Have you ever looked at a handbag – perhaps a rare sighting in the wild or simply sitting unused in your closet for an inordinate amount of time – and thought, why isn’t this discontinued yet? Does anyone still buy this anymore? What was I even thinking when I bought this?
Conversely, there’s also that one purse (or maybe more) that got away for you – sold out in its very first run, spurring waitlists that ultimately proved to be endless or were discontinued long before you could get your hands on it (Prada Fairy Bag, you know we’re looking at you!) Or maybe it’s a bag you saw in the pages of Vogue as a toddler/middle-schooler/high-schooler and haven’t been able to stop salivating over ever since.
As handbag lovers, we’re naturally prone to over-analyzing. To buy or not to buy, to wait for a sale, or to purchase full-price, to inquire with an SA, or to run for a reseller – when the heart wants what it wants, it seems to defy all logic. And it is within this complex network of the various stresses of handbag-buying looms the threat of a brand suddenly discontinuing a purse.
Sometimes, this move appears fairly logical – the, erm, very niche Louis Vuitton Motard Firebird that made its way into the realm of Sex and the City, comes to mind immediately (some say it shouldn’t have existed in the first place). On the other hand, this dramatic, if somewhat overexaggerated, description of consumer reactions to the discontinuation of the Chanel Grand Shopping Tote (lovingly shortened to the GST) shows the lengths we are willing to go to to get our hands on our favorite soon-to-be-discontinued handbag.
“To say that all hell broke loose would be an understatement. People rioted. Torches were held outside 31 Rue Cambon. Distant whimpers and faint cries could be heard along Bond Street and Sloane Ave. It was more or less a global crisis that Chanel enthusiasts are still recovering from.”
But with such avid fan-following, why would a designer even want to stop the production of a bag in the first place? Is it because the bag has run its course, it’s time to say goodbye now? Did it turn out to be less of a moneymaker than predicted? Or could there be more to the simple decision of whether or not to continue making a certain bag – and in large, multinational corporations, is any decision straightforward?
The Figures Weren’t Satisfactory
It isn’t a secret that most of today’s big brands are profit-making companies worth billions, their offerings mere vessels to transport funds from the consumers’ pockets to their treasuries. And handbags are no exception. Plus, with a startling majority of the mainstream fashion houses owned by the holding companies of Kering and LVMH, even more, middle-management is involved in the equation. And more management equals the need for more profit! So, perhaps the first characteristic a purse must possess to retain its spot in the brand’s lineup is that it must sell well.
We’re all very familiar with how unconvinced the board of directors at Balenciaga was when Nicolas Ghesquière first came up with the idea of the Motorcycle Bag. Their reasoning wasn’t technically incorrect: compared to the structured leather purses of the era, the Moto Bag didn’t appear to have a promising financial future. And who knows, if the likes of Kate Moss and Carine Roitfeld hadn’t picked it up, maybe we wouldn’t have the BBags to lust over today in the first place!
Additionally, like all products, each purse must go through its cycle of development, launch, growth, saturation, and decline – and once sales are in decline, the brand may either look for ways to extend the purse’s run or to phase it out in favor of newer lines. The Louis Vuitton Suhali and the Mahina lines, for instance, that were cult favorites from the 2000s, gradually lost their luster as consumers looked for more minimalist styles in the post-recession era. As a result, they were slowly discontinued, making way for the new Empreinte range that continues to be a brand staple.
Just a Passing Trend
Fashion is all about trends. And just like trends come and go, the popularity of handbag designs fluctuates as well. In fact, very few silhouettes in a brand’s collection actually end up as permanent pieces. Few make it to the handbag hall of fame, joining the ranks of Holy Grail bestsellers, like the Hermès Birkin and the Chanel Classic Flap.
But there are also certain styles released purely to cash in on ruling trends, and these must be constantly rotated to keep things fresh. In the business language, this would attract greater foot traffic to stores and generate higher sales online. To us buyers, however, this would appear as the launch of novel designs that’ll keep us hooked until the next season or the discontinuation of the previous season’s styles.
The logic behind phasing out last-season designs needn’t be explained – trend-conscious fashionistas would likely move on to the next big thing, and for the brand that remains stuck with older designs, there simply wouldn’t be any room left for the new! Plus, given how competitive the industry has grown to be, other brands would gladly overtake them if they weren’t constantly reinventing the wheel, changing shapes, colors, and features. In the 2000s, this meant designing the next It-bag that needed to be seen on all the right arms. Now, this equates to bringing a fashion house’s spinoff on what’s currently hot (such as the pillow bag) and ensuring they get enough exposure in the buyer’s eyes to stimulate a purchase.
Additionally, with the resurgence of Y2K purses, many of the pieces we saw as kids have come back with a vengeance, making what was only once considered trendy cool again and perpetuating the debate between what gets considered a classic and what doesn’t. Thus, the Dior Saddle, phased out early into the 2000s and overtaken by newer it-bags, has enjoyed massive success since the late 2010s.
But this also doesn’t mean that the consumers always agree with the brand on what is considered timeless. The Chloé Drew, although listed on the brand’s website as a classic, failed to garner a commensurate following and has since been discontinued.
It’s relatively rare to come across an impractical design (brands spend millions on research and design, after all). But certain styles in handbag history have been known to be notoriously heavy, such as the Chloé Paddington, the Alexander Wang Rocco, or the Christian Louboutin Paloma (although its smaller sizes are still in production), or lacking in requisite functionality features, such as the absence of a shoulder strap in the Balenciaga Work (even though I continue to love it), that lessened their appeal to potential users and ultimately saw their discontinuation.
Could there be a less apparent agenda?
As PurseForum member SophieChic puts very aptly in this thread, “Take it from someone who is totally in love with a bag style discontinued by another brand…. when something is discontinued, those of us that love the style go nuts trying to find as many colors/patterns as we can in that bag.” There might just be a more discrete purpose behind the discontinuation of certain styles, and that would be to make the styles more lucrative to buyers! In a number of PurseForum threads, in fact, the question often pops up, in various forms, whether a discontinued design is worth more on resale. Of course, this totally depends on the designer and the brand’s overall staying power.
Another not-so-apparent reason behind discontinuing a bag could be to pave the way for its resurgence! Case in point – the Balenciaga City. The brand continued its production long after the bag’s heyday in the 2000s for the fear that it would lose its bestselling product. But come 2020, the brand’s creative genius Demna Gvaslia discontinued the OG city, launching buzz-worthy new styles like the Neo City and the Neo Cagole. And just like that, both the brand’s status and the resale value of BBags skyrocketed!
Change in creative direction could also be a reason for discontinuation – Raf Simons’ Diorama bag was discontinued by Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior not only to preserve the bag’s exclusive appeal, but also so buyers would then be able to distinguish between the creative visions of the two designers respectively.
Ultimately, the reasons why a brand may discontinue a bag could be manifold, starting from the bag’s sales performance, to whether the bag aligns with the designer’s ideals, or simply to restrict its supply if it happens to become too popular (as many Chanel fans speculate in the case of the GST). And just like newer designs crop up every season, older ones are phased out too – that’s just the way of the world (and also because existing products may cannibalize new products)!
But the discontinued styles themselves leave fond memories with their lovers – some happily reminisce the nostalgia of the styles they came across as budding fashionistas, some are able to grab them pre-loved at a steal, and some are able to make a profit upon their resale. And the best part about them is that they aren’t likely to be seen everywhere that both a trendy and a classic purse might – vintage is in a league of its own!
As TPFer Miss Dale says in this PurseForum thread, “Lastly, discontinued bags are great. You will see less people using the same bag as you. I have a few of the popular models, but once in a while, it’s nice to use a purse that others are not carrying.”