Aaaaah, the mini bag! After years of lugging giant fringed hippy totes, floppy beige satchels or easy to forget clutches, the cross body mini bag bounced joyfully onto our radar last Spring when YSL released their Blogger Bag. This particular bag, being so tiny you could barely fit your phone in it, caused amusement and a little consternation. With this miniscule, impractical pouchette were YSL, and it’s many imitators, actually taking the piss?
Well, kind of. I’ve been watching the rising price of a designer handbag with appalled fascination for the past decade. Given a nice little Mulberry clutch, way back in 2002, I immediately gave it away to a niece because I thought it was so naff. I don’t like to think about it now, although of course, it was pre-Mulberry world domination so it probably wouldn’t have been worth the actual price of my current house but near enough. I find it hard to believe that anyone would spend thousands of pounds on a bag, even though in my dreams, the YSL Kate star bag swings from my arm as I sashay through town. But not (I say, sounding just like my grandma) at that price.
Luxury accessories, mostly handbags, now provide 30% of sales within the luxury goods market. Known as the most effective form of ‘status anchors’, they are (sort of) affordable, easily identifiable and can be mixed with much cheaper items to create an Instagram star style. `According to a 2015 article on the Business of Fashion, handbags offer good retail space to sales ratio and rarely need to be discounted. They also, no matter what guff the designers tell you about leather quality and hand stitching, don’t cost anywhere near as much to make as they do to sell. The price is in no way a reflection of quality. It’s a reflection of snobbery. No wonder they are the cornerstone of many brands’ business models.
However, there have been murmurings that we’ve reached peak bag. When Mulberry bags became as ubiquitous as M&S (who foolishly and disastrously attempted to get in on the expensive handbag act themselves, completely missing the whole ‘status’ aspect of status anchor) the top level brands realised they were in danger of loosing their luxury qualifications. In that same 2015 article BoF noted that the top brands were increasing their entry level price point in order to preserve exclusivity. Basically, when the likes of me can buy one of their bags, they know they need to make them more expensive.
At the same time, the mega brands are under attack from the new kids on the block. Low priced, decent quality, groundbreaking new styles are exploding. Everyone from basic bitch Michael Kors to psychedelic Sarah’s Bag are making inroads on the mega’s territory.
In retaliation, the traditional designers raised their price, maintained their status but lost sales. And selling stuff is rather what it’s all about. So what’s a luxury brand to do? Why, invent the mini bag, of course.
Cute, sweet, status-lite bags, aimed at those time rich, cash poor, style hungry Instagrammers who’ll promote the crap out of it for you and probably even buy it too. And now there’s a swathe of them from YSL, downwards via Mulberry to, yes, you’ve guessed it, M&S. Personally I feel a bit sad about the origins of the mini bag because from a pure style and practicality point of view, I absolutely love them . I’d still own an YSL Kate Star bag in a heartbeat if I could. But when you buy one, please don’t believe, for a second that some great creative mind sweated over a mood board for days before suddenly shouting “Alors! Petit est beau!”. It was the accountant’s idea…
And here is a collection of my beloved YSL mini bags.
Best of the rest: the most fabulous and ridiculous mini bags for Spring 2017 (click on the images for details)