The ladies of Park Avenue have a big problem. Yes, they can’t help it. They’re insatiable (and some might say insufferable, but that’s for another piece); most therapists assume it’s an addiction. On the Upper East Side, it’s an unsurprising kind of moral failing: the state of being a handbag whore. (She’s the kind of woman who spends the rent on half of a handbag and then comforts herself with the thought that it was, of course, only rent).
And the only thing worse than being a handbag whore is being a handbag whore in a world where there is no “It” bag.
To be an “It” bag, a bag must provoke the following in otherwise-normal handbag whores: 1) a propensity for cheerfully sitting on waiting lists; 2) hours spent trolling eBay hoping to find said bag for up to three times the retail price; and 3) begging publicists just for the chance to pay full price for the bag in question.
Tragically, this summer has been a long, cold “It”-bag-less summer. The optimists will say this isn’t true. They’ll point to the new Mulberry Notting Hill Roxanne bag (too cheap at $1,045); the Fendi beggar bag (though expensive enough to be an “It” bag at $3,320, it seems to me to be far too fleshy and flabby for “It” status); the sloppy, heavy Chloe homeless-but-really-I-live-in-Soho bag (which again is O.K., but it’s been around nearly a year, so it’s too old to be “It”).
What are the larger implications of this tragedy? Is the stock market about to plunge? Is this the beginning of the end?
Of course, my suggestion that the Upper East Side hasn’t seen an “It” bag since last year’s Chanel quilted Madonna bag was met with the staunchest denials at one high-end Fifth Avenue retail mecca. Like the boy whistling in the dark to keep himself from the inevitable panic attack, my fashionable gray-haired saleswoman insisted that the absence of an “It” bag was merely just journalistic wishful thinking.
"This season, there’s a ton of cool bags,” she said. “My most favorite is this Gucci bag.” She smiled with a mouthful of alarmingly sharp teeth as she stroked the scary animal-looking skin of a Gucci medium shoulder bag in almond-colored python. “Look at this workmanship, the craftsmanship. Why, this seems almost handmade.”
Seems being the operative word. I journalistically looked at the price tag—slightly more than two grand. “But this isn’t an ‘It’ bag,” I said. “I’ve never seen anyone except some wind-blown wrinklies in Palm Beach carrying this sucker.” For a minute, we looked at each other—she a luscious, Botoxed and cellulite-free 47, I a pudgy and dimwitted 26. She realized that I was nothing more than a cheap harlot looking for a gossip fix. I had no bank, no bling, no black American Express and no reason to live.
But she was wrong; I have rich parents (though by Upper East Side standards they are nearly homeless). I can remember back as long ago as 1997 (a banner year for me, as I spent much of it in rehab). That year brought the Gucci hobo, lean and mean and very uncomfortable because of its bamboo handle. The following year ushered in the Fendi baguette (small and expensive, like a Miller sister), and the year after that was the year of the Prada nylon in fruity colors (a floopy mess of a bag that was way too easily copied). The golden years of 2000 through 2004 saw, in rapid succession, the Kate Spade nylon zip-top tote, the square $1,200 Tod’s tote, the Marc Jacobs no-pocket hard-frame round bag, the Jimmy Choo hobo, the Luella Birkin style tote, the Chanel Madonna bag, the Marc Jacobs five-pocket hobo, the Balenciaga homeless-woman tote (made fashionable by my favorite New Yorkers, Mary-Kate and Ashley) and the Hogan tote.
Sitting outside J.G. Melon’s on Third Avenue and 74th Street, I am dismayed. A woman passes carrying one of this season’s pointy Tod’s bags, which is nice but lacks a celebrity following or an influential fashion editor pushing it over the top. I’m carrying last year’s Mary-Kate Balenciaga in green in a slightly smaller size (it’s dirty and grungy and makes me want to weep into my salad). Its best quality is that its price won’t show up on my credit-card bill because my mom bought it for me. There is no joy on Third Avenue! I feel it, or the lack of an “It,” as the case may be; the haggard soccer mom lugging a beat-up camel-colored Chanel feels it, too.
At the Bergdorf Goodman handbag sale, no fights break out. A year ago, Scoop on Third Avenue was unable to keep Marc Jacobs bags in stock, but now the store runneth over with Marc Jacobs. And by far the most distressing economic indicator—even worse than the absence of an “It” bag—is that the usually aloof salespeople at Scoop seem vaguely interested in my business.
Is it possible that, sometime in the future, apartments won’t be a million dollars a bedroom? Is it conceivable that people might stop spending $5 on a cup of burnt coffee made by a surly teen in a green smock? Is it perhaps in the cards that one day soon, frugality will be more impressive than a fleet of $250,000 Maybachs, all of them driven by Yale-educated drivers? Will the Target credit card replace the American Express black card as the card of choice among the East Hampton set? Will frugality become our new “It” baggage, or will my shrink come back in September from Southampton (south of the highway, of course) and put me back on my medication?