Ladies! Open Up Your Purses

Tired of toeing the line? Dying to take a walk on the wild side? Looking to bust a new taboo? No need to look far: There could be one lurking on the top shelf of your closet. I’m talking about that beat-up Prada doctor’s bag, circa fall 2000. Dust it off, dangle it from the crook of your arm and brace yourself for the reaction. Why? Because, girls, believe it or not, the most transgressive, shocking thing a New Yorkeress could do right now is to appear in public with an old bag. Yes, a beaten-up, out-of-date purse!

Using the C-word, on-the-job boozing, hairy bits, public sex, hideous halitosis, unmanicured extremities—none of these no-nos will come close to causing the frisson of horror which will be occasioned by the sight of a déjà vu, ungroovy purse.

Handbag refreshment has reached some kind of sick, frenzied crescendo. Bags are the new shoes. Based on purse sales at Barneys, not to mention the West African street vendor who flogs knockoffs around the corner, the average Manhattan lass is now buying a new purse every 15 minutes.

Whether it’s a zillion-dollar Hermès crocodile Birkin or some squishy vinyl number from Kmart, this demented compulsion to buy handbag after handbag suggests the presence of a new and horrid pandemic: The ladies are clearly suffering from Hysterical Accessory Gathering Syndrome, H.A.G.S. for short.

If Freudian theory is correct and handbags are indeed vaginal symbols, this H.A.G.S.-induced mania for their constant renewal finds an easy parallel in the contemporary trend for vaginal shaving, waxing, tweaking and—last but not least—vaginal-rejuvenation surgery. The bottom line, it would appear, is that nobody, in the year of our Lord 2005, wants to be the owner of an old bag.

Once you accept the hypothesis—as I unquestioningly have—that vaginas and handbags are totally synonymous, the world becomes a very interesting place. Look at that chippie over there with her buckled and padlocked Chloé Paddington bag: Is she transmitting a message of chastity or bondage? Look at the teeth on that LeSportsac zipper! Vagina dentata, anyone? And that crazed overachiever who just stole your cab: What is motivating her to stuff her entire forearm into the gaping maw of her monogrammed Goyard tote?

And what of the celebs? Are they suffering from H.A.G.S., too? When Somali supermodel Iman arrived at the launch party for her new book, The Beauty of Color (Penguin/Putnam, $29.95) at Downtown Cipriani last Wednesday night, she was fascinatingly and enigmatically sans handbag. What could it mean? When I challenged her about this matter, she was typically defiant and regal, saying: “I think it’s so much more glamorous to be purseless. I already have the perfect accessories—my husband David Bowie and his bodyguard!” Who was carrying Iman’s nude lip-gloss ($11, Why, the bodyguard, of course.

Fortunately or us retailers, most women are not in a position to inoculate themselves against the H.A.G.S. epidemic with a lip-gloss-toting bodyguard. Au contraire, many gals are carrying several purses at once, suggesting a terrifying hydra of multiple pudenda.

One such person is Louise de Teliga, another recently published former fashion model. On tour to promote her chuckle-filled new novel Fashion Slaves (published by the aptly named house Strapless, $12.95), Louise arrives at book signings carrying a pink Prada tote. Inside this capacious fleshy receptacle lurks a teensy brown grosgrain Anya Hindmarch number with a bow and two adorably furry brown mink pompoms.

I chatted with her by phone after her recent West Coast blowout appearance and asked her if she thought that the balls might indicate a latent castration impulse. “Quite possibly,” laughed the former Australian Vogue cover girl. “At the very least, I’m stashing a small brown vagina, with balls, inside a big pink vagina …. ” Yikes!

I asked Louise what she did with all her old bags. She declined to respond and hung up. Her reticence to answer the question made me wonder: Where have all the Fendis gone? Long time passing …. At this point in time, there should be massive slag heaps of discarded Kate Spades, Lanvins, Coaches and Balenciagas accumulating outside every apartment building. I have a horrible suspicion that sneaky H.A.G.S. sufferers—fearing the humiliating discovery of their wrinkly old bags—are secreting them in their attics á la Dorian Gray.

Girls! Let’s take those old purses and put them to good use! Meet me this Sunday at South Street Seaport. We’ll throw them all into the water and create a fab new landfill. We can call it H.A.G. Island.

Happy Halloween! Ladies! Open Up Your Purses