the Louis Vuitton website limits online purchases to two of each style per customer, per calendar year.
With the American dollar weak, Europeans and Asians are flying in for deals and designers are worried about undercutting themselves, much as in 2000 and 2001 Gucci, Hermès and Vuitton shops in Paris put bag limits on Asian shoppers, leading to surreal scenes of Asian customers on the Champs-Élysées soliciting Western tourists to buy bags for them. And with American handbag sales growth slowing this year (perhaps there’s no more room in those New York closets), the handbag phenomenon has not only become world wide, it is now fuelled by growth in emerging-market countries.
Handbags are weird, almost mystical.