Friday, May 25, 2012

The Character Arc of a Louis Vuitton Purse

This is my Louis Vuitton Purse. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
I have always wanted to be older. I even won an award at sleep-away camp for Most Likely to Act Older than My Age. It was a red stiletto made out of construction paper with my name on it. I think it was meant to be a cautionary award, but I was shockingly excited to have won it and I kept it for years. It meant my plan was working; all those camp fires with my Roots hoodie unzipped to show my bathing suit top were not in vain. All those times I pulled my bathing suit high up on my hips above the waistband of my shorts to show that half inch of untanned flesh was not going unnoticed.

I truly hated myself for wanting a Louis Vuitton purse, but since I make all my important decision in the following way, “What would Monica Vitti do in L’Avventura?” it was clear that a Louis Vuitton was somehow in my future. I felt like it would make me look older, more relaxed, more secure, successful and of course more beautiful in an ugly way. I say “ugly” because by wearing a symbol of conspicuous consumption, you automatically put your peer group on edge, followed in short order by women who are actually older, more relaxed, more secure, more successful and more beautiful- but still do not have a Louis Vuitton purse. I had not immediately realized that this would be the case.

While it was still in the contemplation stage, the first reaction was, “Well, why would you do that?” Followed by “My mother had one and the handle turned ugly brown…yours will too in about a year”.

The trip to the store was not that friendly. You are dealing with sales assistants that don’t make enough to afford one either, causing one bizarre conversation after another.

“Can I help you?”

“Yes, I would like to look at that purse” you say and point at one of the wooden cubbies artfully backlit while an unceasing torrent of Asian tourists jostle you trying to get the sales girl attention. She will bring it down and then stare at you while you gently touch the purse, pretending to look at it as though you have not already spent months on the website looking at it from every angle.

The sales girl will become bored with you and move on to an elderly man who is whispering hoarsely in Mandarin, holding three belts in one hand and some key chains in the other. When she returns, you ask “Is it made of leather?”

“Yes”, she sighs clearly irritated.

Reader’s note: No. It is not made of leather. The most popular Louis Vuitton bags are made of canvas sealed in plastic. Not joking. The only leather part is the untreated leather handle which turns a deep tan from the oils on your skin and sunlight and pollution. You can use a leather moisturizer to clean it, but this accelerates the browning process.

You ask “Is it suede on the inside?”

“Yes” she answers a little distractedly while looking at her nails. You can tell no one has asked this before.

Reader’s Note: No. It is not made of suede. It is made of brushed cotton which is lovely and soft, but not suede.

She leaves you again to help someone else and you realize that she does not take you seriously. You gaze around the room trying to ask yourself, “Is this really the one, worth a small mortgage payment?” and when she returns you whisper “Yes, I would like to buy it”. She pushes the shop-worn bag (with a half-brown handle) toward you and you realize that she is saving the newer ones for someone else.

“No” you say with more confidence than you feel “I would like a new one”. You are beginning to get how to play this game. She shrugs, which in hipster means: I admit defeat, worthy opponent and slowly ambles to the back room. She returns and presents you with a new one which you inspect carefully, then buy. Your throat is dry and your face is red. Is this really who I am now?

The first question is always, “Is it real?” This is after the cursory scan of your eyes and then the purse and then your body. The second is a statement “Wow, those cost a lot!” At which point, I smile demurely and look down. This is how I imagine pretty girls with fathers receive compliments. Very rarely – from girls I would never imagine even know what Louis Vuitton is - “How much was it?” To this I say with a big sigh “It was a lot.” Followed by dead silence.

I was thrilled to have it, but I was hopelessly embarrassed by the purse. I threw it on the floor of restaurants and airports to show the world how little I cared about it; as if to say, “See, nothing has changed! I am still the big loser you love to hate!” The purse cast in sharp relief how ill-prepared I was to be successful and confident and enjoy the fruits of my labours. The purse made me even more insecure.

Ultimately a grown woman - hugely successful and on television to give her business opinion on the stock markets - walked up to my desk one day shortly after Christmas. She had a brand new purse under her arm. It was exactly the same as mine.
"My husband bought me this", she stated.
I said it was beautiful.
“He also bought me the wallet", she stated in a dull, flat tone showing it to me.
I said how nice it was, how it could double as a clutch given its large size.
She quickly cut to the point “I see you have the same purse; do you have the wallet as well?”
No, I said.
She pursed her lips and seemed satisfied.
Finally: “Did you buy it on your own or is someone taking care of you?"
Once the shock wore off from being demeaned to that extent, I realized a second truth. I worked in the same office as this woman she did not believe I had enough money to buy a purse like hers.

I have had the purse for a year and, as predicted, the handle has gone horribly brown. The canvas is no longer stiff and the purse slouches unattractively when left to its own devices, although I make an effort to never put it on the floor ever again. I want to be friends with my purse and I worry that I gave it low self esteem. These are just some of the thoughts that go through my head when I look at it.

I believe it was Naomi Wolf who first said, we women must be careful that we do not become our purses. I.e. an accessory; a vessel to put things in. A vessel for a man to put things in. Somewhat useless, since men use pockets. A purse’s value is how it looks, not how useful it is. A purse’s value increases depending on the name stamp in gold upon it. Stamping implies ownership, a large brass plate is what we put on buildings to advise the address, but only if the address is worthy. There are no large embossed brass plates in the slums. If a woman is a purse, what name is stamped on her? What name is stamped on me?

I will never buy a Louis Vuitton purse again.


  1. 2012春夏新作 、ボッテガ バッグ!ボッテガ 財布新作が待望の登場!重点となっている bottega veneta バッグ名流人士は宴会を行なうことに、高貴な礼服を着用している、bottega veneta バッグのこんな一流なブランドを持っている!

  2. Ok. I have no idea what this person above ^me^ just wrote but I had to allow it because - stay with me here - it may very well be the only proof that I have gone international. Or I'm being shaken down by the YAKUZA and just don't know it yet. OR! Someone is trying to sell me a purse.


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