Big Ticket Bags: Business is Booming in the Handbag Industry

While the famed “it bag” era is supposedly behind us, the price of luxury handbags continues to soar. Here, we will look at the how and the why of the luxury handbag boom.

Many of us will remember the “it bag” era of the late 90’s to the early 2000’s. The Fendi Baguette, the Chloe Paddington; these were all bags that had fashionistas trampling over each other to get on the waiting lists all over the world. Bags got bigger, flashier, and became a must-have status symbol for women of all ages.

Although the era of the “it bag” has been declared over by the fashion cognoscenti, the handbag industry itself would probably lead you to believe otherwise. These days, handbags are fetching prices that not so long ago, would have seemed inconceivable to most people. Most of us wouldn’t think it so unusual to see a price tag of $5,000 to $6,000 for a classic Chanel flap bag, it has become so commonplace.

It is often noted that the luxury goods industry doesn’t suffer in the face of an austere economic climate, but not only is the handbag industry not suffering, it appears to be growing exponentially. In recent years, the prices of luxury fashion items in the US alone have risen at more than twice the rate of national inflation.

Even second-hand handbags are enjoying being on the receiving end of this new demand for designer goods. Some of the original “it bags” are still commanding some pretty respectable prices for bags, which in some cases, are nearly twenty years old; a Fendi Spy bag (originally launched in 1994) in good condition, which originally cost about $2,000, can fetch at least $600 today.

In fact, so popular are some of these older designer handbags with collectors, that for the first time in history, handbags have finally been allotted their own auction category at the legendary auction house Christie’s. In November of 2014, Christie’s Hong Kong firm auctioned off over 120 designer bags, with a worth of nearly a million dollars. The piece de resistance of that auction was a slate grey matt crocodile Birkin bag circa 2006, that was expected to fetch as much as $60,000.

If the fact that a $6,000 Chanel or a $60,000 Hermes Birkin seems more and more common is not enough to convince you that the “it bag” era is ongoing, one look back at some of the 2014 runway collections probably will.

While every fashion season always has a few standout pieces, that are really the definition of luxury (with price tags to match), some of 2014’s offerings were really and truly a testament to the power and influence that the handbag industry has in order to command prices that would seemingly be unattainable to all but a few select buyers.

4 of the priciest bags of spring 2014

four expencive bags

While these are by no means the most expensive bags money could buy in 2014, they are a few of the many specimens that really raised some eyebrows (and some credit limits as well, I’m guessing).

The Fendi Peekaboo Mini Crocodile Bag – $19,500

The Fendi Peekaboo Mini Crocodile Bag

When you consider the fact that this bag is only 23 cm wide and 18 cm high, the price tag bites almost as hard as the crocodile it’s made from.

The Gucci Soft Stirrup Crocodile Shoulder Bag – $32,500


Another bag made from exotic and expensive crocodile leather, this bag costs about as much as a respectable down payment on a house. Pity you can’t live in it.

The Delvaux Tempete GM Autruche – $18,300


Although Delvaux does not have the same brand recognition as Fendi and Gucci, among those in the know, who regularly shop in the luxury handbag world, it’s a quiet staple. This ostrich bag is certainly austere to look at, yet boasts some pretty slick hardware including threaded expansion straps, adjustable metal plates, and protective metal feet. And all for the bargain price of 18 grand.

The Valextra Alligator Isis Clutch – $11,700


Yes, you saw it right. That’s eleven thousand, seven hundred dollars for a clutch bag. Coming in at just 6.75 inches by 11.25 inches by 2, that’s some pretty expensive handbag real estate by our counting.

Why so expensive?

According to Lauren Sherman, a reporter at the popular website The Business of Fashion, in addition to supply and demand, there are a few unexpected reasons for the astronomically-priced items we have been seeing gracing the runways of late.

Sherman points to the ever-increasing prices of production and marketing as two of the most direct reasons for the price hikes. However, indirect causes such as cattle prices, cotton prices, and farming costs for raising exotic skins are also playing a big role.

Sherman also acknowledges that one of the biggest reasons for these price increases is a new generation of wealthy Chinese, whose wages have increased by 14 percent since 2012 and are key buyers of today’s luxury goods and services. In fact, so high is the demand for luxury handbags in China that the aforementioned Christie’s auction took place at their Hong Kong location. The reason for that: Hong Kong is a shopping destination for some of Asia’s wealthiest customers.

There is no denying that the handbag industry is booming. And while it may not be the “it bag” era that we remember from a few decades ago, there can be no doubt that an expensive and recognizable handbag is still very much the social status symbol it once was.

Luckily for those of us who are unable (or unwilling) to spend what amounts to a salary on a single luxury handbag, there are plenty of reputable second hand designer consignment retailers cropping-up everywhere, that might make the reality of owning one of these designer confections slightly more attainable.

Where will the longing for an everlasting status symbol lead? Only time will tell.

About the author

Kristin Buchholz-MacKillop

Kristin is an American writer based in the Scottish Highlands. She is a saxophonist, an obsessive tennis player, a U.S. Air Force Veteran, and holds a Master's degree as an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner. She is the author of the online style blog

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