Tax refunds on international luxury shopping help this academic get the best bang for her handbag-buying buck

In this week’s installment of our new series Closet Confessionals, we have a first: a look at shopping outside the US. This week’s bag aficionado is an academic in Australia, and because prices in Australia are so high for luxury goods, relative to their price levels in other markets, she finds herself frequently shopping while on vacation. Below, you’ll find more about that money-saving tactic, why she doesn’t believe in brand loyalty, and why she hates shopping in Saint Laurent boutiques.

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The Basics

Age: 38
Gender Identity: Female
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Occupation: Researcher
Industry: Academia
Income: $250,000AUD (about $183,813USD for the household)

The Bags

Are you a PurseForum member? Yes

How many bags do you own? 18

How much is your collection worth? $20,000

What is your most expensive bag? It’s either the Louis Vuitton Trevi PM, or the medium-sized YSL Niki. (I am scared of buying anything over $3,000!)

What are the most important brands or pieces in your collection? A six-year-old Louis Vuitton Palermo PM. It was my first designer bag, and gifted to me by my husband while we were on a holiday in France. Although I don’t carry it much these days, I love this bag the most for sentimental reasons.

I don’t have a particular brand that I am “loyal” to, because I purchase based on how attracted I am to the design, the bag’s durability as well as versatility. For example, I love and own a City Bag, but I am not a fan of the rest of Balenciaga’s range (especially the current obsession with kittens and puppies). I recently bought the Niki bag from YSL because it has that funky retro look that I am sure in fifty years time when I am a wrinkled little old lady, I can carry it and it wouldn’t look out of place.

What age did you get your first designer bag, and what was it? I was never into handbags and would just carry something utilitarian and multipurpose. For example, in my twenties, I carried a black and white Nicola Cerini (an Australian graphic designer who used to have a fabulous range of quirky and unique handbags), and that was IT. Also, I was working overseas and travelled and relocated frequently—there really was no room for many sentimental objects to lug around.

Then, when I was about 32, my husband and I were in Lyons and we happened to come across a Louis Vuitton shop. We decided to have a look and it was then and there that my partner declared, “You must have a French handbag since we are in France!” I was like, “Are you serious? These are *#&$@ expensive!” Luckily, the sales associate was very patient. I remember having to decide between a Turenne (I think) and the Palermo and went for the latter because I felt the Palermo looked more “finished.” But it was all very sweet, because the sales associate was so happy that I got my first Louis Vuitton bag.

The Shopping

How often do you buy new bags? About two bags per year—being academics, we are not exactly “minting it” (a fond expression from a friend’s grandfather). Also, as much as I would love more handbags, my closet doesn’t quite work like Hilbert’s Hotel. There is only a finite amount of space, and I do worry that we are entering into an age of not just disposable fashion, but disposable high fashion where the status is derived from quickly accumulating as many luxury items as possible. If we want to have sustainable, slow fashion, then surely it has to apply with handbags too?

I try to make it a rule that if I buy a handbag, I must also make a donation somewhere—an aid agency, domestic violence shelter, animal welfare group—it’s not about buying off guilt, but rather to remind myself that I have the privilege of getting all these nice things, and there is a responsibility to redistribute.

(Ok, I will get off my soapbox now. And no, I am not a Catholic, although my husband told me I’d make a perfect one.)

Which stores do you frequent the most? Again, because I don’t have a particular brand loyalty, it really depends on which bag I wanted to buy at the time. Also, I tend to buy bags whilst overseas, especially in Europe because the price (after tax refund) works out better than in Australia.

However, I will say that of all the stores I’ve been to, and despite having two YSL bags, YSL is the store that I feel the most intimidated. It’s the stark, minimalist setting and the precocious teenage sales associates with their willowy limbs and haute-bored expressions—one feels like a clumsy, aging oaf blundering around the temple of youth. A terrifying experience, I tell you. (I am writing this tongue in cheek, by the way.)

Do you ever buy second-hand bags? Where do you buy used? This may sound weird, but with handbags, you are putting in not just your personal belongings but your worries (e.g. medication), hopes (whether a grant proposal or a mortgage application) and also mundane secrets (like that bottle of Horlicks that you’d never, never admit to drinking). So for me, handbags are very personal and private things. So, no.

Do you sell old bags to pay for new purchases? No.

Who influences your buying decisions? I have a dear friend who is also into handbags. We have very different taste, but we do support/enable each other to buy new things.

She once complained that I only go for totes, or tote-shaped bags and that they are all black, black, and black. But I am noticing that her purchase trends are becoming totes-oriented (hahahaha).

Are sales associate relationships instrumental to your shopping? No, and it’s simply because I buy handbags during overseas holidays.

Personally, I don’t think I will enjoy having a sales associate relationship. Firstly, because I don’t have a brand loyalty. Secondly, I don’t know if I will then feel a bit pressured to make a purchase because of the relationship, rather than making a rational choice based on my preferences and requirements.

Why do you enjoy shopping, beyond just acquiring something new? Linda Grant in her essay, “To the Shops” (from the book, The Thoughtful Dresser), described it best. Although Grant was writing about clothes shopping, I share similar feelings when looking at bags:

“The point, for me, is to be in proximity to clothes. To see the things that are in the magazines. To gain some understanding of fabric, texture and colour. To hold a navy coat up against my chest to see if the shade of blue drains me, or brings some warmth to the skin. To try on a Donna Karan jersey dress I have no intention of buying because I want to understand why people rave about the cut of her clothes and how she does draping.”

In order words, it’s the joy of immersing yourself in handbag heaven. Unless it’s a YSL store with the scary teenagers.

The Money

Who pays for your bags? Myself, mainly. Or my partner would buy them as birthday gifts.

Do you set aside a budget for your bag purchases? I pay for it on the credit card and then pay it off in a month or two.

The Taboo Topics

Have you ever purchased a counterfeit because you couldn’t afford a designer item? Once, when I was young and travelling through Istanbul and was in the Grand Bazaar, I saw this really cool black nylon tote with nice leather shoulder straps. “Perfect!” I thought. “This will be my second work bag and travel bag too!” I thought it couldn’t get better when the salesman showed me how it can be folded up (I think you know where this story is going).

Other than that, no counterfeit although I wouldn’t mind trying to understand people’s rationale for buying them.

Do you ever hide purchases from your significant other? Ha! My partner is a terrific (and dangerous) enabler and I actually don’t tell him what bags I’m interested in, because then he’ll ask, “Do you want my wallet?”

What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to afford a bag? Not really. I have done things like bringing packed lunch or make my own coffee.

I also grew up in a chaotic, hoarding family home and so the urge to buy stuff and hoard is something I watch out for.

Do you think your shopping is ever a problem? It becomes a problem if I buy things during stressful times. For example, a Givenchy Pandora Flap was bought during a very trying time and I wanted distraction. Needless to say, it didn’t make me feel better, and now it’s sitting there in the closet to remind me of that terrible time I was going through. Poor Flap.

The Rest Of It

Any other expensive hobbies or passions? I love to travel (nearly gone through three passports now!) and my husband and I do enjoy fine dining and cooking. Right now, we are methodically working through David Chang’s Momofuku cookbook (or rather, my husband is—he is a much better cook). The Noma restaurant in Copenhagen is on our list for next year, and in October, we are planning to travel and eat through the south of Spain. It shall be a whole lot of cured meat, tapas and good Spanish wine. I will probably put on 10 kilos but it shall be glorious.

On the non-spending side, humanitarian and social justice issues are very close to our heart, and we regularly volunteer and donate to various causes.

P.S. Please consider supporting our small, bag-loving team by clicking our links before shopping or checking out at your favorite online retailers like Amazon, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, or any of the listed partners on our shop page. We truly appreciate your support!

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