Pricing data from the mid-2000s can be hard to come by for any handbag; it’s not the kind of information that brands or stores keep in public archives, and PurseBlog itself was only just getting its start cataloging those sorts of things back in the mid-aughts. When the bags in question have never been sold online at all, the search for data only becomes more difficult, and that makes it all the harder to track the at-times-exorbitant price increases that those bags have received over the past decade. Racked did the dirty work of finding out how much Chanel’s prices have changed, and the result was surprising even to me.
Racked’s Casey Lewis tracked prices for Chanel’s Medium Classic Flap Bag from 2005 to now, and she found that, in 2005, one of the bags could be had for $1,650. Although that’s still an objectively high price for something like a handbag, it now seems impossibly low, considering both the current prices of similar bags from other brands and Chanel’s position in the top price tier for luxury accessories.
The same bag in lambskin now goes for $4,900, according to both Lewis’ research and Chanel’s website, despite the fact that astonishingly few things have changed about this bag since its introduction decades ago. Racked’s experts attribute that to the necessity of keeping the bag exclusive; instead of attracting young customers directly to its marquee accessories, Chanel has chosen to introduce other products at a sub-$1,000 price, like expanded lines of sunglasses and costume jewelry, to capture the next generation of aficionados without making its bags unappealingly ubiquitous.
Based on how Louis Vuitton has suffered of late because of its inescapable (and, arguably, devalued) logo, such attempts are indeed necessary to keep an accessories business healthy, but Chanel bags are not exactly a rare sight, in spite of their high price tags. That is, of course, the central paradox of luxury handbags–selling enough of them to keep the business afloat and please investors while still ensuring that every buyer feels like she’s getting something special and unique.
Chanel doesn’t wholesale to third-party stores or sell its bags anywhere online, so without reducing its production, Chanel is doing just about all it can to funnel its bags toward its ideal customers. Only time will tell how long the strategy can be effective and how many more price increases the market can support for an essentially unchanged product.