Recently, in light of Greece’s severe financial woes and banks being shut down, Chanel handbags have arguably become more valuable than cash. It’s a stunning thought, one that—if you’re anything like me—makes you feel slightly less guilty about your last indulgent purse purchase. Let me explain: I am of the ilk of fashion girl who loves handbags, like loves with all capital letters. I think about them, troll the internet for them, obsess over what the great next It Bag may be and spend more time than I care to admit plotting my next big purchase. For the record, I blame my grandmother.
My grandmother was an incredibly chic woman, dressed to the nines every single day of her life down to her final one. When she passed away, my cousin and I sat at a table, surrounded by several pieces of her jewelry and her perfectly preserved, immaculate handbag collection. My cousin took one of the Chanel bags, a brown leather one, and I chose a hunter green, suede quilted shoulder bag, its long, gold-chain handle still as elegant and classic as ever. Not long after that, I carried my new treasure to a press event where a fellow fashion journalist asked me if it was from Chanel’s fall line. I replied, “Probably. The fall of 1970.” We laughed, and it got me thinking about how some bags truly are investment pieces that stand the test of time and—perhaps even more impressively—the test of the fickle fashion industry. I think that was when my purse obsession really kicked into high gear. My grandmother’s precious hand-me-down proved that bags can be far more than quick seasonal buys or unnecessary, overpriced indulgences—they can be heirlooms. And that’s when I stopped feeling guilt about my little “addiction.”
Today we see an almost endless stream of so-called It Bags on social media (the Chloe Drew bag, anyone?). If you are a woman prone to fashion media, it is nearly impossible to ignore that each season, one or a few bags take over the collective unconscious, practically calling to you from the perfectly styled Instagram photo: “Buy me, buy me! Don’t worry that I cost the same as your rent.” The lure of the designer handbag is even more appealing given the recent trends in fashion: normcore, athleisure, and denim everything. After all, if you’re keeping the rest of your ensemble simple, shouldn’t your accessories really sing? But designer handbags are expensive, seemingly more so every season. So what’s a girl to do?
Blogger Peace Love Shea donning the Chloe Drew bag. Photo: Getty Images
Enter brands like Mansur Gavriel, Clare V., Manu Atelier and Building Block, who in the last several seasons have proved that must-have bags don’t necessarily have to wipe out your bank account. Specifically Mansur Gavriel’s simple silhouettes have started a virtual revolution, selling out immediately each time the hotter-than-hot brand and recent winner of the CFDA award for accessory design restocks (which is rare and obsessively monitored by fans on social media). At an average of about $600, the label’s most coveted style—the bucket bag—is a steal in a world where designer bags often cost thousands.
Given my aforementioned addiction, it should come as no surprise to you that I own a Mansur Gavriel bucket bag, one that I bought two years ago after a particularly in-the-know stylist turned me onto the craze that was about to take place. (For the record, I can take no credit for being ahead of the trend, I truly believe she was a fashion psychic.) I can also admit to owning bags that did come with rent-like price tags, many of which I rewarded myself when celebrating a birthday or some other milestone like getting a new job or a big promotion. If there is a reason to celebrate, I—like so many other women—like to do it with a slightly outrageous, mildly guilt-inducing-but-otherwise-fabulous accessory purchase. I am only human after all.
The much-coveted Mansur Gavriel bucket bags. Photo: @mansurgavriel
So what does it all mean? We operate in an industry in which few things are more coveted than the almost-mythical Hermès Birkin or interlocked Cs—so is a purse in fact the most important element in a woman’s wardrobe? The answer is up to the individual. Likely shoe addicts would argue a different story. But it’s hard to deny that a bag can hold its value far longer than a shoe that takes to the mean city streets day after day. As my grandmother’s Chanel bag proved, some things stay chic no matter how many decades have passed. In fact, many purses come back around again. The last several years have shown an increase in vintage Gucci bags, frequently spotted on fashion bloggers, and recently it was reported that even the Dior saddle bag—of Sex and the City fame—is experiencing a resurgence in popularity. It could also be argued that the bag you carry says something about you. Are you a Celine Luggage gal or a J.Crew tote woman? Do you lean toward a classic Chanel 2.5 or an edgy Balenciaga motorcycle bag? Do you prefer a no-name up-and-comer label or the season’s hottest It Bag? The answer likely says something about your personality.
An Hermès Birkin spotted on the city streets. Photo: Adam Katz Sinding
The truth is, our fashion choices—whether we like it or not—make a statement about who we are and how we want the world to see us. Is it wrong to want that message to be a pretty fabulous one? Personally, I don’t think so.
So maybe that’s all to say investing in a luxe purse is one of the more reasonable things a slightly unreasonable, retail-obsessed fashion girl can do for herself? I think so. Something tells me my grandma would also agree.