Friday 18 October 2019

Caitlin McBride: 'How the thousand euro 'it' bag finally went out of fashion'

Sales of luxury bags have dropped across the US and UK, spelling the end of an endless array of it bags. Caitlin McBride analyses what this means for Irish shoppers

A guest is seen holding a black Yves Saint Laurent purse during New York Fashion Week on September 11, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Donell Woodson/Getty Images)
A guest is seen holding a black Yves Saint Laurent purse during New York Fashion Week on September 11, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Donell Woodson/Getty Images)
Carrie Bradshaw, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, holds a Fendi baguette in Sex and The City
Sarah Jessica Parker is the new face of the resurged Fendi baguette
Caitlin McBride

Caitlin McBride

For me, it started with a €700 clutch by Yves Saint Laurent.

It was the Belle du Jour clutch in mid-noughties and it was the first ‘it’ bag I’d seen truly infiltrate the middle market.

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It wasn’t the first ‘it’ bag of course as the Fendi baguettes and Dior Saddle bags left a legacy years before it, but those had always been the bags of choice for wealthy women or TV style icons; the Carrie Bradshaws and Blair Waldorfs of the world.

The average woman might reserve purchases for one designer bag every year or two, usually averaging at about €400. But a combination of inflation and demand meant that the frequency at which the 'it' bag was released was increased dramatically, with an increasing price tag.

Soon, Michael Kors and Marc by Marc Jacobs weren’t 'designer enough' and the only acceptable credentials came in the form of a Givenchy Antigona (€1,745) or a Prada Galleria tote (€1,845), both of which were absurdly expensive for the everyday consumer; myself included.

So, imagine my joy at reading that Vogue had officially declared the luxury bag market was in decline (at least for us mere mortals) and the subsequent death of the 'it' bag. In the US, handbag sales dropped seven per cent in the year to July 2019, according to the NPD group, which tracks retail sales Stateside.

It was particularly focused on the concept of the ‘it’ bag itself; the must-have piece to complete your wardrobe to keep up with the Jones’, considered the very epitome of fashion peer pressure.

To keep up, Irish shoppers in particular have wisely turned to second-hand designer retailers, or the more fashionably described consignment stores, which re-sell luxury goods for a little less than you’d get from a department store. But these prices are still by no means cheap. If you were to buy a Chanel foldover quilted clutch for €2,500 new, you would still pay at least €1,800 for it from such a store.

The Designer Exchange, a Dublin-based consignment outlet with two branches in the city centre and business is steadily booming, as it is for Siopella in Temple Bar.

While nearly all fashion market activity is dictated by social media, Instagram in particular, demanding that no #OOTD was complete without this season’s latest purse. Interestingly, it’s this over-saturation of outfits that has also ‘killed the it bag’, at least, according to the Vogue story. 

Retailers have reported an uptake in moderately priced designer bags (costing hundreds instead of thousands) and a new focus on emerging designers, who haven't priced customers out of their own ranges yet.

Influencers in Ireland in particular are likely to be toting a bag that cost €1,500 paired with an outfit from a fast fashion retailer, potentially from a collaboration of theirs, representing the juxtaposition the industry finds itself in. Why scrimp on clothes and splurge on a bag?

Instagram allows users to become fully immersed in a trend, to the point of oversaturation, so there is little point in investing your hard earned cash into a four figure purse, when it’s only going to go out of style in a matter of weeks.

The trends are understanding what your mother told you all along: buy well and less on something you’ll have forever.

In the UK, sales overall for luxury bags have dropped 24 per cent. Comparably in Ireland, the Louis Vuitton concession in Dublin’s Brown Thomas is one of the best performing in Europe and in December 2017, sales had increased by 25%. Like most luxury brands, they don't divulge sales figures or reveal popularity of individual items, but in this case, the evidence speaks for itself.

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