€20,000 for a handbag!
In the week when Victoria Beckham launched her exclusive crocodile-skin creation, Joe O'Shea asks who's buying them and even more expensive ones in recessionary Ireland
When even dyed-in-the-cashmere-wool fashionistas emit a dainty gasp at the price of a new designer handbag, you know you are talking serious money.
In a world where women lust after the latest Hermés, Mulberry or Chloé creation, four-figure premiums are quite routine.
But when Victoria Beckham unveiled her latest creation this week, a crocodile-skin bag carrying a €20,000 price tag, even hardened fashion-magazine editors blanched (they might have even raised an eyebrow if it wasn't for the Botox).
It's not that super-expensive handbags are unknown. Try a glossy Rouge Braise Crocodile Birkin from Hermès for size. It could be hanging from your shoulder today for just €41,000. Buyers on a budget may prefer to go for the €25,000 Chanel crocodile option.
And exotic animal skins, crocodile, ostrich, python, lizard, buffalo and even stingray continue to be the choice of connoisseurs.
But the woman once known as Posh Spice has previously done more mainstream (though hardly budget) fashion.
And €20,000 for one of her creations, in this economic climate, might seem awfully, well, de trop, darling.
Of course, you will be getting a lot of bag for your buck. The 'Victoria' is elegantly high fashion and hand-crafted by the kind of Italian artisans who work in the tradition of Antonio Stradivari or Enzo Ferrari. The skins are taken from hand-raised crocodiles that are prized for their hides.
The fashion gurus concede that the Victoria bag is drop-dead gorgeous. But where are the women who will pay for such a creation?
The news that may surprise the fashion unconscious is that the statement bag is still very much a necessity for well-dressed women. And even in recession-hit Ireland, bags in the €2,000-€6,000 price range are still being sold almost every day.
Shelly Corkery, fashion director for Brown Thomas, says Victoria's bags are very much in demand.
The accessories department in the BT store on Grafton Street even has a less expensive version of the Victoria bag, retailing in calf leather for €2,750.
"We have been carrying Victoria's bags for quite a while now and we are delighted with them. They are very popular," says Shelly.
As the main buyer for BTs, Shelly has been to Victoria's shows in New York, where the former pop singer is unusually hands-on for a designer.
"She's great, funny, very down-to-earth. She gets around the room and has time for everybody and she is very talented," says Shelly.
Working in a store that stocks handbags retailing at up to €30,000 (a crocodile Hermés Birkin, only by request), Shelly might be expected to be passionate about purses. But the fashion director takes a pragmatic view about the attraction and worth of the ultimate accessory.
"Bags are hugely personal. They say a lot about their owners and, yes, women tend to get very passionate about them."
Shelly says her customers range from young career girls to more mature women who still have some disposable income to spend.
"People might wonder about the price, but a good bag is going to go everywhere with you, it can lift or transform an outfit and it should last you for years. The best do and they never go out of fashion."
Even to the untrained male, the super-soft leather and craftsmanship of these designer bags becomes strangely seductive.
Shelly points out that many designer bags, such as the very popular Falabella range from Stella McCartney (a vegetarian, so the materials used are linen, organic cotton and manmade) can retail for as little as €700. And the elegant DKNY range of tote bags start at around €600.
But it is the big-ticket bags that tend to get the attention. Victoria has over 100 Hermés bags alone in her collection, with most retailing for around the price of a family car.
The trade also tends to attract the attention of animal rights activists.
One prominent group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), has plenty of previous with the leather and fur-loving industry. And it has claimed that the crocodile skin used to make Victoria's "superbag" could come from animals that have been mistreated and even skinned alive.
Victoria's people have strongly denied any mistreatment of animals and point out that each bag comes with its own Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species certificate.
The ethical debate will go on but there is no denying the passion that women have for these objects of desire.
Men may scratch their heads and wonder why any woman would be prepared to pay up to €30,000 for a bag. But it may make more sense when compared to a similarly high-end, exclusive sportscar.
And whatever your driving skills, it is extremely difficult to park a Ferrari 599 GTB under a table in a wine bar.