Bags a Bitch

Back when I was working in advertising, most of my creative work was for luxury retail and fashion. When it comes to unstitching the heart of what drives many female fashion consumers, there is always something primarily competitive. Fashion is infamously reported to be cut-throat at the top and that certainly filters down. Just think of the stampedes, manicured rugby-tackling and elbowing that goes on during designer sales. In England, closely following headline news, always come the grim, unflattering footage of desperate fashion-addicts sleeping or queuing for days/hours outside shops before a sale.

A dear friend of mine did one of those de rigueur work-placements at Gucci during the Tom Ford glory days. It was glamorous, the place to be, with endless A-listers sneaking into the back to snap up everything in their size. Someone fleetingly mentioned to brace himself for the first day of the sale the following day. Nothing could have prepared him for the carnage he witnessed and managed to survive. Women who are obsessed will do virtually anything to get their hands on the prize.

Obviously most women just have a natural love and appreciation for beautiful things, so I am talking about a specific group here. On the extreme side are the repetitive tales of young girls and women selling themselves the world over for designer clothes and accessories. The stories start to fall on deaf ears, we have heard it so many times. The woman convinced of the importance of these luxury items in her life. They become her life, instead of just an accessory of little importance other than its aesthetic beauty. 

Luxury fashion goods gather too much importance sometimes. Handbags cannot speak, they cannot think and they certainly cannot choose who is going to carry them. That is where the marketing people step in with a simple formula, and make sure that the right celebrities with the right image and right fans, are photographed with a certain bag. Then all the people who like that celebrity’s “look” will start to want one (except that the celebrity’s look is actually her stylist’s look who is getting a nice commission from the fashion company).

Sometimes not everyone who wants the bag is allowed to buy one, even if they can afford it, because the fashion brand want it only to be seen on the ‘right people’ and to create a sense of false exclusivity around the bag. If you cannot have it, then you want it more, right? Like the iconic Hermes Birkin bag with its alleged 2 year waiting list. Hermes were outraged when Michael Tonello published his book “Bringing Home the Birkin” unmasking the truth about the waiting list and a formula for how to buy one in any Hermes shop in the world without ever waiting.

Trying to create an aura of mystery around a handbag, is like trying to elevate the status of spaghetti. It is popular but essentially, even if you put caviar on the top, it is still spaghetti, with expensive bits. A bag may be beautiful and made to last many years but at the end of the day it is still just a bag. Or is it?

Next to the big group of women who now each have this special bag, there is another group of women who never wanted the bag to begin with, based on the simple fact that everyone else wanted one and they do not want to carry something so obvious.

I am generalizing greatly here, as a woman I am more than aware of the dense psychology that dictates the desire, purchase and use of luxury handbags. Some women buy to be trendy, others want timeless quality and understated elegance. Most want everything.

Luxury goods are also used as calling cards to unnamed secret ‘clubs’, perhaps the easiest to pick on is the typical bankers’ wives’ club. Of course they would never consider themselves a ‘club’ or even a ‘society’, this is a secret, often subconscious code of solidarity and acceptance to the ‘herd’. Just as the perfect blow dry, manicure, botox and number of carats on her ring finger signal they ‘belong’. Even more so than this are the handbag ‘classics’ in classic black or cream: the quilted Chanel 2.55, Hermes Kelly or Birkin, anything from Louis Vuitton that does not have a monogram.

Fashion is fun, its fantasy and sometimes functional. The artist Anna Hauldin-Maule’s series of hyper-realistic paintings entitled “A Head for Fashion” give a glossy, editorial interpretation to women’s competitiveness and obsessions with fashion. After a high-fashion style photo-shoot she painstakingly paints the image flawlessly in oil. It shows everything from the banality of the subject, to the lengths women are willing to go to achieve it. Most notably all the women are naked, as if all they have in the world, all that matters, all they have given is for these bags. She humorously even has a suggestion for those who cannot afford a bag at all, spray tan your naked body with the brand logos.

I would love to see these paintings used for a great advertising campaign of a fashion forward store such as Harvey Nichols. It is an entertaining reminder not to take yourself or fashion too seriously, and also how a handbag can save you from a bad hair day (put it over your head), make your bum look smaller (put it over your bum) and how to wrestle someone trying to steal your Birkin.

JetSet Violet