Fashion labels tap into the growing appetite for affordable luxury bags

Savvy labels are offering well-made, desirable handbags that won't break the bank

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 July, 2015, 6:16am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 July, 2015, 6:16am

Blind buying of the latest It bag may seem a bit passé, but there is no doubt that our love of handbags continues to grow. We covet them, fuss over them, compare them, and then we look at the price tag. Ahem, and then most of us put them back on the shelf.

Rising property prices have been hitting the headlines, but a quick analysis of the steadily increasing cost of luxury bags offers another sobering perspective. There comes a point where you wonder if a trophy handbag from an elite brand is actually worth it. Although Chanel and Hermès will always be a staple for some of the uber rich, nowadays smart shoppers are less inclined to fork out five-figure sums for a handbag. They still want quality, looks and functionality, but at a more accessible price. This is giving luxury labels pause for thought.

Look at what happened to Mulberry, the British luxury leather goods brand, which reached for the upper echelon occupied by Prada, Chanel, Céline and Balenciaga and came a cropper when the British public refused to pay its surging prices. So while the brand is still producing its big hitters, it is now also designing smaller bags and going back more wallet-friendly prices.

This area is where savvy labels such as Coach, Furla and Michael Kors are now reaping the rewards - not quite mass market but touted as affordable luxury. They, along with Tory Burch, Kate Spade, Diane von Fürstenberg and Longchamp, have come up with well-made, desirable handbags that don't consume a chunk of your annual salary.

Industry insiders and the bona fide fashion week crowd might occasionally sniff at these handbags, but they're popular with the public and flying off the shelves. Michael Kors' Selma bag, launched in 2014 , for example, has become a status symbol among mid-market customers who consider it an entry into the world of fashion luxury. Snapping at Selma's heels is the Cynthia, which launched last autumn and became an instant hit when Gao Yuanyuan toted hers around New York Fashion Week.

As demand for top-end accessories cools, Furla is tapping into the growing appetite for affordable luxury with new store openings and designs such as its Metropolis bag, with the intention of more than doubling its sales in the next five years.

"Women are more and more looking for the perfect bag," says Fabio Fusi, Furla's creative director, "and a bag is perfect when it conveys the right mix of creativity, wonder, fun and quality." He didn't mention price, but Furla's bags are typically between HK$4,000 and HK$6,000.

The classic shades are always popular, but when it comes to summer it is the bright uplifting colours that are drawing all the attention.

Five favourite bags in Hong Kong this season

Swagger by Coach: Stuart Vevers, the creative director behind this American brand, produced the bestselling Roxanne while working at Mulberry before revamping Loewe's offerings. He has not lost his touch at Coach, given the success of Swagger, which comes in different colours and sizes, and even with a novelty patchwork. In Hong Kong, the most popular hues are blue and a peachy shade, but the bag is nudging the upper end of the price bracket, at HK$6,100. Hot on its heels is the Prairie satchel, which is HK$3,400. 

Selma by Michael Kors: The brightly coloured Selma with its sleek silhouette and distinctive trapeze-shaped structure was introduced two years ago and has been a bestseller ever since. The price helps, with the large satchel HK$4,200 and the medium size HK$3,700. This popular accessory in glossy Saffiano leather comes in a multitude of hues, but given the sun is shining it is the pastel shades and bright blue that are selling fast this season. 

Quadri by Longchamp: The French luxury accessories brand is renowned for the quality of its leather and sophisticated craftsmanship, and also its great prices. The Pliage foldable nylon bag is the essential travel accessory, but the Quadri is the must-have bag for city girls. According to Longchamp, the bestsellers are the bright colours, ranging from yellow, pink, blue and green, "because it looks so colourful in summertime", says a spokesman, adding that if the bag is well priced - it is HK$4,550 - customers will choose some unusual colours to fit their outfits. 

Metropolis by Furla: Known for its funky, PVC Candy bag, Furla's colourful handbags always feature a rainbow of hues. Designer Fabio Fusi comes up with audaciously bright but sleek lines, and no more so than current fashion favourite in Hong Kong, the Metropolis. It is a sweetly coloured, leather cross-body bag with a gold chain and polished hardware. Its clean lines and geometric design are reinvented each season with great wit and playful charm. It's size also taps into the current trend for smaller bags. 

York by Tory Burch: This is the quintessential multitasking work tote from the New York fashion designer who understands what uptown girls need. There are pockets for the laptop (padded) and gadgets including your smartphone, so there's no need toscrabble at the bottom of the bag when it rings. The lifestyle brand is known for its colour and the zingy citrus hues are big this summer, while the price is modest at HK$3,280.

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