Handbags: The More You Pay, The Smaller They Shrink
They cost a fortune, you can’t fit much in them—but designers and public are in love with the very small handbag.
For all of the fashion industry’s creative zeal, it is not always known for its sense of practicality. Amazingly, though, 2014 saw several leading trends that were rooted in just that: the anti-fashion look of normcore dressing (Birkenstocks, faded Levis, and slouchy sweaters) and wearable technology reimagined by fashion designers.
The most noticeable lapse back into the land of impractical, though, might be abundance of teeny, tiny handbags that have been spotted on the runways at Celine, Dior, and Chanel and the slim arms of editors and influencers like Miroslava (Mira) Duma.
Pouches, à la the colorful printed ones from Comme des Garçons and Claire V., have been popular day bags for a few seasons, but now the trend seems to be moving towards smaller and smaller versions of traditional handbags.
How small is a “mini” bag? Well, most of the styles look like a shrunken version of a familiar shape, like a Louis Vuitton steam-trunk or a ladylike top-handle bag from Kate Spade.
Blogger Bryanboy says that’s on purpose. “They’re cute but also they’re clever marketing tactics. Prices of designer bags have gone up. Can’t afford the big one? Here’s the mini-version for half the price!” he said, via text.
It’s the kind of super-small bag that makes you wonder if the gargantuan iPhone 6 (or, heaven forbid, the iPhone 6S) would squeeze into it. Playing with proportion has long been a favorite of the fashion set, especially pairing tiny bags with oversized coats and sneakers, making a traditional evening bag far more casual for day.
Accessories designer Eric Javits has been making handbags for more than twenty years, and makes everything from fur clutches to plastic lined beach totes. He said, "Small bags are very chic- they make you feel like you are dressed like a lady. They also give the impression that you have a neatly organized life. Lugging a large tote with everything in it can make you look overwhelmed (if you are petite) or that you do not have a life outside of work and gym."
In other words, the bag lady look is not a good one.
New York-based designer Tyler Ellis makes minute bags in rainbows of exotic colors that have turned into a best-seller and signature for her brand Tyler Alexandra. “I took my signature Jamie frame [a structured, top handle style] and shrunk it. People related to the mini and it became a hit,” says the designer by email. Ellis is making the mini bag for the third season in a row.
The mini Jamie bag measures a wee 5.5 x 3 x 4 inches and its price varies depending on what it is made of: $3320 for black crocodile, $1050 for leather. “I have had huge success with the mini! When I carry it, I get stopped all of the time by men and women, complimenting me on my bag.”
Ellis carries the bag during the day but conceded that some clients carry it in their larger totes, pulling out the mini version for evening. Sales are best in Asia, London, the Middle East, and Russia.
Elle magazine shot an editorial in September, one picture revealing a teacup pig sitting pretty by a mini Tyler Alexandra bag. Pig and purse were the same size.
Even Anna Kendrick apparently can’t get enough of them. As a company that is beholden to stockholders, Kate Spade usually lags, not leads trends. However, the brand prominently features the actress surrounded by handsome men holding little leather handbags in their holiday 2014 advertisements.
That bag, the Cedar Street Mini Maise, is 5.5 x 7 x 3 inches and can be carried by the handle or cross-body. It’s debatable whether one could even slip it over the wrist.
The best example of this mini-as-It-bag is certainly the Louis Vuitton Petite Malle Malletage: an extremely small steamtrunk that will fit none of your shoes for a glamorous holiday but instead a phone, credit card, and keys. At 7.1 x 4.7 x 1.6 inches, it’s small but costs a staggering $5,500.
I popped into the Louis Vuitton boutique in New York’s Soho to take a photo of the bag as compared to my iPhone 6. It’s not that much larger than the phone, though the gleam of the bag is arguably shinier than most things I’ve seen, the hardware carries more weight, and the painted pattern is far more unique.
An older man, shopping for his wife for Christmas, abandoned the LV tote he was considering and instead bought the bag after my friend and I offered our opinions of the piece.
Bryanboy agreed; he bought two, citing reasons of incredible craftsmanship and the fact that the small size forces him to pare down what he lugs around daily. “You know how the iconic Vuitton trunk is nowadays unusable and fans prefer to keep them in their living rooms as home décor? Well the petit Malle is a great conversation piece and prop on top of my coffee table books!”
Decorative yes, but a daily handbag that will sweep through the closets of women worldwide? More unlikely. The reality is most women need something that can fit at least a water bottle, if not an iPad, sunnies, flats, snacks, safety pins, headphones, and the kitchen sink.
"No one is abandoning totes for small top handle bags,” concluded Javits. “This trend cannot replace utilitarian bags that women need for their real work lives. There is obviously a place for both small and large bags in one's life."