As a fashion person through and through, there are no two words that, while relatively harmless on their own, cause me greater horror when placed next to each other than “Sold Out.”
Uniqlo’s buzzy new banana bag? A newfangled, eco-friendly, and non-toxic variant of fabric detergent endorsed on TikTok? Birkenstock clogs (though whether they’ll actually receive any wear is an entirely pertinent, roundly ignored question)? As the consummate consumers of a consumerist society, we shall readily lament every missed opportunity of a splurge, no matter how seemingly ridiculous. For the more zealous of us, the wide world of dupes is only a quick Google search away – and who knows what exciting things we wouldn’t have otherwise stumbled upon had the original not been sold out. Quelle horreur indeed!
And yet, on a fine May morning earlier this year, breathless exchanges within the handbag community spoke of an even greater horror. The Louis Vuitton Neverfull – the omnipresent stalwart among the laptop-and-lunch schleppers, the Holy Grail for counterfeiters, and the undeniable bestseller within the entry-level bag-sphere – was getting discontinued. Or redesigned. Or marked up yet again. Either way, something was happening, and Louis Vuitton’s global website only had two equally anxiety-inducing words to account for it: “Notify Me.”
Hold Your Horses – It’s a Waitlist!
Of course, as later developments have clarified, the “Place in Cart” option for the Neverfull is not coming back. Instead, interested buyers are placed on a waitlist for it. That spans 2-3 months, and now exclusively available for in-store purchase. They may even be on display for viewing. But alas, neither a pre-order nor a prepayment can secure you a Neverfull unless you’re willing to wait for the wait.
So stringent, in fact, is the crackdown on the carryall (not to be confused with the Neverfull’s recent sibling, the CarryAll) that once one is available in the store for a buyer, the purchase must be made within 24 hours; failure to do so resulting in the possibility of the bag being passed on to those next on the list! And if this sounds familiar to you, you aren’t alone. Seemingly borrowed straight out of Hermès’ playbook, the waitlisting of the Neverfull coincides with Vuitton’s broader push towards catering to a more exclusive clientele. The only difference? While a special edition Birkin or Kelly requires you to make, as the Notorious Pink puts it, “small burnt sacrifices with the hopes that the bag-gods will throw one your way,” the Neverfull waitlist only applies to the standard-range styles; seasonal variations presumably being available for both in-store and online purchases.
Humble Beginnings, Destined for Greatness?
For a highly spacious (some might say, ludicrously capacious) tote, the Neverfull is certainly an odd choice for a waitlisted purse. After all, there isn’t a dearth of alternatives in the market! Perhaps it might help to reflect on when it all started – 2007.
Introduced as a seasonal beach bag, legend has it that the Neverfull was designed to compete with Goyard’s fan-favorite Saint Louis Tote, the almost singular dominatrix of the high-end lightweight totes segment since the 1930s! The rest, of course, is history, as the Neverfull, with its classic coated canvas exterior, reversible interior, and exceptional strength, reportedly able to hold up to 231 pounds, quickly overtook the Goyard and edged its way into Louis Vuitton’s permanent collection, further accompanied with a tonal detachable pouch onwards of 2013. But it proved to be so adaptable and versatile that aside from its tell-tale Monogram, Damier Ebene, Damier Azur, and Epi construction, the Neverfull was made available in over 30 different seasonal prints, textures, and colorways!
In fact, the waitlist currently limiting its purchases, retrospectively speaking, seems like a natural progression of the Neverfull’s trajectory. With its myriad limited-edition styles, its commitment to craftsmanship (reportedly taking up to 45 hours to manufacture), and its price jumps, from a paltry $645 in 2007 to $2,030 today, could Vuitton have been planning this all along? And with the brand essentially trying to Hermès-ify the design, what precedent does it set for the years to come?
Is It the Next Birkin?
The Hermès Birkin is the gold standard when cultivating a perception of scarcity. Having arrived on the scene in the 80s, the Birkin rose to fame in the late-90s (coincidentally, Sex and the City played a major role in its popularity. In turn, Birkins remain integral to its plot points even today!). And all throughout its existence, Hermès preserved its exclusive status, turning to a waitlist system in the early aughts before scrapping that too (purportedly because the waitlists got so crazy, they spanned nearly 6 years!).
The Neverfull, on the other hand, is not only Louis Vuitton’s best-selling tote but perhaps its bestselling bag of all time. It existed within an entirely different realm at a significantly lower price point. Allegedly, most of its buyers weren’t long-time Vuitton clients but shoppers either starting off their collections or planning to never buy from the brand again. And as the house pivots towards a higher-end, loyal clientele, this isn’t the ideal state of affairs, furthered by the fact that these aspirational buyers essentially serve to saturate the market with more Neverfulls. And that is on top of the plentiful supply of its dupes, replicas, and sometimes, rather egregious lookalikes readily available now!
The question, however, remains. Is the Neverfull, which is already so ubiquitous it appears to hold little value to the ultra-rich, really the ideal contender for Vuitton to experiment with? After all, it lacks the “story” factor of an Hermès Birkin or Vuitton’s own Speedy. And the reasoning behind limiting what is perhaps the brand’s biggest revenue vehicle feels like a poor business decision, even if the aim is to emulate a Birkin-esque success story somewhere down the line.
At the same time, since the waitlist policy, Neverfull prices on resale have already risen, with searches for it increasing by 160% on Rebag in May 2023. Eventually, it could be a more sustainable means of ensuring everyone has their Monogram Canvases without ending up with excessive unsold stock (which, sadly, gets incinerated). And despite all naysayers, the Neverfull is an enduring symbol of accomplishment for many. Whatever next steps Vuitton rolls out, we, as the purse-obsessed people we are, are certainly here for the drama, if nothing else!