Not long ago, I found myself talking with a Miu Miu employee who had some questions about handbags. At first things were just general – which brands are really killing it, accessories-wise, right now? What are the big trends in the industry? Pretty soon, though, talk turned to Miu Miu specifically, and the state of the brand’s handbag business. According to my source, Miu Miu purses aren’t jumping off of shelves as readily as they used to, and consumers aren’t nearly as excited about them as they are about the brand’s widely coveted, often sparkly shoes.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or even a handbag expert) to see why that’s the case: the bags just aren’t particularly good. Miu Miu does an enviable job of turning a very strong retro-modern girlish aesthetic into ready-to-wear, shoes and sunglasses that fashion people far and wide (including everyone who works at this site) covet, but the brand’s bags are rarely, if ever, talked about in the hushed, reverent tones that you hear used when discussing brands with similar fan bases, like Proenza Schouler or 3.1 Phillip Lim. Where has Miu Miu gone wrong with its bags when it gets everything else so right?
Handbags present a unique design challenge in fashion. Not only do bags have to be functional in ways that high heels or cocktail dresses don’t, but in order to catch wide consumer interest, a line needs solid, coveted basics that are refreshed every season in new colors, leathers and structures – think the Proenza Schouler PS1 or Celine Luggage Tote. Quirk is fine, but if it’s all that’s showing up in stores from a brand’s handbag line, huge sales shouldn’t be expected. On top of all that, companies are under immense pressure to churn out successful accessories; bags, with their wide customer bases and significant markups, are one of the only reliably profitable market segments in fashion, along with cosmetics and fragrance.
The problem is not only that Miu Miu’s basic leather bags are indistinct and a bit dull, but that its runway bags of late have skewed too far left of center. There’s a fine line between directional and batty, and too often, Miu Miu finds itself on the wrong side when it comes to handbags. Batty may work for shoes (although the open-toed, rose-appliquéd cowboy boots that match the bag at the top left have been just as much of a dud), but a handbag is carried closer to the line of sight and out in front of the body, so less outrageous styles tend to prevail.
Miu Miu’s handbags have occuppied two disparate ends of the spectrum in recent seasons, and if the brand hopes to grow that sector of its business, Miuccia & Co. would do well to pull both the basics and the runway accessories a little bit closer to a happy medium. That’s easy for me to say, though; the brand’s designers are the ones who actually have to figure out how to do it.
The bags pictured can be had for $1695 and $895, respectively, via Net-a-Porter.
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