From the Wall Street Journal: One Thing Is Clear: Transparency Is Big In Handbags Today See-Through Plastic Has Appeal to Assertive Souls; Tacky to Letitia Baldrige By CHERYL LU-LIEN TAN January 16, 2007 Be & D's $695 studded PVC 'Garbo' bag Oscar de la Renta's $895 bag in clear plastic and leather Sarah Fister was running errands in downtown Portland, Ore., recently when a stranger sidled up to her. "I see you've got your planner in your bag," he said. "Can you pencil me in for a date?" The man, who did not have X-ray vision, was able to see through the 21-year-old's Chanel tote bag because it was made of clear plastic. "It's so cheesy," says Ms. Fister, a senior at Oregon State University. "Guys are always like, 'Oh, I can see right through your bag.' " This winter, fashion labels ranging from Oscar de la Renta to Fendi are trying to convince women that see-through bags aren't just for the beach but are the height of fashion. Saks Fifth Avenue will soon start selling $895 clear bags from Chanel and a $1,695 satchel from Dolce & Gabbana made of transparent plastic and black leather. Neiman Marcus has stocked up on a slouchy $995 bag by Be & D that's entirely transparent except for its leather handle. And Bergdorf Goodman has been displaying a $445 tote by Lambertson Truex made of clear PVC and trimmed with white leather. The look, designers say, began as a nod to a ban on carrying liquids on planes imposed by airlines in August after the terrorist scare in Britain when passengers suddenly were required to tote certain carry-on items in transparent plastic bags. As a reaction to the new regulations, Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld in September introduced his "Naked" bag, made of clear plastic. At the September runway shows in New York, Oscar de la Renta sent a model out with a see-through bag. "It really goes along with the way the world is moving in a more public way," says Steve Dumain, co-creative director of Be & D. "Everyone is sharing something personal about themselves in blogs online, with Web cameras. We thought this bag allowed a woman to share a little of herself without giving away too much." Whether the bags will be a hit remains to be seen. But they are already raising questions about this new window into a woman's personality. "It's like Psychology 101 -- what's in your bag? Now all is revealed," says Michael Fink, vice president for women's fashion at Saks. Sending a Message Some women regard clear bags as they do stiletto heels or fur coats, as a way to send a quick message about personal style. Ms. Fister, the Portland college student, says she likes the fact that her clear Chanel bag allows her to flaunt her Gucci BlackBerry case, Coach checkbook holder and Louis Vuitton keyholder. "And, when I'm out shopping and have to change into my schlep-around shoes," she says, "I can put my cute heels in my purse and show them off." People who own clear bags don't seem to worry about potential purse-snatchers being able to check out their valuables. Linda Rich, a retail-sales associate, says she simply keeps her keys, coin purse and wallet in the large leather pouch that came with her new see-through Lambertson Truex bag. "Besides, by the time you throw everything in the purse, it looks like such a mess of things, I don't know if people could see my wallet anyway," says Ms. Rich, 63, who lives in Highland Beach, Fla. Other women say they find the transparency handy. Megan Hoffman, 25, says she likes being able to find her lipstick in her clear Longchamp bag without having to dump everything out of the purse. Ms. Rich, the retail-sales associate, says she hopes her new clear bag will help her get through airport security more easily. Fat chance. The Transportation Security Administration stresses that air travelers still have to put their liquids in quart-size, zip-top plastic bags even if they are carrying transparent luggage. The trend is nevertheless creating thorny etiquette issues. How much of a faux pas is it, for example, to display unmentionables in a clear purse? And, for the viewer, is it gauche to stare and even inquire about the contents of someone's purse? Ms. Hoffman recalls shopping at a department store while carrying her clear bag. "My cellphone was on silent mode and it started ringing so the light was blinking," says Ms. Hoffman, an executive at a court-reporting firm in San Antonio. "This woman came up to me and said, 'I think there's something going on with your phone.' I was like, 'OK, you're being very nosy!' " March Dodge, a mother of four in Chevy Chase, Md., is sitting this trend out. "I keep my purse relatively clean and still it has my monthly supplies in it, notes about doctors' appointments, miscellaneous business cards and grocery lists -- who wants all that to be on display?" says Ms. Dodge, a 43-year-old real-estate developer. 'Show and Tell' Indeed, etiquette expert Letitia Baldrige calls the entire concept "very tacky." "This is 'Show and Tell' in its most miserable form," says Ms. Baldrige, who was Jacqueline Kennedy's chief of staff in the White House. "Items that women carry simply are not meant to be seen by the public. It's just like showing off your underwear." Ken Downing, fashion director at Neiman Marcus, has a solution for consumers who want to be discreet: "Wear a bag within your bag. Put your necessities in a clutch and drop it in your bag." Ms. Fister, the college student, has discovered another answer. She lines her tote with a colorful scarf when she doesn't want people to peek in. While department stores have bought into the new look, some retail analysts are skeptical that it will break out into a widespread trend. "When people pay $1,200 for a bag, they want the beauty of the craftsmanship, the quality of the luxurious materials," says Kimberly Roffey, a strategist at retail consulting firm Kurt Salmon Associates. "PVC just doesn't convey those things." Indeed, the material is cheaper. Be & D's Mr. Dumain estimates that the cost of making a see-through bag is about a third of the cost of making a similar leather bag. The difference, he adds, is usually reflected in a lower price. Some early adopters say they've discovered disadvantages to the new lack of privacy. Ms. Rich says she routinely gets compliments when she carries her new bag to work and out to dinner. "The only thing is, when I go out to buy gumdrops on my break, by the time I make it back to my department, they're half gone. If people see candy in my bag, they say, 'Aha! I want some.' "