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Bag Ladies

For the price of one, you could buy a car or invest in a flat. So why are so many women so willing to spend that kind of money on international branded luxur. Parul Khanna tells more.

fashion and trends Updated: Jul 14, 2010 19:10 IST
Parul Khanna
Parul Khanna
Hindustan Times

From Archives of


for 5th Anniversary Special

Marc Jacobs Stam, Tod’s G, Gucci Baboushka, Louis Vuitton, Bottega Veneta Hobo, Hermes Birkin... Do these names sound familiar at all? A couple of them, maybe. You came across them in some fashion magazine. Or you read that some celebrity wants one of them. Or else you are just brand conscious. If you haven’t the faintest idea what we’re talking about, those names above refer to bags. Handbags. Known to those in the fashionable circuit as ‘it’ bags. For which astounding sums of money have been spent, and astounding sums of money continue to be spent in spite of that M-word – the meltdown.

For the price of one ‘it’ bag, you can buy a car, invest in a flat or travel the world on a budget trip. (For example, the Hermes Birkin costs between Rs 2 lakh and 3 lakh for a no-frills model, and can go up to Rs 25 lakh).

The skin (leather, crocodile leather or python, the most exotic); the colours (bright shades like red, blue, yellow cost more than basic bag shades like brown and creme); and add-ons like the chains (metal, steel, etc.), make an ‘it’ bag more (or less) expensive.

BagMost of us have heard of at least a couple of these ‘it’ bags. We couldn’t have missed them – they’re almost all that celebrities of the female kind talk about these days. Bollywood ladies show them off. Page 3 socialites flaunt them. And the media, always on the hunt for the latest trend, writes about them.

But what are ‘it’ bags? Why do women who can afford them cheerfully get on to waiting lists that are rumoured to continue for a couple of years? Why do women who can’t afford them save up for them with the same tenacity that goes into saving up for a house? What, in other words, is so hot about these bags?

Magnificent Obsession
That’s a difficult question. It’s like asking Imelda Marcos what’s so hot about shoes. Some obsessions just cannot be explained. The fascination with bags is one of those.

Fashion designer Riddhima Kapoor is obsessed with bags – she changes hers every two weeks. “I am a big bag and watch person. In fact, clothes don’t excite me as much as bags do.” Priya Sachdev Chatwal, creative director, TSG Marketing, a firm that markets international luxury brands in India, would rather go for a bag than a dress, if both are priced the same. Beauty expert Shahnaz Husain takes her obsession to another level. A big Louis Vuitton (LV) fan, she cuts up LV bags and stitches the logo onto her clothes. Then she pairs those outfits with LV bags.

Fashion designer Anjalee Kapoor of the designer duo Arjun and Anjalee Kapoor changes her branded bag every day. Stylist Karishma of the duo Karishma and Runali, saves up to buy at least two or three branded bags a year.

You can be fascinated with bags, sure. But what’s the big deal with branded bags? Quality, says Anjalee.

And after that, image. “The bags on the ‘it’ list are from brands that have chalked out a distinct, unattainable image,” she says. “And brands like Chanel and Hermes do not have seasonal sales and don’t give discounts. They scream ‘exclusive quality’ priced high. So the urge to own them becomes greater.”

That’s the main thing about ‘it’ bags, says Karishma. The fixation with the brand. “Women get a high when they own a branded product,” she says. “Of course, women will also buy non-branded stuff, but a collection is always brand-centric. It gives them a sense of self-satisfaction.” That’s why actress and dancer Shveta Salve, despite not being a great bag freak, wouldn’t mind spending a few lakhs on the famous Birkin. “It’s a classic,” she says. “If you have one, you don’t need 500 others.”

Social Studies
If your eyes are popping out of your head, you’re not alone. It’s always difficult to come to terms with lifestyles of the rich and famous without making value judgements. Especially when the last time you shopped for a bag, you walked away from the one you liked best because it was over your budget.

That’s why entrepreneur, jewellery designer and scion of the Thapar family, Ayesha Thapar finds it difficult to answer the ‘Is it really worth that price?’ question.

“When you buy a branded bag you understand that you are paying for the brand, and not just a bag of high quality that you might get elsewhere at a better price,” she says. “Is it worth it? Well, that really depends on you. Are you are willing to pay the premium to carry a particular branded handbag?”

A lot of people are, because that premium offers them something they crave: the perception that they are part of the moneyed, high-society circle; and the perception that they are ‘stylish’. For many women, branded luxury bags are a ticket to a higher social standing. Says Priyanka a self-confessed bag hag, who along with her friend Payal is the person behind the popular desi celebrity fashion blog, www.highheelconfidential. com, “Bags not only complete a look, add the extra zing but also make any woman feel uber stylish irrespective of her size, looks or age. Bags are far more instantly recognisable than clothes or shoes, so for a lot of people they are an instant way to elevate their social standing.”

For VJ Sophie Choudry, a bag does what a dress cannot – add that extra dash of style. “I can wear jeans and a tee and carry a good branded bag, it would complete my look.” But she admits that the bag craze is big among loads of ‘wannabes’ too. “Since women have only just been exposed to branded bags here, there is a phenomenal excitement and perceptions about owing the bags,” she says. “Most women think that carrying the ‘it’ bag will make them the ‘it’ socialite.” So branded bags are aspirational and linked with making a statement.

“I think the handbag you carry says a lot about you,” says Ayesha. “My favourite, a red Birkin, does justice to me in the way it makes me feel about myself as well as how I want to be perceived by others.”

New Kid On The Block
The craze for ‘it’ bags is very new in India. But abroad, it started so long ago that no one can say when it began, says Sophie, who grew up abroad.

“Even a shop salesgirl would save to buy branded bags,” she says, trying to explain the craze. “I grew up seeing my mother carrying all sorts of branded bags and since I was 11 years old, when I was gifted a Gucci, I have been into bags myself.” Though the better-travelled and more fashion-conscious among us in India may have known of the existence of ‘it’ bags, and may even have owned a couple, India in general had never really heard of these bags till last year. That’s because India in general hadn’t seen these bags till the super luxury brands opened shop in the country, including Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, Hermes, Jimmy Choo, Judith Leiber and Bottega Veneta, with more poised for entry. According to a source at the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, around 60 per cent of the big international brands are now available in India.

“So now almost everyone in India is getting to know about these bags,” says Karishma.

“They recognise the brands and they know which celebrity carries what.” And, says Priyanka of highheelconfidential. com, “Suddenly there’s a clamouring for bags that are slapped with logos, so as to prove one has arrived.”

From Archives of Brunch for 5th Anniversary Special

First Published: Jul 13, 2010 16:52 IST