Bag of Tricks: The Year in Purses

Is it just our imagination, or is the status of carrying a Louis Vuitton (vuitton.com) bag going down, down, down? A lot of people probably think this has to do with the glut of fakes on the market—a phenomenon we applaud—but we believe it is also due to the generic ambiance of the LV shops themselves, and the fungus-like way they are spreading all over the world. What LV, and companies like it, fails to realize is that standardization and globalization equal unhipness: if you can lean over the identical counter and buy the exact same bag in Beijing or Avignon or Honolulu, then, really—how cool are you?

No such dorkiness afflicts the coveted Balenciaga bag, though God knows it's sold all over the globe too. Lately available for the holiday season in garish metallic hues, this purse, with its slouchy shape and fringy strings, has a louche, Marianne Faithfull–quality that seems to say of its carrier, "I am a fun girl who likes to get high! I would never be the kind of arse who spends $1,000 on a handbag," though of course the bag in reality costs just about that amount.

The fun thing about handbags, in addition to the fact that they don't have to fit, is the way the field gives rise to cults and subcults. With the status of Fendi (fendi.com) definitely on the wane (they never really recovered form the demise of the baguette) and the élan of Gucci, after the resignation of Tom Ford, somewhat in question (though you'd never know it from the crowds in their Fifth Avenue boutique, not that they're actually buying anything) there is currently a bit of room at the top.

Into this temporary void has stepped Goyard (goyard.fr), a brand so exclusive you can only buy it in the company's Rue St. Honore flagship (Goyard being another 19th-century French luggage house, like LV) or in Barneys on Madison Avenue and Beverly Hills. Its discreet chevron pattern hasn't made much of a dent in the general population, but it has certainly swept fashion editor–land, where every second person in the front row seems to be sporting a Goyard tote bag, usually in green. ("Why do they all buy the exact same one?" a friend of ours recently moaned in despair. But we know the answer, don't we?)

If most people are still immune to the charms of Goyard, you'd be surprised how many working women scrimp and save to own one of those big-buckled Marc Jacobs bags (marcjacobs.com). Jacobs certainly has the Midas touch: Though his bags are ripped virtually unchanged from the pages of a 1970s Seventeen magazine, this has apparently only enhanced their appeal—they just go on selling and selling.

We sometimes think of the Jacobs sack as a counterpoint to another enormously popular purse of the season—the C-infected Coach bag (coach.com). While the MJ says, "I went to college, but I'm still kind of arty," the Coach says, "I went to college too, and I have a really good job!"

Which doesn't mean that everybody, employed or not, elects to spend a fortune on a bag. There are plenty of adult women who cannot resist the siren song wafting out of the Hello Kitty (sanrio.com) boutique in Times Square, where the purchase of a pastel pocketbook decorated with a cartoon cat promises to transform the most austere wearer into a large seven-year-old. (And, at under $50, there's plenty to be giddy about.)

And then, of course, there are those who opt out of the status-handbag system all together, carrying their water bottles in a saggy cloth Channel 13 (shopthirteen.org) or Strand Books (strandbooks.com/nonbooks) tote. If these bags could talk they'd cry, "We want a recount! Ohio was stolen!" as their owners settle in for another four long years.

 
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