http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/fashion/article1888258.ece June 6, 2007 Death of the It bag With politicians adopting status bags, should we all set an example and move on Lisa Armstrong Thrilling times for bags, Last month they became a symbol of all that is divisive in our current approach to saving – or very possibly not saving – the planet. This month they’re at the white-hot centre of the battle to become Deputy Prime Minister, as well as emblematic of the fissure between rich and poor. What next? A government White Paper blaming the housing shortage on overconcentration of manual labour in the Mulberry factory? But let us begin with the Justice Minister, Harriet Harman, who last week said that Britain was a divided society in which some people struggle and “others spend £10,000 on a handbag”. The Justice Minister seems to have been scratching at a weeping wound. For in weighed Yvette Cooper, the Housing Minister, with the right-on news that her favourite bag cost an unimpeachable £70 (ie, not so cheap as to imply slave labour, but well below what Victoria Beckham might spend on a nail file). One of Harman’s rivals to become Deputy Prime Minister, Hazel “Mine’s a £250 Orla Kiely” Blears, hit back by telling them both to bog off, in so many words, because the Right Honourable Member didn’t believe that “it’s the job of politicians to tell people what they should spend money on”. Next came Tessa “Marie-Antoinette” Jowell, flaunting her £750 Chlo頢ag. But then, as the Tory backbencher Justine Greening (a natty dresser, if memory serves) explosively revealed: “Westminster life is tough on bags.” Sadly, Greening didn’t reveal whether Tory policy would be tough on the causes of so many bags now at large in society. But – and I don’t think I’m kicking anything into the long grass here –it’s probably a safe assumption, given the role of Samantha Cameron (David’s wife) as creative director of Smythson, purveyor of luxurious stationery and er, bags, that the party will be taking a traditionally Conservative approach to the free market in Chlo銠and Dior. Now, it isn’t often that I get to write the words Justice Minister in the fashion section, so allow me to savour them and repeat what the Justice Minister said about the price of bags – namely that “it is a matter for society”. At ease, all those traumatised at the thought that Labour might be about to inaugurate a Bag Price Czar. There is a large part of my heart that knows whence the Justice Minister cometh: is there a stronger argument against free markets, excessively blingy bags and the downfall of civilisation than the one that can be summed up in the words Paris and Hilton? Still, I think it is incumbent on us to accept that Blingy, Overpriced Pieces of Dreck have always been with us. Should we not also, in the name of tolerance, acknowledge that one person’s idea of appalling what-this-country-needs-is-another-bout-of-austerity vulgarity is another WAG’s idea of this week’s hottest investment? And yet, and yet. It has not escaped the attention of this fashion desk that prices of bags have, in the past two years or so, vaulted from the ludicrous to the “Are they having a laugh?” category. Nor can we endorse the current trend for back-breaking sacks with more shiny metal bits impaled on them than a rapper’s dentures, and the concurrent spiral of debt into which the nation appears to have tumbled. Things change constantly in this modern morality tale. For starters, Lulu Guinness reports that she has removed the label from the front of Penelope, one of her “couture” bags: “People want to be special and have something different. It depends on the customer and whether they need a brand to fit into a tribe. I think the only way it can go is limited editions, something that’s not easy to get your hands on. Luxury as a concept means difficult to obtain. True sophistication is no logo.” So, the day of the It Bag is definitively over – or it is until someone comes up with the one bag we all want. In its place is a general lust for all things vaguely baggish. According to Tina Lamb, the accessories and shoe buyer at Harvey Nichols: “There is an increasing interest in nonobvious bags – a move to making a fashion statement with the actual bag, as opposed to the label. It’s about quality, style and exclusivity.” Along with Harrods and Matches, Lamb is finding that logo-free bags from companies that are deemed, whether accurately or inaccurately, not to be part of a huge global brand are steadily finding favour, with labels such as Bottega Veneta (no logos), Nancy Gonzalez (alligator) and Zagliani (crocodile injected with silicone to make it as soft and squashy as cashmere) are gaining credence over the overexposed Chlo馲squo;s Paddington and Marc Jacobs’s Stam bag. Naturally, a nonblingy bag exuding style, exclusivity and silicone softness costs even more than the blingy ones. However, jubilation is at hand because finally, after years of churning out absolute dross, the high street is fighting back. Marks & Spencer’s soft synthetic Slouch bag in pale blue-grey or pink (£35) has been doing a roaring trade with the Times fashion department (bag-pickier than whom it was not previously possible to be). There is also a healthy supply of bags around the £200-£250 mark. OK, a few years ago we all thought that was a prince’s ransom, but in so many troubling ways we’re all Posh now. Reason enough to rein back, you might think. Ultimately, perhaps, the happy ending lies in spending what we can individually afford. Here then, for the Hazels and Harriets that lurk within us all, is a guide to finding the right bag at the right price.