When the strap of my Espe messenger bag broke last summer, I embarked on yet another quest for the perfect handbag. This cyclic hunt is relaunched every few years, when my loyal companion eventually breaks or shows too much wear and tear.
Some women are into shoes; I love bags. I’m selective though, and after I make my choice, it is the one and only bag I will use for the years to come—the last thing I need in the morning is to pick a bag that will complement my style (my what?!) and transfer my stuff from a purse to another.
I like practical, versatile bags with a zippered compartment, a long strap and material that can take rain and snow. I don’t care much about the brand but I don’t want them to fall apart after a month, so I avoid anything that looks cute but flimsy. Oh, and I don’t want the brand name plastered all over. I’m not a Kardashian.
Last fall, for the first time, I set a higher-than-usual budget to buy a nicer bag. By “nicer bag”, I don’t mean Hermès’ Birkin, and by “higher budget” I mean in the $100-$200 range, not thousands. In my spare time, I was researching my topic online and in stores with the same enthusiasm a middle-class Japanese woman displays when stepping into Louis Vuitton in Paris. “What are you doing?” Feng would ask. “Oh, huh… nothing. Just… browsing. Bags. Not porn.”
I was mentally drafting a comprehensive handbag report. Roots had lovely leather bags but they were too pricey. Calvin Klein bags were expensive for what I found was cheap material. Guess bags screamed “I’m like so going clubbing tonight!” I sure wasn’t giving money to the Trump family, even to Ivanka. Desigual bags would have been perfect when I was a hippie teen (so many pockets to hide your stash!)
Eventually, I pushed the door of the brand new Fossil store at the Rideau Centre. I didn’t know the brand but one of their models had caught my eye. Turned out they didn’t carry that model anymore, it was from a past collection. Never mind. I browsed around, out of politeness, and fell in love with the Emerson Hobo. Yes, that was the name of the bag.
I was in luck: that day, the store was handing out scratch cards for a promotional event. I scratched, got a discount, bought the bag.
After I signed the credit card receipt, my new purchase was carefully put inside a large white nylon drawstring bag, itself put inside a large shopping paper bag that screamed “I’m a rich bitch who just bought a fancy handbag!”
I loved that bag. It was practical, with many pockets, the perfect size.
And then, one day, the snap hook broke as I was walking in the street, barely two months after I bought it.
I contacted customer service by email, providing a quick picture of the issue. I had expecting them to step in but the exchange was not friendly. I was instructed to ship the bag, the damage would be assessed, and then a decision would be made. It sounded like a very lengthy and bureaucratic process. “But I’ve only had this bag for a couple of months!” I wrote. “It’s under warranty and I don’t want to wait weeks for you to eventually repair it.” Then customer service implied I had a fake handbag, even though I had provided the receipt.
This was going nowhere. I did what I should have done from the start and came back to the store. The manager was friendlier and he exchanged the bag. “How did it happen?” he asked. “Well, that’s the thing… nothing happened. I was walking in the street and the hook broke. That’s pretty much the story,” I explained.
I left the store with the same model.
Towards the end of December, the snap hook broke again. Same scenario.
This time, I marched directly to the store, annoyed. I don’t carry much in my bag: wallet, cellphone, one key and some days, my Kindle. I don’t like clutter and I walk a lot so my bag is fairly light. Again, I was offered an exchange for the exact same model. Huh huh. “I’m not coming back here in a month with another broken bag!” I said. “Clearly, there is a problem here.” The manager shrugged and tried to sell me a more expensive bag. I asked for a refund, handed the broken bag over and left sans bag. Fossil? Never again.
Then we went traveling and I came back to realize that I really needed a bag because stuffing my wallet and phone in my winter jacket’s pockets was not an option—neither was holding them, my fingers would freeze. At this stage, I wasn’t looking to make a fashion statement, I want something to put my shit in.
I went to The Bay for inspiration and I slowed down when I spotted a full table of handbags on sale. There it was, among other many impractical bags: a bright red satchel that met all my requirements, down to the long strap and the zippered main compartment. I spotted the label: Coach. I sighed—probably out of my price range. I squinted to see the numbers on the tag—oh, it wasn’t that bad with the 25% sale discount!
Five minutes later, I was typing my PIN code at the cash register, wondering whether I would regret splurging on a bag or picking the first one that caught my eye.
It’s been a few weeks now, and no, I don’t regret a thing. I love the true red leather, a lucky colour! The bag is spacious but not bulky and the finishing is perfect: the zipper opens and closes smoothly, the hardware looks strong, stitching is even and straight, the fabric is thick and oh, that leather smell!
Maybe I’m getting old or terribly bourgeoise but I’m starting to appreciate a bit of luxury in my life, including products that are carefully designed and made, quality materials and fancy ingredients. I don’t care much about brands and I know the power of marketing too well, something you just pay for a name and fancy artwork. But in a few instance, paying a bit more does get you a better product, a fancier experience.
If this bag lasts… then yes, it is money well spent.