Got $100,000 to burn? How about investing in a diamond-encrusted metallic alligator skin clutch favored by Hollywood's A-listers? Better act fast, though. With six-figure totes such as these flying off shelves like crinkly hot cakes, it’s a wonder there are any reptiles left.
"People want to spend their money on frivolous things," says Pamela Danziger, author of "Why People Buy Things They Don't Need" and founder of luxury good research company Unity Marketing.
So much so that Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive of LVMH Moet-Hennessy Louis Vuitton, which includes brands such as Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs and Givenchy, said during the company's earnings conference call in February that ready-to-wear fashion and leather goods accounted for much of the company's 12 percent growth last year. Online shopping site eluxury.com saw a 13 percent increase in sales of handbags over $500 in 2006.
Not to be outdone, Louis Vuitton had fashionistas scrambling recently for the $42,000 Tribute Patchwork handbag introduced on the runway last fall. Dubbed "the most expensive handbag ever" by industry experts and media outlets, the four available this year in U.S. stores sold out, but 20 can be found in Louis Vuitton boutiques throughout Europe and Asia.
"If something is hard to find or impossible to get, it makes it more valuable," says Meaghan Mahoney, editor of purseblog.com, an online community devoted to handbags. "In addition to paying the high price, you are also getting something that no one else will have."
That's true for the Tribute. "It may not be most attractive bag," Mahoney continues. "It’s made of 15 different patterns of Vuitton handbags all sewn together. But only 24 of them exist." Translation? It’s unsightly, but prized.
Despite media claims that the Tribute is the costliest handbag on the market, we found several much more expensive. Adding to the princely price tags? Diamonds and rare animal skin.
Accessorizing handbags with precious stones is not uncommon. The Gadino, from Norwegian designer Hilde Palladino, boasts white gold and diamonds. Cost: $38,470.
The Lana Marks Cleopatra Clutch in alligator ($100,000) comes accessorized with 1,500 black and white round diamonds. Only one clutch is made for retail each year. Marks also makes a yearly limited edition Cleopatra for one actress to carry down the red carpet. Call it a lucky charm — two have won Academy Awards in recent years while possessing the bag: Charlize Theron in 2004, and this year Helen Mirren, who carried hers right up to the podium.
When it comes to alligator, ostrich or snakeskin, handbag designers go to extreme lengths to find the rarest. Santiago Gonzalez, chief executive of Nancy Gonzalez handbags, has traveled from the Australian outback to Hong Kong to find skins that seldom come to market.
"What people don’t understand," he says, "is that it takes a certain amount of area on the skin to make a bag." That means that since uniformity of scale is prized, even if a reptile with rare skin is found, if too small, the search continues.
The Nancy Gonzalez Porousus Bag, made with uncommon ring lizard skin, costs $30,000. Designer Devi Kroell uses alligator skins whose scales are similar in size — a rarity — to create a $29,000 bag.
Of course, an expensive handbag speaks volumes about the lucky person who carries one. The most vocal? The world's most expensive.
Some argue no bag compares to the Hermes $148,000 Birkin in croc porosus lisse. What makes this bag so expensive — by far the costliest in the world — is not just the type of skin used, but the nine carats of diamonds set in white gold and placed on its clasp and lock. This bag is custom made.
Lovely leather aside, with animal rights activists up-in-arms over fashionistas in fur, might we not soon see the day when lizard lovers will have been intimidated against buying bags that once swam or slithered?
"As much you would think there would be a huge backlash, there won’t be," says Danziger. "It goes back to the basic rule of supply and demand. The more rare and scarce something is, the more people want it. In the case of overly expensive handbags, people will still covet them because it’s an uncommon find."