The handbag increasingly occupies a curious place in the hierarchy of fashion, and it’s already been 3 weeks of bag hierarchy discussion with my inner circle. Most women base their hierarchy on the manufacturer’s reputation and their products’ actual performance — not just what’s hot. I guess the definition of “hierarchy” needs to to be defined. It can be according to (in no particular order):
- Price — a designer handbag’s price tag is arguably the single most important determinant a prospective buyer entertains when deciding on a purchase. Simply put — how much does it cost, and can you afford it?
- Material — whether it’s leather (goatskin, calfskin, etc.), exotic skins (alligator, ostrich, snakeskin) or unique materials such as furs, materials used to craft a designer handbag play an important role in determining the bag’s worth.
- Craftsmanship — a well-made, often hand-made handbag will more than likely outlive its owner. Many enthusiasts put craftsmanship at the top of their list of requirements when selecting a designer handbag.
- Exclusivity — for many of us, a designer handbag’s allure lies not in any of the aforementioned points but rather in whether or not the bag is easily attainable. The harder it is to score, the more coveted it becomes.
- History — nothing provides one a sense of belonging more than owning a little piece of handbag history. Those of us that appreciate the art of handbag design will take a label’s long and illustrious history of handbag excellence into account when adding a bag to our wardrobe.
- Popularity — no need to explain this :)
And the handbag hierarchy* goes…
Top: Hermès (It’s at the top due to its reputation, classic range and high prices)
Hermès lines that were introduced from 1930s (Kelly, Bolide, HAC, and Birkin) are still being produced today so I’d say Hermès bags being “unseasonal” make them premium stuff. Once in a while, they design new bags, but they are supposed to be in the collection forever and not just for a particular season. Also, Hermès handbags are handmade by craftsmen and each bag has an ID of the craftsman who made it.
Second: Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Bottega Veneta (They came next for their amazing quality. All have very expensive luxe lines but also some range of more affordable but good-quality monogrammed bags)
Chanel has a very lady-like appeal to their bags which makes every woman feel that they need one in their wardrobe. I personally prefer Chanel over Louis Vuitton because the former is harder to find and from what I learned, they make their bags in a more limited quantity.
Louis Vuitton is Louis Vuitton — many women will agree with me. LV did an excellent job in making their brand so famous and successful. The good indication, albeit very bad one, is that there are way too many fakes so you easily bump with one who has an “LV” in the streets. That makes it not-so-exclusive compared to other brands in its category. To me, it’s more of an investment brand especially if you are looking to resell your classic bags in the future.
Gucci owns Bottega Veneta. The Gucci Group considers Bottega Veneta the creme de la creme of their portfolio.
Third: Balenciaga, Gucci, Prada (This group is less established and less premium in price compared to the ones above, however, have good quality and are very popular)
Balenciaga uses naturally distressed goat leather that gives their bags the slouchy, unique and ultra-chic look that everyone loves and adores. Every Hollywood star has one. It’s important to note that Balenciaga does not sell any bags online — not even through stores. There is an exclusive and maintained clientele base, and unless you purchase them at a store, you are buying a fake.
Gucci leather is so luxurious. The changing leather trims of the monograms add punch to the canvas lines of the brand plus sometimes your particular leather trim never comes back, making your bag special. I have also observed that Gucci women are generally more “fashionista”, and it’s refreshing to see them working those bags up a notch. Most of the time, Gucci users evoke that well-roundedness and sexiness that is inherently synonymous with the brand.
While other designers focus on the latest trends, Prada bags underline the fact that simple sophistication always wins out over outlandish trends. Based on a backyard survey, Prada rates the highest among women between 20 and 35 years of age.
Fourth: Dior, Fendi, YSL, Chloè (This group usually attracts high-class women who are new to collecting handbags)
Dior handbags are classically modern. It’s one of the brands that you must check out for the season’s latest and greatest. It has a style all its own, but really knows how to play up with what’s hot right now and make it just edgy enough and just unique enough to appeal to those with a fashion sense.
Fendi’s long history of 90+ years, with superb quality, innovative design and functional style always make Fendi handbags timeless elegance. Their bags are manufactured in limited quantities and can cost up to thousands of dollars… but if you do a little investigative shopping, you can get one for as much as 50% off even in high end department stores. Just go at the end of the season when the new models are coming in, because most of the time the old ones are being clearanced out.
The increasing popularity of Yves Saint Laurent bags among the younger generation says a lot about how elegant as well as playful their designs are. Most of the YSL bags are done in crocodile leather which gives it that stunning look… the clean cuts and the elegance say it all.
The charisma of Chloé bags come from the restrained chic and the special attention on functions. Chloé usually has vast storage space accompanied with several elaborate pockets, and the latches and padlocks are designed to firmly close the compartments. You can take away with it a whole day without worry about the fast-shortening longevity — it has become synonymous with chunky hardware, modern touches, and edgy designs. And while Chloé bags are not always first in their class, there is at least some effort behind them.
Fifth: Coach, Tod’s, Kate Spade (This group has more mass market appeal)
Coach combines classic styling and functionality to create their timeless handbag range. Coach bags are very popular because of their less expensive products’ high quality and durability. A lot of fakes are being sold these days so if you’re planning on buying online, remember that Coach does have bags made in China — but Coach does not have handbags made in Korea. If you get a bag that says “Made in Korea”, return it immediately to the seller because for sure it’s not an authentic Coach bag.
Tod’s bags are known for their simplicity and elegance, however, a lot goes into creating a single bag. It takes 6 months to age the leather, and 3 months to make the bag by hand — made in Italy of course. These are not trendy bags, not even the white stuff… they will last a lifetime.
Kate Spade bags have their own unique place in the fashion market. These bags are not the most expensive and top luxury handbags, however they are well appreciated by fashionistas all over the world and they are more affordable that other high-end handbags. Kate Spade bags are playful, colorful and fun.
Why does time run so fast whenever I talk about bags? If only there was a course in designer bag literature :D
* You might have noticed that there are other manufacturers that were not mentioned. Note that the brands included here are the most coveted ones — at least among the women I know from the US and some Asian countries.