Bag, Borrow or Steal

The handbag has become an essential accessory for women since the 1920’s, there’s something extremely powerful about this exclusively female relationship with her luggage.

The luxury handbag possesses a hypnotic force that has the ability to turn the most average, sane and grounded woman into an embarrassingly obnoxious victim of capitalism, so far she will go as to rent a handbag as she would her home. It was in Sex and The City when I first became aware of the borrowing of luxury handbags; Jennifer Hudson, playing Louise from St Louis carried about her rented Vuitton denim patchwork bowling bag and seemed just as excited about this bag she was paying rent for as if she’d worked blood, sweat and tears for it and it were hers to keep.
Admittedly, luxury is not available to us all and we may possibly never afford an Hermes Croc Kelly, let’s be brutally honest here, most of us won’t ever afford an Hermes bag period, let alone any crocodile, python or ostrich skin bag – regardless of the designer. We can dream, we can aspire and we can admire, there’s honestly nothing wrong with that – but when we begin to fool ourselves and the world with ‘Bag Borrowing,’ do we need to aspire or dream anymore? Luxury is no longer a lifestyle, but a borrowed experience. Avelle, the online luxury rental site Louise rents her patchwork Vuitton from, prides itself on opening up the gate to luxury fashion, “It gives customers greater access to a vast inventory of luxury accessories and the opportunity to indulge in more, more often,” says Lynn Ridenour, senior vice president of marketing.
Economist, Veblen theorised that the increase in accessibility and availability of a product eventually diminishes its desirability. Isn’t the whole point of the luxury handbag its rarity and expensiveness, the fantasy and the great sense of pleasure we feel when we finally get to have a slice of that luxuriously fantastical pie? We love the luxury handbag for its longevity, the stories it will tell when it’s thirty years old, the new life it will have when we hand it down to our daughters and the sheer ownership of a piece of art and fashion history. The luxury handbag doesn’t seem so whimsical or substantial when we have to hand it back at the end of the lease, hundreds of pounds poorer. In actual fact, all this bag rental phenomenon does is kill the luxury for everyone – the borrower, the luxury bag owner and the bag itself. Of course there’s one link in the chain that strengthens and that is of course, the bag lord or lady.
I adore luxury handbags and spend hours figuring out how I can alter my lifestyle temporarily, in order to save for a beautifully crafted, calf’s skin handbag with cold, gold hardware. I have to compromise the Gucci tribute bags or the Judith Leiber bejewelled clutches for bags that are timeless and suitable for most occasions, but I always feel good about making and owning my purchase. Louise from St Louis waltzed around New York City, unemployed, with a rental, gimmicky Vuitton bag in tow.
In my opinion, a penny spent on this kind of bag, rental or bought, is an ultimate waste – fashion theorists believe the exhibition of waste and uselessness is an occurrence familiar to the wealthy or those that wish to appear so. Maybe this is the beauty of Avelle, the opportunity to display wealth and luxury with the woman’s most significant and indicative item of dress, without ever having to be too pragmatic about the purchase. However I’d always rather commit to just the one bag, that will dent my bank balance and reduce my social life – a bag that I can be proud of because it’s a luxury, it’s expensive and it’s mine.

A Sicilian Winter Visit…

A visit to Catania Sicily and the handbag trend…
 
Emma Watson Burberry Campaign
 
I once wrote a poem in a poetry class at University about an evening out with my girlfriends, I wrote about the drinks we drank, the men issues we discussed and the Gucci bags we carried. My teacher asked me, ‘What do these Gucci bags symbolise?’ Typical poetry teacher question, I thought to myself and explained to her that they symbolise nothing, ‘They are just bags.’ She then said to me, ‘If they are just bags, there is no need to state that they are Gucci bags. Let’s be honest…,’ She continued, ‘these are little tokens of status.’
Five years ago when she made this statement I would have agreed – ninety nine percent of the reason I bought the bag was because it was Gucci and I definitely would not have purchased it had it been the exact same bag not designed by Gucci or another high end designer. Prior to my visit to Sicily I had proudly developed the attitude that high end designer bags were no longer of such importance, the key factor was the design of the bag. I very rarely carried a designer bag and when I did it wasn’t because it was Gucci or Dior, it was because I simply liked the design of the bag, it complimented my outfit and most importantly, it was already in my wardrobe. I happily carried beautiful leather bags from TK Maxx and never felt less stylish or fashionable because it wasn’t designed by a high end designer.

In Italy high fashion designer bags are in abundance – it’s almost a sin not to have one. Women swing their designer hand bags like a brownie sticks their badges to a sash. The bag is really that serious in Italy and bottom line is – it must be designer. Many of the times I have visited ninety nine point nine percent of the time I would not have been carrying a high fashion designer bag. I hoped that people would think I was dressed so impeccably well they’d naturally assume that my bag was designed by a high fashion designer or they’d just think that I was alternative and too cool to carry a designer bag. However it would seem that if you want to qualify as the fashion concerned, stylish woman in Italy there are a few things you have to get on board with –and carrying a designer bag is definitely one of them. As they say, ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!’ I suppose fashion is not a race that I’m prepared to lose and the Italians are way way up there with the true tasteful sense of dress – so adopting their style can’t be so much of a backwards move… or can it? Part of me can’t help thinking that it is!

In Sicily it’s not just about carrying a nice high fashion designer hand bag – the Chloe Padlock bag or the YSL down town bag, huge in London – wouldn’t have survived a second in the places I frequented in Sicily. These are up to the minute, beautiful, sexy bags, far more beautiful than a Louis Vuitton Monogram printed canvas speedy bag or a Burberry Check mini messenger bag. However, drinking on a Thursday night in Central Catania Sicily in a club that is essentially a designer bathroom show room by day and a club by night I stand with my partner and take in the Sicilian fashion trend. Now, this club is hosted by one of the top hosts in Catania, he also owns Studio 54 (which is a club I frequented during my summer in Catania) – he is the host of parties, wine bars and clubs to a relatively selective crowd – The London equivalent would be China Whites on a members night. China Whites on a members night would be inhabited by two kinds of women; the modestly dressed after work woman and the woman out for a night out, spruced up and sparkling. The difference between the two, aside from those that I have just mentioned, aside from the suit, strappy shoes and alcohol consumption would be, of course The Handbag.

A woman out for a night out in London does not carry a hand bag – she clutches a clutch, the tiniest, most impractical of bags for any woman; some may be embellished with jewels, some may be expensive, others may not, some are vintage, some are satin, some are bright others are black, very few are covered in a Logo’d designer print and almost always they are worn to compliment an outfit. Studio 54, The Bathroom Show room – a designer bag hung from every woman’s body – whether it be held by handles in their hand or slung over their shoulder. These were not the tiny, impractical China White occupants’ bags – No. What were these bags? They were ‘Status Tokens’, Louis Vuitton Monogram and Burberry Check everywhere, almost mimicking the attitude of a chav (of course the style of a Sicilian woman ‘logo or no logo’ is far from anything remotely close to resembling that of a chav). And if the bag wasn’t plastered with a Logo all over it, you could assure it had such a huge featured logo that Stevie Wonder could identify the designer!

 

These are not the bags that you see carried down the Catwalk, these are not the bags that a Londoner would particularly boast about. In London we go crazy over ‘IT’ bags; a snake skin Hermes Birkin, a Croc Kelly bag, a Fendi Spy bag, a Gucci Tassel bag or the Miu Miu Matelasse bag– I couldn’t help thinking that in Sicily bags were desired just because they were a designer bag with a logo. Let’s put it into context, the bags I have just listed are high fashion bags, you know these bags not because you like to look nice and like to go shopping, but because you have an interest in fashion. The bags I have listed are almost double the price of a Louis Vuitton Speedy bag (which was the most prevalent of all the bags carried) – so, is it worthwhile to invest in a high end designer bag that you want everyone to know is a high end designer bag without the obvious Logo print?

Probably not.

I was in a bar called Tinkite (Sicilian for ‘everything’) in Siracusa, with my partner, his friend, the manager of Papini and a girl who we had met in the bar. She told me a story about her visit to a high end fashion retail store. She said she walked in the shop carrying a Pollini (logo’d) bag – she told me that in Sicily it is very normal that when you shop you are fussed over by sales assistant’s, Papini’s manager agrees, filling in; this is the way Italian’s like to shop. The girl carries on to say that she couldn’t have got an assistant’s attention if she’d of whistled. She goes on to say that she returns to the shop a few days later carrying a Channel bag, the sales assistants, she says, flocked to her like sheep to a shepherd. She believed it was due to the bag she was carrying. Can bags have this much impact? Part of me, ashamedly understands that they can.

I have tried to analyse the attitude of the Sicilian Logo bag carrying woman – surely she does not go into Burberry and buy a Burberry check bag because it’s the nicest in the shop. And then I realise – there is no Burberry in Sicily, there’s also no Emporio Armani, Fendi, Louis Vuitton or any other high end designer store. What they do have in Sicily are shops that have the mandate to sell designers in certain regions of the island, so it is probably almost never that you would walk into a shop in Sicily and see a designer’s full season, instead what you get is a selection of goods that the buyer for the shop knows will sell well. Secondly – it would appear that the majority of Sicilian’s, both men and women are concerned with elegance and class. They are not worried about frills, golden buckles, jewels or tassels – my senses tell me they prefer a simplicity; a classy and sophisticated look. They are never dressed overtly sexy, but nevertheless always carry themselves with a sexy, rich, elegant style. Point being, with a look that is almost timeless and definitely classic they needn’t worry about purchasing an up to the minute ‘high fashion’ bag. The bags they carry are the bags that Louis Vuitton and Burberry will stock season through season – the staple bag which never goes in or out of fashion. If it is for this reason that the Logo Bag Carrying is the trend, then it’s a technique I like and definitely a trend I would recommend to any fashion loving, ordinary waged person. I don’t necessarily like the fact that it ‘needs’ to be logo printed – but definitely agree it should be classic.

I enter Papini, a high end fashion retailer, with the mandate to sell Gucci, Fendi, Prada, Miu Miu, Balenciaga and many others I may not have noticed. I was undecided between two bags – one with a logo print and the other with a statement huge gold buckle (I am a sucker for gold trimmings). ‘I prefer the logo bag,’ the shop assistant says, she says something to my boyfriend in Italian, he translates, ‘She says if you’re only buying one bag then go for the logo one. You can grow tired of the buckles on the other bag. This one (points to the logo’d bag) is timeless.’
In the end I bought myself the bag the sales assistant had suggested (a plain black logo’d Fendi bag) and a Balenciaga wallet, ‘You can use these for life,’ my boyfriend said to me and to be quite frank that was exactly what I wanted to hear. I’m an average girl on an average wage – I can’t afford to spend the money I’m spending on a bag that’s only going to last me a season – Logo or no logo!