Friday, December 15, 2017

Respoke Iconic Espadrilles

Respoke espadrilles now available at:

Bergdorf Goodman 
Bergdorf Goodman Men
Serenella Palm Beach & Nantucket
The Match at Breakers Hotel Palm Beach
Shari's Place Palm Beach

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Merry Christmas Tio de Nadal and Respoke Espadrilles for the Holidays

When you move to a foreign country as a full-blown adult, as I did, there are a lot of things that run through your mind in the weeks beforehand. I suppose any time you do something that involves serious change, your brain sort of throws up roadblocks … subconscious anxiety that varies in legitimacy. I definitely was not deterred by these inner voices, but I can’t deny they existed. However, as much as I may have obsessed, I never gave even one thought to something that later proved as much a cultural shift as anything … The holidays.
So obviously Thanksgiving in Spain is a non-starter.  This wasn’t such a big deal to me, as it turns out.  Not exactly a football fan (though I have since developed a fondness for the Barcelona futbol team, but that’s another story entirely…); not precisely a big fan of turkey either; and certainly not a fan of the genocide of millions of indigenous people, which Thanksgiving kinda sorta celebrates in a roundabout way. My partner Joan and I have adopted a Thanksgiving policy of caipirinhas and fajitas at my favorite Mexican spot in Barcelona, and I’m pretty content with that, plus a little family Skype time where I can eye the stuffing and apple pie.

Now Christmas … that’s a whole other ball of wax. Obviously they celebrate Christmas here in Spain. And many of the traditions are similar, if not exactly the same. For example, Santa and the three wise men sail into Barcelona on a schooner in early December…no Rudolph in sight. But there’s gift-giving, lots of amazing light displays, nativity scenes … Hmm.  Well. Okay. So here’s one thing about the nativity scenes in Catalonia. There’s someone shitting in each one. Yep. Shitting. Traditionally, a shepherd.  This figure is called a Caganer … a shitter, obv.  So yea … dig it … there’s little baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the three Wise Men, some assorted farm animals … and a shepherd with his pants down above a little pile of poo.  The explanation for this seems to be a cultural shrug … I still haven’t heard a reason that amounts to much more than…poo is funny. And maybe something to do with fertility? It all sounds like a stretch. But the weirdness of this pales in comparison to the … wait for it … Shitting Log … the Tio de Nadal. Again, defecation is tied to a yuletide tradition. There is at least an explanation for this one … sort of.
Apparently peasant families of the Pyrenees came up with the idea of making a log a central figure in their Christmas celebration. You would wrap the log up in a blanket and feed it and sing to it and tell it your Christmas wishes in the days leading up to Christmas (from December 8th to the 24th.) Sweet, right? Ummm … yea … until the kids go all Lord of the Flies on the 24th and sing a song asking for cheese and candy and treats and BEAT IT WITH STICKS DEMANDING IT SHIT THOSE THINGS OUT. Then, under the blanket … voila.  Candy and treats. Then there is something about a stinking herring signalling the end of the fun … and then they BURN THE LOG. In summary … Spain and the States have some pretty serious cultural differences when it comes to the holidays. Also, traditions that aren’t familiar can seem utterly insane from an outside perspective.
In all seriousness though, I love Christmas in Barcelona … however, my favorite aspect might be the week afterwards … a week where I traditionally run off somewhere warm with my partner. I wear my Respokes year-round … they are Spanish espadrilles after all … but I never doubt that the soles belong most on the warm sand of tropical climes.
So … where will you be dreaming of wearing your Respokes this Christmas? Inquiring logs want to know.

Respoke Espadrilles Now Available at Gwyneth Paltrow - GOOP

As a native New Englander, I was expected to be hardy. I realized pretty early that wasn’t the case, but it still took me awhile to realize that I had options other than suffering through six months a year of cold weather. I left for the west coast in my twenties…although San Francisco was hardly a perfect climate at least I didn’t need to scrape ice off my windshield. However, the best decision of my life was moving to Barcelona. Although not exactly perpetual summer, there was no season that required much over a sweater. Sandals were year-round….worst case scenario, you might wear sandals with socks. I remember realizing that espadrilles were invented in Spain because they were literally perfect for the climate. Little did I know then that I would take such a personal interest in that ubiquitous footwear, nearly twenty years after I bought my first pair.

The reason I mention all this is because I felt strongly the weather had to be warm for the launch of Respoke. And based on the summer season we just had, my instincts were good. In May, Bergdorf Goodman picked up the line. Followed by Serenella in June. Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP brought us into the fold in July. I couldn’t have invented anything so fantastic in terms of reception and enthusiasm. Apparently, I’m not the only one in love with espadrilles.
But seeing photos of people wearing Respoke on beaches, boats, boardwalks over the last few months has been the best part. Knowing that feeling of summer and sunshine has reached so many people in just a few months is inspiring. The entire team at Respoke is excited for our next chapter.
I hope you are here to read it with me.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Why Don’t You…Wrap Your Feet in Hermès Scarves?

Respoke’s espadrilles merge craftsmanship, sustainability, and all that is chic


Every morning, Michael Tonello makes himself a cup of Earl Grey tea and goes online to scour the all corners of the Web for vintage Hermès scarves. But Tonello is not a collector—they are actually for his espadrille brand, Respoke, which repurposes vintage silk scarves (also from brands like Gucci, Pucci, and most recently Alexander McQueen) into luxury shoes, entirely handmade in Spain.
“The more important thing, in some ways, is finding scarves that are in perfect condition. We don’t want scarves that have lipstick stains on them, or perfume stains—any kind of stains, for that matter—holes, or pulls,” he said of the challenges of shopping vintage, also noting that interesting or recognizable patters are a must. “We want things that are sort of iconic. We want things that are colorful and fun. We want things that have a lot of pattern on them, so that there’s a lot going on on the espadrille.”
Tonello, is perhaps best known as the author of Bringing Home The Birkin, his New York Times bestselling memoir about his career as an Hermès Birkin bag reseller, which began in 1999 when he made a profit on eBay selling one of his old scarves. “I had paid about $175 for it at Bergdorf Goodman in 1992, so I listed it on eBay with an opening bid of $99,” he said of his first sale. “It sold for over $500.” But since launching his shoe brand last year, he’s been on the other side of the transaction, dealing with auction houses and resellers around the world. And completing the circle, the line’s summer collection was just picked up by Bergdorf.
He first toyed with the idea of espadrilles made out of scarves two years ago, when he started to get bored with the generic cotton canvas the shoes are usually made in. “Living in Spain, everyone buys espadrilles in the spring and wears them all summer long. But they’re always made out of solid color,” he explained. “Then, one day, I just had this idea, oh my god, this scarf would make amazing espadrilles!


That’s when he began doing research into production in Spain. “Really true, good espadrilles are basically all handmade. They’ve never changed the system,” he explained, outlining how every step—from carving blocks of organic rubber to the hand-stitching of the shoes—is done by family-owned operations. “The people that started making espadrilles two or three hundred years ago, it’s still the same people. It’s just their [descendants] now that are running the business.”
Tonello hopes that the quality consumers will be most drawn to (other than the sustainable aspect, being that the brand recycles) is that by nature of the available materials, each set of espadrilles is unique. At best, a single 90cm scarf can only yield about three pairs of shoes, depending on what size is being made. Pairs may not be cut the same way—assuming the Respoke team is even able to find multiples of the same design. “If you’re lucky enough to buy a pair, you may end up being one of only two people, or three people that has a particular design,” Tonello mused. “It’s really special.”
Respoke shoes, which are priced at $495, are available online here, and will soon be carried by Bergdorf Goodman.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

This Birkin Bag Just Sold For $380,000 At Auction

What makes a purse worth a house?

An Hermes Birkin bag has broken the world record for the most money ever paid for a handbag at auction, with a $380,000 winning bid at the Hong Kong event. The record was previously held by a different Birkin bag, for which a bidder paid $300,000 in 2016.
Christie's held the auction and would not share the identity of the buyer, but they did provide details about the coveted bag itself. Created in 2014, this particular "Himalaya" purse is made of matte crocodile skin, with handles encrusted in 205 diamonds and 18-karat gold buckles.


Himalaya Birkins get their name from the bag's color, which fades from smoky grey to pearly white, evoking comparisons with the mountain range. The company says they're exceptionally rare, with only one or two believed to be made each year because of a time-consuming process to dye the crocodile skin.
That today's Himalaya Birkin broke the record came as a surprise to Christie's. The presale estimate was between $193,000-$258,000. Spokeswoman Gigi Ho said bids sailed past that price window quickly during 10 to 15 minutes of intense offers in person, over the phone and online.
The infamous Birkin bag was introduced by Hermes in 1984, and named after singer-actress-model Jane Birkin. The purses retail for four figures at a minimum, and are so rare that their waiting list was featured as a plot point on a 2001 episode of "Sex and the City."

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Introducing Respoke Luxury Iconic Espadrilles


No, this isn’t our espadrilles saying hello. Although if they COULD talk, it would certainly be in Spanish, the language spoken by the multigenerational craftsmen that created them in La Rioja, Spain. Wearing these shoes conjures up sunny days in Mallorca, the lilt of flamenco music, and the taste of paella. So yes, these handcrafted espadrilles have plenty to contribute to a conversation.
But the Hola! up top? That’s actually me saying hello. Michael Tonello here. Nice to meet you and thank you so much for visiting..
My love affair with espadrilles began soon after I relocated to Barcelona years ago. Like so many things Spanish, they seemed a perfect marriage of stylish form and function. However, after many years of working in fashion and as a reseller of all things Hermes (my rather unusual career is detailed in my memoir Bringing Home the Birkin), I developed a definite taste for the unusual and beautiful. And although there were many amazing espadrille designs out there, none of them had quite the sheen of luxury and style I was looking for.
Inspired by years of silk scarf collecting, I came up with the idea of repurposing high-end scarf designs into comfortable and handcrafted footwear. ¡Y ahí está! Respoke was born. Every pair is handcrafted; every pair is unique. I hope that you will enjoy wearing a pair as much as I enjoy wearing mine.

Hasta la próxima,

Michael J. Tonello, Respoke Founder


LVMH Introduces 24 Sévres - Next Big Digital Shopping Experience

PARIS — Ian Rogers, chief digital officer of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, sat in his sunlit office on Avenue Montaigne last month, alongside a large cactus with a mélange of Pucci-pattern skateboards and black and white rock band photographs arrayed on the walls behind him. Using a tattooed finger, he punched in a pass code that would unlock access to “Babylon”: the code name for the top secret project he has been working on since his arrival 18 months ago at the world’s largest luxury group.
“We believe we are on the cusp of revealing something very exciting,” Mr. Rogers, 44, said in hushed tones.
The “we” was the project’s 60 employees, many of whom have been hired from the Paris technology sector and who are hidden far from the corporate headquarters in new offices in the 15th Arrondissement. Mr. Rogers rolled up the sleeves of his navy V-neck sweater and added, “I guess it’s time to see if the customers think so, too.”
He was referring to the imminent unveiling of LVMH’s high-stakes foray into multibrand luxury e-commerce. Rumors of a shopping platform that would fall under the branding umbrella of Le Bon Marché, LVMH’s upmarket department store, have swirled for months. Now 24 Sèvres, a boutique shopping website and mobile app named after the Paris street that Le Bon Marché is on, goes live in under a month.

It is a gamble that has divided many of the fashion industry’s power players. On the one hand, 24 Sèvres will be yet another contender in an already crowded sector, where established rivals such as Yoox Net-a-Porter, FarFetch and have long been jostling for the world’s wealthiest consumers. Anticlimactic performances by more recent entrants like, Condé Nast’s multimillion-dollar digital boutique, indicated that even the most reputable names in fashion can struggle when arriving late to the game.
A successful entry by LVMH, however, could shake up everything.
Controlled by the French billionaire Bernard Arnault, the conglomerate owns 70 luxury brands, including Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, Bulgari, Fendi and Givenchy. LVMH wields hefty firepower thanks to its financial footing, a monopoly over so many labels (including where and how they can be sold) and hundreds of bricks and mortar stores worldwide.
“Le Bon Marche is already a multibrand physical retailer; moving that store online is a clear and natural next step,” said Luca Solca, a luxury goods analyst with Exane BNP Paribas. “Of course, the natural advantage for LVMH is that they can get so many brands to play ball straight away, because the businesses belong to them. Easy, no?”
Not so fast. LVMH has previously faltered in the multibrand luxury space. The website eLuxury, closed in 2009, was a rare and high-profile misstep. What makes the group think it can succeed now where it has failed before?
“One word: Timing,” Mr. Rogers said.
Other people, though, might say that he is the answer.
Born in Goshen, Ind., Mr. Rogers has a résumé rarely seen in haute luxury. He is a computer science graduate and onetime roadie for the Beastie Boys who first became a father at 17 (that daughter, now 26, is finishing her Ph.D. in genetics in the United States).
He spent the early part of his career as president of new media for the band’s record label Grand Royal. (“I wouldn’t be anywhere without those guys,” he said of the Beastie Boys, looking affectionately to their picture up on the office wall).
Then came a stint at digital music group Nullsoft, a period at the helm of Yahoo Music and later the position of chief executive of Beats Music, which he held during its $3 billion takeover by Apple in 2014 before becoming head of iTunes Radio.
But, he said: “I was ready to move on from music because it felt like a solved problem. The main players are now established. The space has gone from science fiction to mainstream, from an industry in denial to an industry in free-fall to an industry in growth.
“And I just had this feeling about retail, that it would be the next frontier to really change, where the real winners are yet to be determined. Then LVMH approached me with this opportunity. And I realized if I really believed that, there could be no place better to go.”
Since his arrival in Paris from California, where he lived for 20 years, Mr. Rogers has made steps to adapt to life in the French capital. He takes his 10-year-old daughter climbing at the MurMur Escalade, and has sampled as many great restaurants as possible, citing Miznon, Le 21 and Le Bon Georges as highlights. He has skated the mini-ramp at République, done graffiti at the Bercy skatepark and trained for numerous marathons. Of his work at the company, Bernard Arnault has been “incredibly supportive,” Mr. Rogers said. He added that Mr. Arnault’s digitally attuned son, Alexandre, 25, had been his “key ally.”
“A lot of the stuff we’ve been working on, I just wouldn’t have been able to do without Alex,” Mr. Rogers said, emphasizing that his responsibilities extend far beyond the introduction of 24 Sèvres, where day-to-day operations are run by its chief executive, Eric Goguey. He also oversees the LVMH brands’ e-commerce strategies, customer data management upgrades, the building of the online wholesale business in perfumes and spirits and LVMH’s China digital strategy.
“There is a lot on our plate right now,” Mr. Rogers said. “And Alex, outside of his full-time day job, is very switched on as to where this business needs to go.” The younger Mr. Arnault is the chief executive of Rimowa, a luggage brand owned by LVMH.
Still, there is no question that this e-commerce endeavor is extensive and eagerly anticipated. Mr. Rogers said LVMH had considered every branding possibility for 24 Sèvres, which will initially stock only woman’s wear, but settled on maintaining a connection to Le Bon Marché because of its 160-year history as a pioneer in catalog sales.
“I find it interesting that the Parisian perspective on fashion has been missing from the e-commerce landscape until now,” he said. “In my view it is a conspicuous absence and a huge market gap that we intend to fill.” He declined to reveal the exact cost of this investment for LVMH to date other than to say that it was relatively “modest — a brick-by-brick, start-up style approach.” He added that 24 Sèvres is also the name of the current loyalty program run by the department store, with legions of existing members. That program will also now be shared with users of the website and app.
In many ways 24 Sèvres shares characteristics with its more established rivals, including fast delivery times to scores of international locations; chatbots or stylists-on-demand; glossy packaging, complete with Eiffel Tower cutout pop-ups and love notes from Paris; and an efficient checkout process. Luxury e-commerce has become about the price of the consumer’s time, Mr. Rogers said, leading to an increasingly competitive field in terms of service across the retail spectrum. But there are differences, too.
“The move toward social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat comes hand-in-hand with the rise of the internet as a more visual medium and of mobile domination,” Mr. Rogers said, his hand on “Louis Vuitton Windows,” a suitcase-size Assouline tome by the Louis Vuitton visual image director, Faye McLeod, that sits as a touchstone in the middle of his office (Ms. McLeod has been heavily involved in the creative direction of 24 Sèvres). “Increasingly consumers want pictures over words,” he said. As a result, he added, “if you look at our site, we lean far further toward visually-led merchandising than the more editorial skew of our competitors.”
Tiny exquisite illustrations by Hadrien Durand-Baïssas and colorful tongue-in-cheek GIFs are scattered throughout the site. Each product category header is a monochrome photograph of artists’ models contorted into various sculptural shapes, a quiet nod to LVMH’s dizzying array of cultural efforts. Yet of the 150 brands initially on 24 Sèvres, only around 20 to 30 will be LVMH owned (that will include Louis Vuitton and Dior, neither of which are available via any other multibrand online boutique). In the case of LVMH-owned businesses, it will be possible to source inventory from across those brands’ independent retail networks. For non-LVMH labels, inventory with either be acquired wholesale or controlled by those brands that operate their own shop-in-shop style retail channel, the same model operated by the store.
“Don’t think of this as the LVMH e-commerce project; think of this as us taking Le Bon Marché international via the internet,” Mr. Rogers said, playing down expectations for the first step of an overhaul of the group’s approach to reaching customer. The initial success of the project will be measured by sales, although he emphasized that LVMH is a group that consistently takes a long-term view.
“Where I am from, people always said to me, ‘You’re late,’” he said. “It’s already too crowded a space. But with Beats, we showed them they were wrong. I’ve walked that path before. I see that path here again.”
Plenty will be watching that journey closely, from established multibrand luxury rivals like Yoox Net-a-Porter and FarFetch, to technology platforms like Amazon, which has long expressed its clear intention to dominate the online fashion market, though with a limited degree of success to date.
“We actually currently have more Vuitton stores in the U.S. than Amazon does distribution points, which is great,” Mr. Rogers said. “In context, it means that hypothetically we could have as much logistics capacity in the U.S. as Amazon does. And as for our rivals, well, it is a big sky. There is still plenty of room for growth for all the players.”
Referring to eLuxury, he added: “We don’t want to be early adopters. We have been before and we paid the price for that. And when it comes to the internet specifically, there isn’t necessarily a reward for being first. There is, however, currently a major focus on omnichannel and experience, and we are moving from a mass culture to a mass of niches. If there’s quality in what you do, you’re not threatened. Timing-wise, this is exactly where LVMH wants to be.”

Friday, April 21, 2017

Balenciaga’s $2,145 Ikea Bag

Open Post: Hosted By Balenciaga’s $2,145 Ikea Bag

April 20, 2017 / Posted by:
Since we’re on the subject of ridiculously overpriced shit for the rich

Balenciaga has finally made a bag for the richies who want that fresh “just coming from Ikea” look, but don’t want to taint their $3,300 calfskin leather jacket with disgusting polyester straps! Balenciaga’s $2,145 (or 7 Klippan loveseats in Ikea currency) Arena shopping tote looks like Ikea’s 99 cent FRAKTA bag. Well, if Ikea’s 99 cent FRAKTA bag married a rich plastic surgeon, got its plastic skin replaced with fine leather skin, started speaking in a snobby accent and held its nose up to the Swedish meatballs it used to eat. Balenciaga’s Arena bag is basically a new money FRAKTA bag.
Today asked Ikea for their thoughts on Balenciaga doing a rich bitch version of their legendary cheap shopping bag, and they’re not mad at all.
“We are extremely flattered to seemingly be an inspiration for the latest catwalk designs for Balenciaga. Our IKEA Frakta tote is one of our most iconic products which are already owned and loved by millions – now the many people truly can get the designer look for less.”
Designers doing luxurious versions of cheap stuff isn’t new, and Balenciaga did it with a few of their bags this year.
You know those bags that the comforter or sheets come in at Bed Bath & Beyond or Macy’s? My abuelita would use those bags as luggage. Well, Balenciaga made a $3,670 version of that.
And you know those Mexican market bags you can use to carry groceries or laundry? Balenciaga did a $2,550 version of that.
I, for one, can’t wait until Balenciaga does a $4,500 version of the wrinkled-up brown paper bag some of us are going to drink Thunderbird vodka out of in between selling our ass under a bridge after spending all our money on $2,145 bags and $400 juicers.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Are foreign luxury brands innocent?

By Park Jae-hyuk

While writing a series of 10 articles highlighting operations of foreign luxury brands in Korea, this reporter received a lot of feedback over the past few weeks, not only from the global companies but also from many readers of The Korea Times. Most of the feedback defended the operations of the foreign firms and were not that favorable to the articles.

But are these foreign luxury brands really innocent enough to deserve this defense? For our readers' information, this reporter felt an obligation to check whether they really are, throughout writing the articles, and that is still the case.

After criticizing Bulgari's stinginess in Korea, one of our readers wrote that Korea does not require money from the Italian company, as the country lacks "needy" children. He said, "All Korean kids have access to good medical care, schools, good food and housing," which is actually wrong, considering children with poor parents, without parents and victims of abuse.

Moreover, Bulgari's donations even benefit children in wealthier nations, such as Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. Also, given that Bulgari has yet to list Korea among its charity beneficiaries on its official website, a Bulgari spokeswoman was highly suspicious about prevarication when asked whether the money contributed to Save the Children Fund is spent on Korean children.

After pointing out the poor customer relations of Hermes requiring a long lead time for buying its bags, Michael Tonello, an author of "Bringing Home the Birkin," wrote that there never was waiting list, because Hermes opened a lot of stores in recent years and greatly increased production by hiring more craftsmen for the new assembly line.

The author's words which conflict with explanations of salesclerks and the experience of many Korean consumers, however, foster doubts that there is a pecking order in getting Hermes bags in Korea. Some suspect that high-profile figures get them early, while ordinary people will have to wait quite a long time. And still, Hermes remains reluctant to comment on the issue

Some readers argued that the overall series was biased, but this reporter tried to reflect explanations from each brand, even after the articles were published. The accusations of bias may have been a result from insufficient explanations from the companies.

Comparing Korean firms to foreign companies, some said that the former are also stingy in countries where they are doing businesses. If they really are, this reporter truly hopes journalists there, who are well-informed about laws and economic situations in each country, highlight the matter.

Although the series is over, this reporter and The Korea Times will keep watching the management of foreign luxury brands, including those dealt with in this series and those that have yet to be highlighted.

The amendment of a law, which was expected to enforce limited companies to unveil their financial statements, failed due to the removal from office of former President Park Geun-hye and the resulting presidential election. Thus, foreign luxury brands in Korea are highly likely to continue their practice of stingy donations, inconsistent pricing policies and the mistreatment of retailers and employees.

One consolation is that this apparent attitude may face a backlash from Koreans. Although some people still argue that Koreans will continue to be obsessed with luxury, signs of changes are appearing slowly but steadily.

As this reporter wrote in previous articles, Louis Vuitton has begun to lose its luster in Korea, and duty free operators did not participate in a bid for the luxury fashion brand and accessories slots in the second terminal at Incheon International Airport. Also, more Koreans are turning their eyes to rental shops, rather than buying luxury items.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Handbag's Tale

Medieval or modern, handbags reveal their bearers’ secrets more than they hide them. An Object Lesson.
A diamond-encrusted Birkin bag at an auction house in California Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

I was a handbag newbie, an unpaid writer, an impartial observer hired as a ghost memoirist for the CEO of a luxury-handbag resale site. Having grown up in Los Angeles, I had a cursory sense of the major brands: Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Hermès—but like many of my bookish friends, I had dismissed such flashy handbags as frivolous.
Working in the startup, I was surrounded by stacks of bags, fielding questions from visitors who could not contain their awe. I became intimately acquainted with their proper names (the Kelly), their exorbitant price tags (last year, Christie’s HK sold a matte Himalayan crocodile-skin Birkin for $300,168), and the reverence they command.
I narrated the CEO’s personal story in vignettes developed around her most memorable bags. It was a tale of empowerment, a progressivist narrative from imitation to high-end. These bags were the synecdoche of the whole woman. They marked a leap in class, but also a spiritual triumph—one that mystified me. Where did the mythos of this curious handbag species begin?  Where does it end?
The word “purse” comes from the Medieval Latin bursa. In the Middle Ages, these leather bags were strung around the neck or waist. They were utilitarian—and unisex. But the unisex sack of leather did not evolve into the handbag until the 19th century. And the seasonal flux of the fashion handbag didn’t arrive until even later. Even so, their purpose has remained surprisingly steadfast: to expose their wearer’s social station.
* * *
As someone who always carried a backpack instead, I had started with the belief that there was no supreme purse, no one bag to rule them all. But handbag aficionados would soon inform me I was wrong. There was an end-all-be-all bag: “Haven’t you heard, darling, of the Birkin?”
I knew Jane Birkin from those black-and-white boudoir pictures with Serge Gainsbourg, but what I didn’t realize was the bag made by Hermès in the chanteuse’s honor was not something one just buys. This bag was about competition. As a rule, even a wealthy woman cannot simply walk into a boutique and leave with a Birkin. First she must be placed on an indeterminable queue. The wait time is inconsistent and mysterious. Status can reduce it, as can the illusion of status. Take for example Mr. Tonello, the clever fashion buyer and Birkin reseller who would first pile up on scarves and accessories and request a Birkin at the last minute. BRIC nations can’t get their hands on enough bags, and in Hong Kong a luxury bag is valuable enough to qualify its owner for a loan on the spot.
Handbags signified a privileged status long before Jane Birkin spilled her straw bag on a flight next to Jean-Louis Dumas, the CEO of Hermès. In the late 19th century, women wore chatelaines—belts or clasps with attached chains for storing household items. They marked a woman’s domestic status, signaling who was the lady of the house and who was just a servant. Precious metal chains signified a wealthy woman, and the chatelaine with the most keys revealed who had total authority via access.
As industrialization took hold, travel picked up too. The train case emerged, a prototype for the modern handbag, and became an outward sign of mobility. Handbags also started to signify the freedom of a woman’s body. The layers of fussy underclothes and petticoats common before the late 19th century also allowed stowage of carrying bags underneath. But once women freed themselves from those garments, exposing more of their physical form, they lost the space for pockets. The external bag offered a practical solution.
And this new result of fashion emancipation—called the reticule, a small bag on a chain—could be marked as the beginning, too, of its homophone, ridicule. The external bag quickly became a constraint, a source of admonition. As Theresa Tidy, the ever-proper author of Eighteen Maxims of Neatness and Order, wrote in 1819, “Never sally forth from your own room in the morning without that old-fashioned article of dress—a pocket. Discard forever that modern invention called a ridicule (properly reticule).”

The shame of handbags is not limited to the physical object imposing space.

The example shows a turning point, when a bag began to signify not only status but also shame. Whatever men carried was tucked away out of sight in their trousers; whatever women carried was, by virtue of being exposed, flaunted.
Today still, handbags impose conflicting rules of etiquette. Even the most compact handbags seem to impose themselves in all sorts of social scenarios. A quick Google search will yield conflicting results for the etiquette, with people astounded how long they’ve been getting it wrong. What does one do while sitting on a stool if the bar doesn’t have a hook to hang it? When out to dinner is it preferable to hang your bag on the back of the chair, set it on the table, on the seat behind your back, on the lap, or on the floor to your right? Is it gauche to hand it to the person sitting next to an open seat? At dinner parties, do you hang it on a coat rack in the entryway, or house it on the bed with the coats, or keep it on your person?
* * *
The shame of handbags is not limited to the physical object imposing space. It also produces metaphysical weight.
At Yes Lady Finance, the mortgage broker that writes short-term loans against Birkins, bankers lend up to half the value of the bag. The CEO, Byron Yiu, told Reuters that almost everyone who takes out a handbag loan will come back to retrieve the bag. People imbue their bags with meaning, the loss of which would be traumatic.
The same sentimentality that ensures Hong Kong ladies’ creditworthiness also underlies handbag hoarding. Women admit to the excessive number they own and their attachment to each, often for the memories they evoke. Some women I met confessed to loving some more than their own children (not to mention others’ children).
Working for the handbag start up, I learned that attachment was the greatest challenge of luxury-handbag resale. Finding Birkin owners was easy. But getting them to let go of their bags for resale was a complex endeavor involving nothing short of emotional manipulation.
I met with a handbag-inventory expert. She was a Birkin sleuth, scanning long client lists, making inquiries, calculating a client’s likely emotional resistance. She drove her Mercedes all over Southern California, hoping to bag bags in wealthy women’s homes. I wondered if women resisted her intrusion, or if they expected praise for their collections. And how did she convince women who clearly did not need the money?
As it turned out, success came by negating any meaning the women had ascribed to the bag. As soon as a woman became sentimental she would interrupt them and declaim those old memories. “You will get a new one. You will make new memories.” Selling a bag was a chance to erase the past.
During the four months I wrote the memoir, I was physically surrounded by luxury handbags. When women came to drop them off, I told them about my project and asked if they had any bag stories they wanted to share. Herschel backpack hanging from my desk chair, I was trusted as an unthreatening outsider. Without fail, the regret they had initially felt handing over their beloveds would clear in the act of sharing their stories with me.
Unlike the Birkin sleuth, I indulged their emotions. A Birkin priest hearing confessions of obsession, of greed, of guilt—especially the old relationships and bad choices that had facilitated the bag’s acquisition in the first place. Even the expensive Birkin, with its implications of wealth and therefore choice, might just as much imply imprisonment. Just as an onlooker might question a young woman coupled to an old man, a Birkin on the arm can say, “the bag chose me, not the other way around.”
Sitting with these women behind a fortress of handbags, I synthesized the obvious truth of the handbag: From chatelaine to reticule to designer bag, the handbag has always offered both freedom and yoke. It encapsulates a fact about its owner, and reveals that fact as much as, or more than, it conceals her belongings.

Friday, April 7, 2017

WINTERTHUR MUSEUM Treasures on Trial: The Art and Science of Detecting Fakes

Frauds. Fakes. Trickery. Deceit! Put on your CSI hat and investigate some of the most clever and costliest deceptions of our time in the captivating exhibition Treasures on Trial: The Art and Science of Detecting Fakes. Read the New York Times article on the exhibition, "Winterthur Exhibit Offers Insight Into Detecting Art Fraud."

Buy your tickets now to view more than 40 forgeries and counterfeit objects of all types, from art to wine to fashion. Learn the beguiling tales behind these fakes— many of which have been at the center of major scandals and court cases! See how science is deployed to reveal the truth behind these clever shams, and how the experts answer the question, “Is it real or fake?”

Plan you visit today
! Discover those infamous objects whose stories of trickery captured sensational headlines around the world! Did you know:

  • A fake Babe Ruth baseball glove sold for $200,000
  • One of the oldest and most reputable art galleries in New York shut down after selling $60 million in forged paintings
  • A “super fake” Hermes Birkin bag made it all the way through Spa Hermes for cleaning before it was discovered to be a fraud
  •  A fake 1787 Château Lafitte bottle of wine purportedly owned by Thomas Jefferson was sold to wine collector Bill Koch

Learn tricks of the trade from master forgers, what gets faked and why, how scientific methodology assists in spotting fakes, and more! Compare real and fake works, and then ask yourself, “Do you see what you think you see?”

Enjoy related programming, including fascinating lectures with experts, our documentary film series on famous forgers, and Winterthur After Hours.

Interested in reserving a group tour? Please call 800.448.3883, e-mail, or visit the webpage for tickets

For updated information on Winterthur’s programs, events, and exhibitions, connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @winterthurmuse and on SnapChat @winterthurmus.

For more information or for further assistance, please call 800.448.3883.

Treasures on Trial: The Art and Science of Detecting Fakes is included with admission. Members free.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Blog Archive


NBC-TV/Today Show
Summer Reading Round-Up

Bringing Home the Birkin
top 10 summer reads!




May 18, 2008
Bag Man