It all started about a decade ago. Reflecting, it seems not that long ago, but in reality it’s been awhile. The creation and marketing of the elusive “It” bag. Or bags, plural, as we now know them. While at one moment in time it was refined to simply one stellar bag per season (the black nylon Sam bag that put Kate Spade on the map, or the Chloe Paddington in every waking color in which it was produced), it has now grown to encompass everything in its path, with no one piece stealing the scene. There are now “It “bags for certain demographics. Women on Wall Street are known to tote the YSL Muse in chocolate or black, suburban mothers carry their monogrammed Coach tote bags with gusto, and your favorite tabloid fixture has a bevy of bags at her disposal (most likely gratis, which is the extra disgusting part). She totes everything from Rebecca Minkoff to Jimmy Choo, and hits on Hayden Harnett and Hermes in between.
It seems we’re all a little bogged down with bags these days. Trying to choose one mirrors Sophie’s Choice, creating millions of handbag “addicts” in the process. One can hope that the term “addicts” is used loosely, but take a simple look around and you’ll see the term is pretty concrete when it comes to describing women and their bags. What’s worse is thanks to the ever-rising costs of handbags in general (not to mention your premier designer bags), women are taking a bigger and bigger hit. Rather than not keeping up with the trends, few can keep up with the costs, maxing out credit cards, accumulating debt, and feeding into the age of consumption. Because it isn’t that a woman needs another bag, it’s that she wants one. The power of celebrity (for better or worse) has created a society of fashionistas. Everyone wants the latest everything from the girl who makes your sandwich at Subway to your mother in-law. While they may not all be after the latest Louis Vuitton limited edition, they are, in their own way, seeking out the next bag on their own agenda. Retail giants like Banana Republic and Club Monaco are now putting together wonder teams of accessories designers, and using luxe leathers and hardware not typically found in their tier of price points. Marketing goes a long way in this day, and it isn’t always the standard see-a-bag-in-Bazaar marketing either. It’s a little more discrete, and ironically enough, right in our faces. She may be a Balenciaga girl at heart, but the minute she sees Rihanna toting that gorgeous Stella McCartney patent number, something goes off in her brain.
Whether this is innate in all women, or only a bizarre, select few is the question. As bag mania spreads well into Middle America, overseas, and beyond, the industry is taking notice and continues to produce bags in record numbers. Every season there’s a push for a new bag, or bags, in most cases. While the It bag has had its time in the limelight, there are now a group of bags that reign each season, driving most women to want them all. There’s a satchel, a clutch, and a hobo for every season (except this one, as after years of the boho attitude, unstructured bags are out out out!), along with colors. Violet, cobalt, and mustard are all winners this season, and while black and chocolate are colors a lot of women already have, don’t be surprised if they don’t pick up another. The craze continues, as houses that normally don’t rely on bags (Dolce & Gabbana and Valentino to name a few), now churn out design after design, seemingly hoping they eventually strike gold with a hit.
But what makes a bag a hit? An “It” bag, if you will? Is it design? Function? Mass appeal? Or is it the perfect concoction of PR genius, landing the right (or wrong) bag on the right girl? The public seems a little more obsessed (though it is slowly coming to a halt, and we’re glad) with whom is wearing the bag, as opposed to what bag they are carrying. A Marc by Marc Jacobs turn lock satchel (a sumptuous bag, but not groundbreaking by any means) may not pan out as a craze should we see it on Kim Kardashian. Perhaps it’s because the association with a celebrity-hanger-on who went on to a career in “film” is less than appealing. But let Katie Holmes (or her other half: Posh Spice) get a hold of it, and you can be sure the Bleeker Street location’s phone will ring with inquiries for at least a week. No coincidence that the bag is inexpensive by designer handbag standards? Maybe. But even a starlet-gone-tabloid-staple, or former Must-See-TV gal can send women into Neiman’s thanks to a $1K+ handbag. Price, we’ve come to realize, is the afterthought when it comes to the truly obsessed.
Chanel handbags in particular have seen massive price increases in the past two years alone, pushing women to “stock up” on classics while the prices are what they are. But these aren’t underwear. They are bags toppling two grand in most cases, sometimes more as we’ve seen with the darling (insanely priced) croc embossed satin brights Lagerfeld churned out for fall.
The over-saturation of handbags has drowned women in most major cities, but they continue to fight the waves, and creep upon another prospect. After all, as with most obsessions, isn’t the vast part of the thrill the hunt? The task of tracking down style numbers, country codes, and reputable sales associates, all in hopes of having a precious FedEx box delivered to your front door. To some this sounds tedious and bizarre (borderline OCD, as well). Yet to many women it’s a seasonal routine, as regular as having the oil changed.
This “hunt” has also changed in the past decade. At one point, it was Balenciaga NY or Barney’s to land the infamous motorcycle collection. Now, many retailers, including all high end department stores, some specialty stores, and even online consignment shops carry the bag that we all loved on MK&A.
Between all of the above, is our bag craving beginning to subside? When you can waltz into any shop and drop that much on a bag, is your money perhaps best spent elsewhere? Maybe not, but at the very least you don’t want to carry the exact same bag as every other gal on the block. Or do you? And with celebrity paranoia screeching its brakes, will the bag craze begin to die down? Hopefully. After all, if we never see it, can we even want it?