Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Affordable Luxuries: Longchamp Bags

Every few years, there seems to be an item that becomes a must-have for women in New York who consider themselves at least somewhat fashionable. It's something from a luxury brand that is low-priced enough to become accessible to the middle class, not just the wealthy. And sooner or later, knockoff versions start to become available, so that almost anyone can have it.
When I first thought about writing this, I was sure I had other past examples in mind, but now I'm blanking out about what they were! I'm sure readers will remind me of a few! But this year's example is the Longchamp bag.


You've probably seen these bags-- zippered nylon tote bags that can be folded into a little bundle and snapped together (though I wonder how often anyone ever does that). They're actually very nice-- I gave one as a gift to someone about a year ago, and was tempted to get one for myself. They're extremely lightweight, the leather straps are comfortable and well-made, the fabric is water resistant, and they're relatively indestructible. They come in a variety of fun colors. And they're not that expensive-- the large ones are under $150. Best of all, these bags are so subtle and tasteful! These aren't for the people who want blingy Louis Vuitton logos all over the place! They're for classy, discerning types-- those who appreciate tiny, almost imperceptible logos that enticingly whisper "Buy me! I'm French!"

If you go to the Longchamp store in SoHo, you'll see that most other things in the store are nowhere near so reasonably priced-- many of the women's handbags are $1,000 and up. But is $150 for a nylon zippered tote bag really "reasonably priced?" You can get an equally useful bag from LL Bean or Lands End or pretty much anywhere for a lot less, but it won't look as nice. And maybe it will be a little heavier, or won't last as long, or maybe there will be something about the quality that is a bit disappointing: these are the things we tell ourselves to justify spending more than necessary on one of these bags, or any of the other things where brands drive us to spend that little bit more.

These bags hit the sweet spot in terms of price-- the target customer is all the young professional women who aspire to pricier handbags, but who will settle for something like this that has a whiff of being upscale but at a much lower price. Can these customers "afford" a $150 bag? Not really, perhaps, but that's an amount that is fairly easy to absorb in a credit card bill. And it's so obvious that it's working: these bags have suddenly reached the kind of tipping point where I see at least one or two of them every time I'm on the subway. I must see at least 10 a day, not counting the ones carried by women who work in my office. But I predict that they'll start to disappear one of these days: I've noticed people carrying ones that were obviously cheap copies, and the real ones are available at a discount at quite a few retailers, which I don't think was the case when I was buying the one I gave as a gift last year. But while the fad lasts, I'm sure Longchamp will be making a ton of money, and perhaps luring in a few customers who will upgrade to their more expensive products.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey! You're featured in today's Boston Metro in a section that features blogs =)

_wirehead_ said...

*blinks*

$150 is "not that expensive"? I paid $50 for my current bag, on a recent trip to London, and considered that pricey -- but it's a sturdy satchel that I like a lot, and I think it'll last me a few years.

Then again, I'm not a purse-carrying sort of girl, so maybe I just don't get it. But it's funny to me how one person's "affordable luxury" is another person's "you paid how much for that?" :)

3beansalad said...

I sold my Longchamps tote on eBay after using it a few times. It wasn't my style (I received it as a gift). It sold for ~$75.

lynn said...

I just read "Deluxe" and it's a pretty interesting book. Though I don't understand why the writer highly praised Hermes. The "specially order" of Birkin - choosing different colors of leather and metal is nothing special, you can do it on Nike's website nowadays. And "made in China" is not a big turn off to me either. Good quality is good quality, whether it's produced from Europe or Asia is not important to me.
What attracts me is the writer's business view of the mass fashion. How LVMH grows and caters to middle class 's affordablity is a good MBA text book to read.

lynn said...

I just read "Deluxe" and it's a pretty interesting book. Though I don't understand why the writer highly praised Hermes. The "specially order" of Birkin - choosing different colors of leather and metal is nothing special, you can do it on Nike's website nowadays. And "made in China" is not a big turn off to me either. Good quality is good quality, whether it's produced from Europe or Asia is not important to me.
What attracts me is the writer's business view of the mass fashion. How LVMH grows and caters to middle class 's affordablity is a good MBA text book to read.

Chickpea said...

I got a bag like this about 3-4 years ago from Estee Lauder's Company Store. Cost me about $15 and came with a whole gift pack of trial sized eyeliner, lipstick, blush and mascara.

Funny that 3 yrs later it's the new big thing and costs 10 times the amount I spent!

Anonymous said...

I think it's an ugly bag and looks very pedestrian. I definitely wouldn't spend $150 on it, but I can understand those that do.

-Tasha

Anonymous said...

I spent 3K this weekend on a purse! Wow, 150 is downright free!!

Yu Jin said...

Hmmm...it is just not the bag for me. And why on earth it costs that much for just a luxury name?

Lisa said...

Hey! Quit talking about these awesome bags or EVERYONE will be wanting one :>

They are THE BEST for utility and are almost impossible to destroy. Best of all, you look fashionable without even trying!

Anonymous said...

The large sized bag is a workhorse. I went through 2 other bags for work in less than a year. This one has held up and doesn't look like it's been through the wringer. Light. And it can hold a laptop, a fleece jacket, and my lunch.

Jackie said...

I almost bought one several years ago and glad I didn't.

pkzcass said...

Spending $150 to look like everybody else? No thanks. I favor individuality over fashionable anyday. The best thing about individuality is that you can get it in a thrift store.

Doctor S said...

I never saw the craze when it came to handbags? Maybe b/c I am a guy but the ones that I have always found attractive are the ones that I DO NOT see everyone have. This one is like a 5 out of 10 IMO. I like the post though and congrats on the feature in Boston Metro!

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of part of a recent funny email going around:

NEW OFFICE POLICY EFFECTIVE TODAY

Dress Code:

1) You are advised to come to work dressed according to your salary.

2) If we see you wearing Prada shoes and carrying a Gucci bag, we will
assume you are doing well financially
and therefore do not need a raise.

3) If you dress poorly, you need to learn to manage your money better, so
that you might buy nicer clothes, and
therefore you do not need a raise.

4) If you dress just right, you are right where you need to be and
therefore you do not need a raise.

hazygrey said...

I noticed this craze too and wondered about it. As far as I know, these bags were popular for traveling - it's convenient to use on board, and to pack it in your luggage. But I just don't think they look good enough or dressy enough to carry to work, which is what a lot of women are doing right now. Despite all these reservations, I am tempted to buy the fakes on the streets. I think it was $35 for the bigger size and a fake would be sturdy enough for the occasional travel use.