Certain moments really show me how much my life has changed.
In my Venice Beach bungalow, I'm getting dressed to go to a big cosmetic industry function where I will be on stage interviewing a CEO from LVMH, the luxury goods company that has actually done well in this economy. I know the evening is about Her, not me, and that I will be completely out-dressed by Her as she is also the CEO of Christian Dior couture, but I still have to look presentable. I have been cleaning the bungalow--I mean gloves, ladders, mops--Mr. Clean and Ms. Murphy are my friends. I have been wearing my corduroys from Marshall's and free t-shirts from gift bags. I'm filthy, and I have to wash my clothes in a coin-operated machine in a communal laundry room that I am tempted to also clean. (I'm carrying my socks and bras in a ball down the block in a walk of shame to the laundry room near the back parking lot. A friend mentions that sometimes in Venice homeless people will use washers and dryers in open facilities like mine. Fabulous.)
Nonetheless I feel relatively prepared, I have had the soles of my Miu Miu heels redone in case the platform is higher than the audience; I'm wearing a Chloe top (70% off at Saks), I even brought a chunky cuff from my former wardrobe in New York...all the magazines say accessories are so important.... and then I remember, I don't have the "right" bag to wear.
If you've had any interest in fashion in the past decade you know how much attention was paid to your bag. Whether it was the Fendi "Baguette" or Louis Vuitton's Murakami or amped up hardware from Marc Jacobs, bags suddenly were going for $1500 and more. A lot of times it was the "Speedy" or "Muse" that J.Lo and Jen were photographed carrying around the airport that created the frenzy. Marketers and magazine editors (yes, I'm guilty) made us feel that your bag is You (and by the way, get a new one each season) and so having the "It" bag became a full-fledged financial and personality commitment.
Even when I was an editor at In Style I wouldn't do it, plunk down that kind of cash for a bag, though I was infatuated with a few. Instead I found ways to cheat it; I fought my way in an open field sample sale to buy a Marc Jacobs hobo. Plum might not have been the "it" color that season, but it was mine. I went to a Kooba sample sale, found a snakeskin bag for $200, and changed its Mall buttons to horn.
But the only bags I had with me in the bungalow were a brown leather tote with a cheesy lining from TJ Maxx and a worn out little sack I bought the previous weekend at the Rose Bowl swap meet for $15. It says "Splendid New York" on the inside pocket. Now, this was a real dilemma for a recovering magazine editor. And yes, I am saying this with sarcasm, and I'm making fun of both my past and present lives in case you think I'm just hearing about the recession.
At the event, I was definitely out-bagged by Her. I arrived early to hide my Splendid New York bag under a seat, under my sweater, under my jacket .... you get the idea.
That night something changed. After talking about the luxury market, spending habits and debt (and eyeing her sumptuous Dior bag sitting politely by her heels) I felt OK being an outsider (or an insider with a Splendid New York bag) spending my money on bungalow rental payments towards my new life. A friend recently told me that after losing her job she went into her closet and purveyed all the beautiful bags and designer clothes she had acquired over the past few years and literally felt sick to her stomach.
Since that night, I've carried my Splendid New York bag proudly. I've even gotten a few compliments on it, despite its frayed tassels and sun-bleached leather. It's a symbol to me, of spending money differently, investing in myself, even if it means doing laundry in a communal washer. Every woman I know wants to re-sell her fancy bags. I'm not saying this is the end of the luxury market, but it may be the end of the power of "It" being assigned to anything other than oneself.