Credit to BorsaBella who had this on her blog. Hope you don't mind that I lifted it. Ruth La Ferla the New York Times Posted November 10, 2005 "How did this happen?" Nina Collins asks as she settles down to a lunch of miso soup and salad in downtown Manhattan recently. "When did we get to this place where we spend $1,000 on a bag?" The question is rhetorical. Not long ago Collins, herself, arrived at that place, succumbing, she confides a bit sheepishly, to a yen for a handbag styled like a saddle bag from Mulberry, a British luxury brand in high demand at stores such as Barneys New York and Bergdorf Goodman. The price, about $1,200, struck her as an affront to reason. But she had to have it. In buying the handbag, Collins, a literary agent, joined an ever-widening circle of status-driven, selectively acquisitive consumers whose purchasing habits have buoyed the luxury market this year -- despite steeper gas prices, inflation and a weakened dollar. A sense of optimism, which industry executives and analysts say is being fueled by a strong stock market and a desire to trade up without regard to price increases of 20 percent to 35 percent over a year ago, has propelled shoppers to stores in ever greater numbers. In their pursuit of the season's most coveted bags, many are giving common sense the slip, parting with, say, $975 for a best-seller such as the Marc Jacobs Sofia bag, which last fall commanded $895, or $1,445 for a leather Prada "bowler" bag that, a few seasons back, cost $940 or $990 for similar models. Shoppers' infatuation with handbags has lent that category significant clout, to the point, retailers and industry analysts say, that bags have supplanted shoes, jeans and even jewelry as consumers' choice signifier of affluence, social standing and hipness. Never mind that some models, in the battered and fringed styles now popular, look as though they belonged to a tramp." It seems that each year what we're seeing in the women's fashion luxury market [is] a migration from one category to the next," says Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst for the NPD Group, a market-research firm in Port Washington, N.Y. "A few years ago it was shoes. Last year it was jeans. This is the year of the handbag." Handbag sales, which were $5.34 billion in 2003, were projected to climb 8 percent for 2004, the latest figure available from Accessories Magazine, a trade monthly. Women who bought bags last year spent on average only $40 to $65, according to NPD. Ultra-luxury designer bags -- from $650 to about $15,000, which account for an estimated 5 percent of the market -- are important because the designs invariably filter down, setting the trends for the mass market. One reason for the rise of these bags is that the rest of fashion has moved toward a more dressed-down look, so that even jeans may be appropriate for a dinner party. A four-figure bag imparts the corrective message: I am not a graduate student." You can go out with blue jeans and cowboy boots, and that high-priced bag makes it all OK," says Cece Cord, a social figure in New York who sells her crocodile handbags at Bergdorf Goodman. "A bag is sort of like a portable house. It represents you." Making choices Luxury analysts say the new handbag aficionados aren't necessarily middle-age or rich, and that some may defer other purchases in order to splurge. "Bags are selling to women in a wider age range than we've ever seen before," says Dana Telsey, a retail analyst with Bear, Stearns, citing customers from their 20s to their 60s and 70s. The youngest are willing to make a tradeoff, Telsey says. "Maybe it's their lunches. Or maybe it's their living quarters. They'd rather wear their paycheck." Pamela N. Danziger, president of Unity Marketing, a consulting firm specializing in the luxury market, maintains that the majority of women buying luxury bags tend to be younger than 40 and to earn from $50,000 to $75,000 a year, or in rarer cases just over $100,000." Those women are the most likely to be extravagant," says Danziger. They tend to sacrifice vacations, restaurant dinners and other designer fashion in favor of a luxury bag. "They are the consumers who have something to prove," she says. Even when they know better. "Do we really need another bag? No," says Gillian Miniter, who runs a small jewelry business from her home in New York and is married to an investment banker. Recently, Miniter, 37, splurged $3,500 for a crescent-shaped Hermes bag for reasons she is hard-pressed to explain. "It's almost like how you feel when you buy a piece of jewelry or something that just speaks to you, and when it speaks, you have to have it," she says. Like oxygen? The ubiquity of clutches, totes, oversized carryalls and weekend bags on designers' runways, on store shelves, in magazine ads, on the arms of celebrities and on city streets is propelling the trend. Open any fashion glossy this season, and there are pages upon pages of ads for bags, more than in recent seasons, enhancing the perception that a bag is the fashion accessory most worth having. In department stores, handbag departments that a year ago occupied no more than a few counters of real estate, have muscled their way into full rooms, or in some cases, a significant part of the main floor's selling space. "For some women, finding the right bag is as important as oxygen," says Wayne Mahler, fashion coordinator for Linda Dresner boutiques in New York City and Birmingham, Mich. Like other retailers interviewed, Mahler fielded hundreds of calls last season for the increasingly elusive Paddington bag, a pliant, hardware-embellished satchel made by Chloe. "It was cuckoo," he recalls. "We had people weeping on the phone, pleading: 'This is really important to me. Isn't there something you can do?' "In contrast to some past years, there is no single "It" bag that seemingly everyone wants. Demand is more diffuse, encompassing a varied array of fall hits such as an oversized black velvet carryall from Marc Jacobs ($2,900), a countrified fringed suede carryall from Hogan ($995), a subtly weathered-looking Lanvin shoulder bag suspended from a chunky chain (about $1,200), and the Fendi Spy bag, a multipocketed style available this fall in tulle ($4,830). Paradoxically, even such studiously shabby materials as denim -- which has found its way into one of the year's most sought after bags, the so-called Speedy from Louis Vuitton, ($1,280), a denim carryall emblazoned with the company's "LV" mongram -- seem at times to elevate a bag's worth in the eyes of luxury shoppers. Never mind that a bag's most distinctive features -- a profusion of pockets, padlocks and chains -- are readily knocked off at every level of the market.