Amandas-Celine-Luggage-Tote-in-Lipstick

In our little corner of the Internet, the answer to that question is, more often than not, a foregone conclusion: yes, duh. We’re all so desensitized to the thought of paying $1500 and up for a bag, even if you’ve never done it yourself, that sometimes I honestly forget that the vast majority of the population experiences sticker shock when confronted with how much a Celine Luggage Tote or Proenza Schouler PS1 costs. When the Luggage Totes first hit stores for $1750, I remember remarking to Megs that it sounded like a good deal.

The problem isn’t just price, though; it’s also ubiquity. For your bag money, do you also want to be unique? When a beautiful bag that you’ve always loved reaches a certain point of saturation, does it become less desirable to you, or do you buy what you love in spite of what other people are carrying? Earlier this week, Buzzfeed fashion editor Amy Odell took to the Internet to express her frustration with the idea of spending four figures to carry a distinctive bag that everyone else has. She’d rather carry a designer bag that’s distinctively unique, but is Odell just trading one kind of status for another?

This subject is an interesting one, and Amy Odell is an accomplished writer and member of the industry, so I’d recommend reading her thoughts about the issue in full. In the post, Odell makes a few assumptions: first, that the main compulsion behind the purchase of an It Bag is the desire to impress others who are also “in the know,” second, that carrying a widely coveted bag automatically makes people wonder whether or not its fake, and third, that It Bags are always highly recognizable. Based on my experiences with the luxury accessories industry, I don’t think any of those assumptions are true, or at least not always true.

I’m the first one to admit that status is an enormous motivating factor for many people, maybe even most people, when it comes to buying handbags. Unlike a dress or even a pair of shoes, bags sit in front of an outfit and are often something that can be carried day in and day out, which makes them a particularly cost-effective (as opposed to, say, a full wardrobe of Rick Owens) means of conveying status. Not to mention that status is a powerful psychological drug – the difference in how people treat you when you’re dressed expensively versus shabbily is often enormous. That only increases when the bag you’re sporting is notoriously hard to locate; people assume you have an in somewhere, salespeople assume you must be a big spender, fashion people judge you favorably. It can be almost intoxicating to see yourself in the reflected glow of your fancy handbag.

What the irritation with that phenomenon seemingly doesn’t account for, though, is good design. Luxury brands with huge design departments and nearly limitless resources fail at making It Bags season in and season out; to become an It Bag, a design has to catch, and that generally happens before a bag is widely known and impossible to purchase without a lengthy wait list. Way back in the first days of the Celine Luggage Tote, I remember seeing them both sitting on store shelves and available for purchase online. It had a magnetism to it then, too, long before it reached its “it” status.

The reason the Luggage Tote was successful was because when I saw it sitting on those shelves for the first time, a little lightning bolt went off inside my brain, and I’m not the only one who had that experience. It looked fresh, distinctive and incredibly luxurious. As much as brands wish that a hit like the Luggage Tote could be all about marketing, it’s just not. An It Bag can’t exist if something about it doesn’t speak to buyers beyond its potential to convey status, and Odell’s line of thinking doesn’t take into account that even people who aren’t concerned with telegraphing status might just really love how an It Bag looks.

Odell’s alternative is to buy something that she considers unique and subtle, but within the realm of premiere designer handbags, I’m not sure that truly exists and Odell, for her part, doesn’t list any specific examples. Not only do all major brands foist their bags to the front of their advertising, hoping that something will catch, but when the Luggage Totes first surfaced, they were unique and subtle. Celine was at the very first stages of its rebirth under Phoebe Philo, the bags were only available at small luxury boutiques, the now-ubiquitous flared gussets and curved front piping didn’t have any particular association for most bag lovers. The most common version at the time? Basic black matte leather. Today’s subtle classic is tomorrow’s It Bag.

Uniqueness, too, has its own kind of status within the fashion industry. Having something that’s totally chic but not immediately recognizable tends to engender as much attention from people “in the know” as the bag of the moment, mostly because it makes people think you’ve somehow gotten one up on them and they’re hungry to know if you’re aware of something they’re not. Among bag people, finding a bag that gets that kind of reaction might actually be more work than tracking down an It Bag, and it’s likely to cost just as much. Is that lustful reaction to uniqueness qualitatively different than it would be if it happened because of a bag that everyone already wants? I’m not sure that it is.

Of course, all of that assumes that the vast majority of people who buy It Bags live the kinds of lives that regularly bring them in contact with people who can recognize a Celine or Proenza bag on sight, which simply isn’t the case. Our forum is full of literally tens of thousands of members who live in places where no one is likely to take a second look at their Luggage Totes or PS1s, and still, they find themselves drawn in. Outside of major urban areas with fashion-conscious populations, the issue of recognizability and status almost entirely evaporates, beyond someone simply noticing that you’re dressed nicely.

Odell seems to have internalized a bit of New York exceptionalism; we’re not the only ones who buy expensive bags, not by a long shot, but the fear of a non-logo bag being too recognizable is indeed unique to NYC and a small handful of other places. The scarcity of Celine bags can’t be attributed to shoppers on this island alone, so people must be buying for reasons beyond what amounts to fashion exhibitionism. I bought my first It Bag, a Balenciaga Motorcycle Bag in the mid-2000s, while living in a rural Georgia town of about 125,000 people. No one in my town ever recognized it, as far as I know, and even when I went to Atlanta, it was only employees at Neimans and Saks that seemed to care. Telegraphing status is a very limited thrill when no one around you cares to receive the message, as is the case with the daily lives of a huge number of luxury handbag buyers.

And then there’s the issue of fakes. Odell asks why someone would spend a ton of money on a bag if everyone might think it’s fake, which is a question that honestly caught me by surprise in this context. I’ve heard people make the same complaints about Louis Vuitton monogram bags, which are the most widely counterfeited in the world, but about a Celine Luggage Tote? What kind of insecure person is going around convinced that every Celine or Proenza bag they encounter is a fake? People used to ask me all the time if the Louis Vuitton tote I carried during college was real, but I’ve never heard a peep of curiosity from anyone about anything non-monogram in my collection. I’m tempted to say that it’s a concern that exists entirely in Odell’s head, but even if it doesn’t, the thought wouldn’t come close to entering my mind when trying to decide whether to spend thousands of dollars on something I love. What’s that saying again? Oh yes: haters gonna hate. If a stranger thinks my PS1 might be fake, that’s their problem, not mine.

I do think that Odell makes a couple of good points, though, namely that it’s not much fun to carry exactly the same thing as everyone else you encounter. Because of that, I tend to prefer bright colors, prints and nontraditional materials when I’m picking which version of a bag that I want. Not only do they fit my personality better, but they relieve a bit of the ubiquity. As for the question of worth, I think that’s entirely personal; $1500 means a whole host of different things to different people, and how much it means to you is a personal decision. When people ask me for my opinion, I generally tell them that if they love the bag and they think they can honestly afford it, they should buy it, regardless of prevailing trends or the bag’s relative popularity. You, after all, are the one who has to carry it.

  • susan

    I believe that every bag is not for everyone. Some of the IT bags I have seen I have thought not in a million years and other ones I have bought. I prefer a bag that no one knows…these days. It was not always like this I did my fair share of LV and Coach. I still own both but I really prefer to carry my Bottege Veneta.

  • Sandra

    I have yet to see a replica bag that comes close to the materials and craftsmanship, so you can always tell. The replica bags are disappointing in every way. Don’t get me wrong, just because I chose to purchase designer bags does not mean that I think everyone who loves fashion should too! You do not have to purchase full out designer to be stylish and I have seen Marc by Marc Jacobs, Michael Michael Kors, Coach, Alexander Wang that are very cute and stylish for a fraction of the price. I do believe that most designers such as YSL, Prada, Gucci, Chloe, Celine, Dior, Chanel produce beautiful bags and to me for a reasonable price for the product. One thing I am not sure I understand is Hermes, The Row, VHB bags that charge a crazy amount of money, at some point the craftsmanship and materials are the same and you are simply wasting your money. I live in Salt Lake City and believe me the general population has no idea that my bag is YSL….

    • Judy Banks

      @Sandra, how many replica bags do you own?

  • Camila

    Well, I read your article and Odell’s; I must say Odell’s concern about “impressing” with a bag is something that doesn’t go through her head only, neither is the doubt one might sense when coming across a luxury piece. Living in Santa Fe, Argentina, where no one carries LV, Mulberry, Proenza, Givenchy, Céline and most definetly not Hermés and almost no one could recognize such an item, I can confirm the fact that wanting an “It Bag” isn’t an attempt to get noticed. Of course not everyone sees it this way, ususally people who aren’t concerned about fashion (or high fashion atleast) think that the only reason one could splurge on a bag or a pair of shoes is to flaunt thier wealth. As for fakes I wouldn’t know what to say, if I saw an LV here I’d probably take for granted that it’s not original. Then again, all the top argentinian labels evidently copy from the brands I mentioned before, but who notices; me.

  • bryologue

    While the original article by Odell has interesting points, I just find the overall tone to be bitchy and obnoxious. I find it difficult to believe her assumption about ” [it bags] knocked off so much that fashion savvy people who observe other people’s purses… are probably going to end up wondering if what you have is real or not”; because methodologically speaking, how can she arrive at that conclusion when she is “not an “It” bag fan” herself. Personally, I think that article reek of high-handedness on how she was smart not to be deluded by all these status associations to an accessory. What people do with their money is none of our business.

    Oh and I’m not entirely familiar with the author, but if that’s her on Google Images, the one with the Chanel bag: you, my friend, are also carrying a who-knows-how-much bag, with the fashion savvy people wondering whether it’s fake or not. It may not be an It bag but a classic, but still, people may still wonder if it’s fake. And the huge sales from accessories, especially bags, from fashion houses like Miu Miu allowed Miuccia to produce your F/W 2011 glitter booties… which were few seasons ago, “It shoes”, ironically.

    End of rant. I just don’t like people raining on others’ parade.

    bryologue.wordpress.com

  • connie

    But there is also that strong sense of satisfaction knowing that you are carrying a fine handbag, no? My very own masterpiece is how I sometimes think of it.

  • crazybaglady

    Amanda, what a great blog today! You made some really good points about owning an IT bag. I thought Odell made too many generalizations in her article. An IT bag means different things to different people- & honestly, who cares if strangers assume you are carrying a fake (I agree it’s their problem!) It’s the fine craftsmanship, details, & materials that count; these bags are like works of art. I’m glad you wrote this today as I just bought a Celine Luggage Tote & wasn’t sure whether it was worth the $. For the avg. person, to spend thousands on a bag, is really an investment. For me, It needs to hold its value & the joy it gives me in carrying it.

  • vm

    GREAT GREAT GREAT piece of writing here. I agree with most of the points you’ve made. I come from a small island in the Caribbean where MOST people do not care about designer handbags and although I do spend a lot of money on designer bags it’s for no other reason than I adore them, their construction, their functionality and their BEAUTY. I don’t care if people know what I have on my arm I’m not there to impress anyone and while there may be SOME truth to the notion of status and a handbag as a symbol which can alter someone’s perception of you. I think that most “IT” handbags are only recognised by fellow bag lovers….unless you buy the LV/ Gucci stamped bags (actually most times I feel the people who want the sort of attention that Odell references actually seek the monogram heavy bags) either way, I agree with you and love this article! Will definitely be sharing it with others :)

    • Judy Banks

      You “love designer handbags for their construction, their functionality and their BEAUTY”?? Are you real? You can find constructed, functional and beautiful bags without the price tag, for example copy bags. You know, the ones you can find at Zara, Nine West…
      Since you “don’t care if people know what I have on my arm I’m not there to impress anyone”, why don’t you wear a plastic bag? Or a replica bag?

      • CA95616

        Why so bitter? Lighten up. I buy designer and non designer items if I like the design and quality but frankly i find buying on the high street a waste of money. I bought two Chanels years back and recently sold one for double the price.

  • Miles

    Odell made some good points, but at the end of the day I will buy a bag (“IT bag ” or not) because I love the design and it makes me happy – most times, regardless of price (as long as I can afford it of course ! ) People see value in things differently – some people may pay 1000$ for a star trek collectible…..

    • Luluhalabaloo

      Excellent point!!! I have been rangling with spending $3K on a bag, but I would I dropped $3K on something I considered a collectible and never use. Thanks!!! I am going today to buy it. Talk about web redemption!

  • Nívia

    how hard is to carry a fancy itbag…oh my God.
    that´s a very good artical
    i buy it , frist becouse i think the bag is beautiful, elegant, and so, second, becouse I want to buy it, and I never ever think about what people are usuing or carring, and everything, and last of all I never think about every one else opinion, in spite of what other people is carring.

  • http://twitter.com/thefabmissK Karlien de Smet

    I feel like I’m wearing a piece of art when I’m carrying my Luggage tote, and that’s what’s worth the money for me. Some people spend on their interior, on their car, on their hair, on their online gaming, people spend their money on the craziest things. A lot of people think of me as crazy to buy these expensive bags, but I’m sure they have spending habits that seem insane to me too. Who cares?! It’s MY money.
    I do understand the issue with fakes. I live in Antwerp, where there are many, many fakes and it irritates me sometimes because many people automatically assume you are wearing fake. I really appreciate the craftmanship of the real deal, and I would not buy or wear a fake, so I don’t want to be seen as someone who would. Still, the most important thing to me is that I know it’s the real deal, and that it gives me that happy buzz that only something absolutely beautiful can create :)

    thefabmachine.wordpress.com

    • Judy Banks

      An authentic bag gives you a “happy buzz”? :)
      Nobody is telling you how to spend your money, but don’t you think you’re being a little shallow? Instead of paying huge amount of money of designer bags, you could try replica bags and with the rest of the money you can help a sick child. Than you can talk about what gives you a “Happy buzz”.
      Replica bags are also made of real leather, it can last as long as the real deal and if you buy these bags from a reputable site, like this one http://iker.co/qk, you can even return it if you don’t like it.

      • kamo

        how do you know she isn’t helping sick children with the rest of the money she has left after purchasing an expensive designer bag???

      • Judy Banks

        I never said she isn’t. I’m only saying there are other things in life that can give you a “happy buzz”, not buying a bag. That’s why we are here, people forgot about the simple things and started wanting more, so they can brag about it to their “friends”. A bigger house, a bigger car, a more expensive bag… A fake life. Then the crisis came and now they buy fakes but they don’t admit it. But it’s the same fake like.
        At least I;m being honest about it! I buy the bags that I like without paying a huge amount and some of them look even better than you might think.

      • BWB

        Judy Banks, why are you so bitter about us owning the real IT bag? It is our money and how we spend it, it’s none of your business. On the other hand, if you buy replicas, you are stealing from the creative people who come up with the designs and work hard to make them into reality.

      • Judy Banks

        I’m not stealing anything!! I’m just buying the handbag that I like at a decent price, nothing more, nothing less. Do you even know how they come up with this high prices for these bags? You pay the name, the “people who come up with the designs”, the rent for their spaces, the advertising etc.. The materials they use is just a small part of the price.

  • ReneeO

    I agree that It bags become “it” because they do have something special and people can see it. Most people are not trying to impress others with their bags. For me, it has to have everything, function, beauty and most of all quality! It’s the luxurious quality that makes one feel good. I love a bag with a beautifully lined leather interior, e.g. Loewe. When you open it up, that inside is just for me. No one else sees it. I don’t care about fakes because it’s quality that I’m looking for–not a monogram. However, I would not support that industry because it’s bad for everyone. A beautiful bag always makes you feel good too, no matter what size you are that day.

  • ilikeITbagsansicannotlie

    Odell is just mad because she can’t buy HER “it” bag. An opinion is one thing but in reality she needs to Spstop judging and let us spend our money how we want. We already have a mother – we don’t need another one.

  • rw

    I mostly buy a bag because it makes me go, “Ooooooh…” when I see it. I’m never sure what makes that happen for me, but that’s my main motivation. That said, I have a strict policy of never paying over a certain amount no matter how much I like it. I can always find something in my price range (and my price range is WELL under $1500.) If an “IT” bag made me go all swoony, I might consider buying it, but they almost never do. I usually find the things that everyone else finds oh so sophisticated/stylish kind of boring. Not horrible, but definitely not covet worthy. As for whether other people assume mine is a fake? Oh my goodness, anyone who would let something like that effect what they buy needs to grow up. Fast.

  • Jenny

    I love bags for me to have the ultimate collection. For me it’s a personal collection. My collection is well admired. I have been asked to write articles based on my bag knowledge. My upset with Celine is the price increase is not justified. It’s not a “smart purchase” I advised people to get a givency pandora or a ps1 is a much better buy right now. I can understand that for a true bag girl if you did not purchase this bag even at the 2000 mark when it is about to be faked why buy it. It is going to be everywhere. I would have loved the phantom at 2000 at 2600 it’s offensive. How about the non leather canvas phantom For 1600???this is not For a collector it is for a “look at me I have money” crowd. Let’s be real there is no hardware for these prices. Even Balenciaga my true love did not increase in this manner and the demand was there a first remained 995 for a long time.

  • seresy

    I…get wary when it comes to IT bags, mostly because I know another IT bag will come along in a year or two and my lovely bag will feel awkward eventually (honestly – how many people are still carrying Spy Bags? Even if they love them, at some point it just feels weird.)

    I also live in a city where I’m always taking public transportation, and my train station is in a sketchy-ish area. I’ve found I’m less comfortable carrying something more obvious (for example, any LV or Gucci in monogram,patterns, though I love mine ridiculously) and have switched back to carrying the same styles in epi leather. Fortunately their colors are much more my style anyway :)

  • Bir

    I have to say that this debate is beyond brilliant . It’s the first time in years that I feel like writing something on a blog.because these days to me there are no it bags. The concept itself killed the idea of an it bag from the beging because .”ex ” it bags don’t die they don’t become unbearable or unusable they become classics.and in the end it’s the security and the confidence that each woman has to actually wear the bag. and make The “it” part a feeling,a something that no one can actually explain,or find an exact adjective to describe. And so when I see a murakami cherry blossom a fendi spy,a Kelly, a goyard st Louis with huge initials on it a birkin and the now über popular Celine.I see them and find them all too beautiful, to much,to perfect each in there own special way. If The revival of the baguette tells us something , it’s that the it bag does not loose it’s Itness truth is We take it away. I have never seen an ” ex it bag ” and said….that is soo passé ………….. So,loved the article and debate,hope my tiny analysis makes sense.

  • http://twitter.com/LadyxBec B. Wilson

    I agree with @bryologue I find the tone to be very catty. I’m not sure why anyone would assume that people carry “it” or expensive bags just to show off to others. Hardly anyone recognises my Chanel bag, and people only know about my LV because I told them how excited I was to get it – and this is in an affulent area.
    I buy them because they are pretty – something in them just calls to me – and because they are quality and as long as I take care they’ll last forever.
    I think that Odell doesn’t understand the writers question at all, and should therefore refrain from answering (the writer would have done much better to ask Megs, or the members of TPF!).

  • nnenna1881

    Ok that’s a real long article which i didn’t read in full. i don’t buy IT bags if i can no matter how beautiful and functional they are because i like my bags exclusive. I like knowing how much i love the leather, what i was willing to let go off to get the bag and all…boils down to me and my personal pleasure but once a bag is ubiquitous, its ruins it for me…

  • Nina

    well, you gotta admit one of the ‘perks’ of having an it bag is having to see ‘everyone’ carrying them. of course suddenly it doesn’t feel as special anymore so I guess I understand Odell’s frustration all the same.

  • Lily

    i’m in the fashion loop and i live & breath fashion, but i’ve studied fashion business strategies and honestly speaking, those so called quality, design blah blah blah are all b*llshit! they’re just excuses for marketing purposes, a few years ago, a Chanel jumbo sets you off less than £1000, now we’re under economy crisis but the prices have shot up like crazy over the past few years, doubled, trippled, with worse quality! with the increase of mass media influence, consumers are just dumb! they don’t have their own judgements, most of them care too much about other people’s perception on them rather than what they really like, most of them won’t even bat an eyelid if those bags don’t have the ‘name’ on it, or even Balenciaga, come on, if not for all the celeb pix, how many ppl would actually bought it? just for good measure, if you know where to go, you can find fakes that’s exactly the same as the real thing, they’re still expensive because they’re made of real leathers and they actually cut the real ones open to see how they’re made, so they look exactly the same. so well…all in all, just admit it, people who bought those ‘it bags’ are superficial & vain!
    nothing wrong with that if they don’t look down on others who can’t
    afford it. it’s their choice to live like that. (super rich or not, it’s the same! those super riches are worse, charity, yeah right! they throw money into charities to show they’re ‘nice people’ but in fact those money to them means absolutely nothing and that’s the only reason they do charity! not all of them but i’d say 90%. in a way that’s worse than regular people who admit they save up for ‘it bags’ and no spare money to give away!)

  • CinnamonBear

    I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but hard work, an education, assocaiting with the right people, and saving have set me up wonderfully to now buy the things I want. My question; can someone recommend a bag that is 1) very high quality 2) doesn’t have a screaming logo and 3) represents a status I’ve earned yet doesn’t yell “new money?” I’ve done a lot of research, but I wanted to see what people outside of my network say. Thank you!

  • abigail

    I have a Celine Bag, my husband got it for me in Paris at the Celine Boutique in Feb 2012. It is now falling apart ! I went to the store here in New York and they are demanding to see a receipt. I now have to return with the receipt. The quality is not living up to the cost for sure. As much as I love the Celine Bags, My next great bag purchase will be from a design house that assumes responsibility for the quality of their bags.

  • Think

    Odell actually makes more interesting points than this article. I agree that she is coming from a place of defensiveness and a very I’m so above-it-all tone, but nonetheless she opens a necessary discussion about modern societies need to acquire these status symbols. The sense I get from everyone’s comments that defend owing IT bags, as well as this article, is the refusal to accept that marketing and media has expotentially heightened our desire for social acceptance. It is THE driving force behind anyone that feels the need for owning IT bags.