The £25K Oprah Winfrey Handbag Debacle: Since When Was This Normal?

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  • Ms Winfrey’s Pretty Woman moment in a luxury boutique in Switzerland may have shocked for more than her alleged racist treatment – the item in question – a Tom Ford handbag priced at £25K – has more than raised a few eyebrows. Marie Claire's Fashion Features Director discusses how, in the new super-charged luxury landscape, a handbag the price of a flat deposit is a mere drop in the mega-brand ocean.

    While the high street struggles along (even Swedish goliath H&M posted a decrease in sales for July) at the opposite end of the scale, luxury brands are courting their dream shoppers who, in fabulous buyer speak, have ‘no price resistance’.

    This is a world where when a woman can’t decide between the colours of a Victoria Beckham £15K snakeskin handbag, she simply buys both. In the luxe accessories sphere – where precious skins and, increasingly the use of fur, have become commonplace, the ability to drop a few grand on your arm candy is frighteningly competitive.

    Jennifer Aniston wearing the eye-wateringly expensive Jennifer Tom Ford bag

    The original eye-waterer, Hermes’s Birkin, is now hardly unique. In the shadow of these multi-grand offerings, when bags clock in at the seemingly more humble £1000 price point they start to almost sound reasonable.

    Aside from the arm candy, those big spenders are snapping it all up and more online. It only takes a look at Net a Porter’s fine jewellery offering – which due to demand they have been upping every season – to note that the current £28K Ana Knouri diamond necklace (their priciest item) features on a page full of similarly priced items.

    Later this season their uber-clients will be able to snap up Dolce & Gabbana’s £32K red lace dress – the standout piece in their AW13 collection – of which Net a Porter have bought five of the six globally available. 

    Dolce & Gabbana’s 32K red dress

    Ready-to-wear designers have been casually upping their luxe game, with many pieces being produced at almost couture levels of detail, and it’s not unusual to see dresses clock in at £5K, at least. And the actual haute couture market is having its own burgeoning moment, buoyed up by the super spenders of China, Russia, Brazil and the Middle East. In short, this extreme strata of shoppers are being expertly catered to – there are endless ways in which they can be alleviated of a few thousand pounds, if not more.

    It’s no wonder the black Amex-toting, $2.8billion net-worth, Oprah felt affronted by not being able to check out the Ford.

    Observing the shopping habits of the super rich may seem like a fun, albeit slightly depressing, past time but the point is that when the ceiling is raised so high, the middle ground is getting higher too. 

    Mulberry’s Bayswater is getting more and more expensive

    You only need to look at Mulberry’s pricing – a classic black Bayswater has risen from a somewhat manageable £495 to £795 in six years – to see the affect. And that’s during six years of recession.

    So, are we due to be priced out of the luxury market whilst designers chase the one per cent? There are industry rumblings that from next spring, we will start to see some labels backing down from their recently inflated prices (no buyer likes a brand who originally position themselves as bridge level but then up their costs season after season) – too much competition it seems, hasn’t quite paid off.

    Until then, there’s always

    What do you think? Is spending thousands and thousands on a handbag too much? Is the luxury market getting ridiculous? Or, do you think, if you can afford it, why not? We’d love to know your thoughts in the comment box below.

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