Opinion

Is Mid-Range the New Luxury?

It could be time to rethink everything you know about this notoriously pricey fashion sector

Luxury brands and their slew of classic, cult-favorite, and trend-driven bags have possessed a hold over fashion fanatics for decades. With iconic styles from legendary labels garnering hefty price tags and even heftier fanbases, expensive handbags from the most established and exclusive designers have long been heralded as the pinnacle of luxury fashion.

But now more than ever, bags from mid-range brands offer new and exciting (and affordable) options for handbag aficionados.

Against a backdrop of relentless price increases from luxury labels and the growing influence of accessibility-favoring Gen Z consumers on luxury, a multitude of mid-range brands are shaking up the designer handbag marketplace.

And this prompts the question – Is mid-range the new luxury?

What Is Mid-Range?

Before we can ponder whether mid-range is the new luxury when it comes to designer bags, we first need to clarify exactly what mid-range means. Expertly summed up as “pricier than Zara, cheaper than Prada,” mid-range labels offer premium products at lower and more accessible prices than luxury designers while remaining distinct from the mass market flooded with fast fashion brands.

Ranging between roughly $200 and $800, handbags from mid-range designers are sufficiently lower-priced than their luxury counterparts. Plus, these bags increasingly offer the premium quality and desirable materials that luxury shoppers are used to. And this is proving enticing amid concerns over a drop in the quality and craftsmanship of heritage luxury labels.

Best Bags of MFW Men s Spring 2023 14
LFW Street Style Bags Day 2 18.jpg

Changing Price Points

It’s no secret that fashion is getting more expensive. Many mid-range labels’ prices have increased over the past decade. But this rise is incomparable to the surge in the cost of bags from top-tier luxury brands, with some luxury bag models increasing by 300% in the past decade.

Bags from mid-range labels offer luxury shoppers an escape from chasing the seemingly ever-rising prices of popular styles from top luxury designers.

Continuous price increases from the likes of Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Hermès, Dior, Balenciaga, Valentino, and many more brands have made the cost of luxury handbags practically unrecognizable when compared to a decade ago. Consumers could once snap up popular bags from these labels for under $1,000, a price point that now seems fanciful.

And so, enter the cohort of mid-range designs offering an affordable alternative. Take Diesel’s 1DR bag. It debuted on the label’s Spring/Summer 2022 runway, and since then, the logo plaque-embossed design has become a celebrity favorite. Priced between $295 and $495, the structured, flap style has played a pivotal role in re-establishing Diesel as a sought-after, mid-tier brand with cult appeal.

Joining the mid-range rank’s treasure trove of covetable and reasonably-priced accessories is Cult Gaia’s crystal-adorned Hera design for $428, Polène’s minimalist Umi style priced at $390, and JW Anderson’s Bumper bag for $850. And there are many more handbags from mid-range brands, leaving luxury shoppers everywhere rethinking just how much their next dream carry-all should cost them.

STAUD Beaded Zebra Bag

STAUD Tommy Beaded Bag
via Moda Operandi

Shaking Up The Status Quo

But it’s not just more affordable prices and great quality that mid-range brands offer bag fanatics. Increasingly, bags from these labels are a fun and unique alternative to the luxury brands’ roster of classic designs and style codes.

Mid-tier brands have developed a reputation for shaking up the handbag status quo, conceptualizing innovative avant-garde designs, or putting their stamp on classic silhouettes.

Cult Gaia’s ornate top handle creations centering structured bodies shaped to resemble giant pearls have become classics for the emerging label. In contrast, the brand’s famed Ark bamboo bag has helped redefine modern Bohemian chic.

Over at JW Anderson, knitted iterations of slouchy handbag silhouettes champion the joys of pared-back style and have become synonymous with the British designer’s playful approach.

And mid-tier labels have also proved themselves when it comes to reworking staple handbag styles in their own image. Take JW Anderson’s Bumper style, the designer’s answer to the oblong shoulder bag, which has long been a mainstay within the classic handbag collections of luxury labels. Or, Self-Portrait’s coveted Bow bag that’s been dubbed a modern classic thanks to its adoption of the timeless structured top-handle style.

NYFW Street Style Bag Day 21
The JW Anderson Twister Bag was all over during Fashion Week

Mid-range brands like Polène have succeeded in developing innovative designs that are becoming as linked to their brand as the Classic Flap, or Birkin is to Chanel or Hermès, respectively. Polène’s Number One bag adopts a simple approach, utilizing smooth curves, a simple flap opening, and a functional cross-body strap to create a signature style that is instantly associated with the growing label.

So, what’s the takeaway? Fashion, and more specifically, luxury fashion, is changing. A buzz in the luxury sphere seems to signal an opening for a cohort of coveted mid-range labels and their bag designs to enjoy the prestige and cult appeal once reserved for only the most expensive and exclusive famed luxury fashion houses.

And while it seems unlikely that any of these bags are set to dethrone the likes of the Hermès Birkin or Chanel Classic Flap any time soon, the landscape of luxury is changing. With it comes an army of new, exciting, and affordable handbag designs that threaten the notion of luxury being defined by price, prestige, and exclusivity.

34 comments

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  1. chloehandbags Avatar
    chloehandbags

    I think the luxury houses need to increase their quality and lower their prices; not do the reverse, as they have been doing lately.

    The idea of raising them is, presumably, to try to ensure they (and/or their retailers) still get the real retail price, after deductions during sales and so on, but still.

    As for me, I’ve decamped to the mid-priced brand Giorgio Brato, whose bags are of the same quality and place of manufacture as Chloe bags once were, for about the same price as Chloe bags were back in the early ’00s.

  2. Tiffany Avatar
    Tiffany

    I’ve also veered away from four-figure luxury bags in favor of well-designed bags in the mid range. I’ve been very happy with my purchases from Polene, Staud, Mansur Gavriel and Longchamp. These are the bags occupying the bulk of my purse collection at the moment, and I’m no less happy than I was with a small collection of bags from higher-end designers (along with their higher-end price tags).

  3. Amrit Avatar
    Amrit

    I am all about coach and their impeccable quality now.

    1. Lala Avatar
      Lala

      Same! Coach is really catching my eye right now.

  4. Simbadog8 Avatar
    Simbadog8

    i actually dropped $10,000 a month ago on my dream Chanel bag from N-M. But I also mostly live in LeSportsac bags. I must have 10 of them—the classic one. But I also love having the Chanel—finally. I am careful where i wear it though—I don’t want to get mugged and I probably would living here in Chicago.

    1. Simbadog8 Avatar
      Simbadog8

      I own two Chanel bags and would never buy another. I have what I want.

    2. Gayle Avatar
      Gayle

      Lesportsac is very sturdy and durable. I have the tokidoki collab from 15 yrs ago from my college days that i still love. Still kept them happy memories. I love chanel too but will not buy anymore except for the rainbow boy and iridescent woc still on my wishlist.

    3. Linds Avatar
      Linds

      Great point – agreed !! I caved and bought a pricey designer bag that I thought looked amazing, but when I received it, was completely underwhelmed.
      I too love the Lesportsac, Ganni and Baggu bags for their practicality (especially with kids !). Plus, there are sooo many great local designers out there and midrange bags that are awesome and age better than lots of high-end bags. Here in Vancouver, we have a designer named Erin Templeton who makes some really cool bags (some of which are made from upcycled leather). But vintage Coach, Building Block and even Madewell has some really great (and chic) options. I’m glad to see fashion having a sustainability and cost reality check, and it’s certainly easier on the wallet – which is necessary in times of growing social stratification.
      Vancouver, Canada is notorious for its drug and housing problem, and I honestly feel like it’s a bit tone-deaf to be carrying a 5000$ bag when there are people that don’t have a place to sleep or clean water, etc.

  5. Steffi Avatar
    Steffi

    I just ordered an A.P.C bag in the Black Friday sale and can not wait to receive it! They have great bags and the quality and prices (you can almost always get them on sale) are amazing!

  6. Terri Avatar
    Terri

    Currently in love with Polène and Primo Atelier!

  7. Heather Tweedy Avatar
    Heather Tweedy

    I live in a very status-conscious city in the US and, because of that, when I see someone with A.P.C., Polene, Demellier, Staud, etc., I feel like they actually are more in tune with fashion and often have a more interesting sense of style. (Specifically for my city, not saying that this is representative of anywhere else! I know that there a plenty of Classic Flap lovers with amazing personal style.). 🙂

    I tend to use mid-price brands to help assess whether I really want to designer style as well. If I’m not intrigued by the style when it’s $500, then I know that lusting after the $5,000 version is probably about status and not genuinely loving the bag.

    1. Guest Avatar
      Guest

      Agree with this. When I see someone wearing a birkin with matching jeans and an ugly jersey tshirt, It is either she was trying hard to appear low key or screaming loudly that she can afford an overpriced leather.

      1. Sam Avatar
        Sam

        Or, like me she simply likes to dress casually and wear nice handbags. No hidden or sublime agenda here.

      2. Guest Avatar
        Guest

        Riigght, she just happened to choose a Birkin which is not even the nicest bag out there. Try again

      3. Laura W Avatar
        Laura W

        Thankfully your opinion isn’t shared by everyone.

      4. Heather Tweedy Avatar
        Heather Tweedy

        Sam – I hope it came across in my original post that I am not saying a casual look and a fancy bag can’t work together! I am 100% not a gatekeeper of fashion and I bet you rock your personal style.

        Definitely not trying to put out the same energy as “Guest,” which is intensely judgy TBH…

  8. Jerri R Avatar
    Jerri R

    Do some people find it unappealing to buy non-premium designer bags once you started collecting premium ones?

    1. Janine Avatar
      Janine

      100%. I just can’t do it.

    2. Lori Avatar
      Lori

      I agree with your post. But I do find it easier to buy bags that are mid-range if they are classic brands for their country, like Aspinal of London, for example. It’s a great brand with a ton of British tradition. Also the resale market for the less popular luxury brands is still a steal which I have been buying recently too.

  9. Nikki Avatar
    Nikki

    I don’t know if they’re the new luxury, but I really appreciated this article. I simply am unwilling to spend multiple thousands of dollars on a handbag, but I still like bags! Because of googling the brands mentioned here, I’m now being shown all kinds of interesting unique designs I had never seen. And at prices I’d be willing to spend. Usually this blog has almost nothing for someone like me, so this was great!

  10. SandraO Avatar
    SandraO

    I prefer my luxury bags over mid-range options though I no longer feel the need to buy bags given my nice collection. I’m pretty satisfied.

  11. Aspen Avatar
    Aspen

    Vintage Coach honestly impressed me just as much as my Kelly does. I have so many bags from all designers. BV, Fendi Selleria, Givenchy, Hermes, Prada, LV, Gucci etc and Vintage Coach with the unlined interior is just as amazing. Polene is amazing quality. Mansur Gavriel is too. Their leathers are so soft. The cloud and soft lady are just as soft as a bag from a $2k plus price point.

  12. Jennifer Avatar
    Jennifer

    I personally prefer to spend mid-range prices on vintage or pre-loved higher end designer items, but those items I buy don’t necessarily follow current trends. I guess it’s all about what speaks to you at a certain price point.

    1. Aspen Avatar
      Aspen

      This! I’d rather spend $1,000 on a vintage or preloved very high end bag versus $1,000 on let’s say 3.1 Phillip Lim. And I know that my money is most likely gonna be safer putting into a higher end bag even though it’s vintage or preloved and knowing I’ll be able to recoup most of my funds if need be as opposed to a lower tier brand that I know will sell for 1/12th of the amount I paid.

  13. datura Avatar
    datura

    Coach, Longchamp and Aspinal are my current favourites – great quality and style, and Aspinal package everything impeccably plus their customer service is great. Awaiting Black Friday bags from Aspinal (and one from Diesel I had my eye on) – come on Thursday!!

    1. Olivia Penzey Avatar
      Olivia Penzey

      Love Aspinal! I got the Lottie in that sparkly silver tweed in the Black Friday sale. What did you pick up?

      1. datura Avatar
        datura

        Hey Olivia, that’s lovely, good to treat yourself! Agree, love it too, it’s a sound brand, very happy so far. I liked the Lotties a lot (LOL)! That’s a timeless one you chose, looks really classy. Did you get the small, medium or large? Sometimes I think those kinds of colours only look good at Christmas but the Aspinal bags will look amazing all year round. I got the Camera ‘A’ bag in light blue, a bit different, plus the Midi Mayfair in deep shine black so I can smarten myself up a bit, and the Mayfair clutch in midnight blue patent. There are so many to choose from, I went a bit overboard. The pebble colours are just gorgeous too. D

  14. Sylbo Avatar
    Sylbo

    I prefer custom desiger handbags, women ownedcmakers like Rough and Tumble Design. I’ve had other brands and custom bags are much higher quality with unique, one of a kind designs. Not the same as everyone else is carrying.

  15. PheartD Avatar
    PheartD

    Interesting discussion here about luxury brands and paying more for decreased quality. LVMH, Kering, Richemont, Luxotica, and Estée Lauder are the main conglomerates buying out the luxury brands. While the styles may still be beautiful, the bottom line is these huge corporations want to see more profits – every single quarter. Obviously, this will lead to cutting corners in the production of their goods sold all over the world. A cheaper leather, or even zipper, will increase profits by millions of dollars in aggregate on these mass-produced items. That doesn’t mean we don’t still have some brands and styles that are near and dear to our hearts and make us happy. I know I do. However, I’m also rethinking the “luxury” market altogether. Lately, I’m looking to buy from established houses that have not yet been sold to the mega-corps: brands like Valextra, and Ferragamo for the splurge. Wish list, of course. For daily use, the mid-price bags are going to be my go-to. Except, I still have my heart set on a black puzzle, but I can’t help it!

    1. InitialsBB Avatar
      InitialsBB

      It’s a bit of a false narrative. Just because a brand hasn’t been purchased by a bigger group doesn’t mean their quality is superior. They are also a business trying to maximize profit.

  16. Meghan Avatar
    Meghan

    Hello! Does anyone know the designer of the orange bag in the first image at the top of the article?

    1. Tiffany Avatar
      Tiffany

      That’s an Acne Studios bag

      1. Meghan Avatar
        Meghan

        Thank you, thank you!

  17. Lydia Avatar
    Lydia

    What bag is that little Orange one by the title?