Clasp Struggle

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Designer Handbags

So if the copies are so good, why does anyone bother with the real thing? Is it just because they have money to burn, and it's a lot nicer to shop at Chanel than rough it on Canal? Well, partly. But it's also the case that the real bag from the real house links the shopper, at least in her own mind, to the glories of the company's past, when these items were in fact the exclusive province of the very rich. The smallest Louis Vuitton card case traces its lineage back to the pile of monogrammed trunks piled up on the pier at Cannes and bearing Zelda Fitzgerald's luggage tags. The lowliest Gucci key ring shares a family history with Jackie Kennedy's double-G shoulder bags. It can provide a twisted thrill to save up the money and sail into Prada, with its icy pistachio-colored walls and hushed lighting, and get that bag for yourself. And who's to say you're a fool? Are you any more of a fool than someone who's longing for a flat-screen TV, or a late model SUV, or a $3000 Cartier watch made of stainless steel that has the same $1 quartz movement as watches sold on the street?

Illustration by Barbara McGregor

It's your rightful inheritance as an American to play with class and status, to reinvent yourself a million times. Zelda's husband was dead wrong when he said that there are no second acts in American lives. It's nothing but second, and third, and fourth acts, a lot of them played with handbags of dubious provenance dangling from the actors' wrists. Every time someone buys a designer bag—real or fake—she's waiting for the curtain to come up.

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