U.S. News

A $45K Bag By Any Other Name Would Not Sell As Sweet

Expensive accessories have long been status symbols of the wealthy. But five-figure handbags are in a class by themselves. As women search for something original and exclusive, the "it" bag has arrived, and the prices are more astronomical than ever.

Take Louis Vuitton’s Tribute Patchwork for example.

The British fashion press coined it "Frankenstein’s monster." Others simply called Tribute the ugliest bag ever. Either way, it’s an attention grabber.

And even though Patchwork costs a pretty penny -- at $45,000 -- it has sold out. That is, the two-dozen of the bags customers ordered months ago.

The bag is a collage collection made from fifteen of the fashion houses iconic bags. While the company is no longer making the Tribute model, Vuitton recently launched a Patchwork collection – a line of denim patchwork bags priced from $3,000 to $5,000.

The so-called "it" bag phenomenon is nothing new, says Stellene Volandes, senior editor of fashion and jewelry for Departures magazine. "Women want exclusivity and what companies do in response is make the prices astronomical and only make a few." That builds allure and exclusivity.

The U.S. handbag market is worth nearly $6 billion a year. Handbag sales in Britain rose 146% between 2000 and 2005. Online retailer eluxury.com saw a 13% rise in sales of bags costing more than $500 in 2006.

None of this has been lost on companies like LVMH , whose brands include Fendi, Givenchy and Marc Jacobs. Ready-to-wear fashion and leather goods accounted for 12% of growth at LVMH last year.

"High-end bags used to be $500, now an ‘it’ bag will cost you at least $1,000," says Volandes. A Chanel handbag made of lizard or crocodile leather can set you back as much as $26,000. Chanel’s so aware of the money-spinning nature of bags that it now protects itself from losing sales to counterfeiters by creating six collections per year, making sure new products hit the shelves every two months.

Coach last year unveiled its highest-priced line to date. Some bags in the Legacy line cost upwards of $1,000. In December, Coach made eight alligator bags priced at $20,000 each and sold them at Coach stores in New York and Las Vegas.

Is this just he beginning of the "it" bag price phenomenon? Vuitton’s next most expensive "it" bag of the season is its Polka Dot Fleurs Morgane, which retails for $7,000. "Women are looking for a reaction. They want something exclusive," says Volandes.