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Big, Bold and Beautiful

The best handbags fof the spring season

By PAMELA DITTMER MCKUEN

    After a long, gray winter, the handbag forecast is as welcome as a field of daffodils. A fashion gamut of color and shape and size, with some whimsy for good measure, is on the way. Bags, especially big ones, have been important for several seasons, but “the newness is in over-the-top colors or larger-than-life details,” says Jim Wetzel, co-owner of the Jake boutiques on Rush Street and the North Shore. “With this massive trend, one statement that comes across loud and clear is luxury—luxury in size and in non-practical color.”
    The season’s colors are vibrant, whether alone or together: lime green, hot pink, fire engine red, marine blue and, yes, daffodil yellow. Even the whites are startling. As for silhouettes, look for demure clutches, slouchy hobos and oversized satchels. Leathers are softer than ever for draping and pleating. Details are anything but subtle. Buckles, chains, studs and other hardware are meant to be noticed.

    A few of the offerings are breathtaking. One is Prada’s limited edition, double-handled fairy-print bag. It comes in two sizes, with scenes of magical creatures imprinted on a white leather background ($2,290 and $2,490). Another is the Richard Prince collection for Louis Vuitton, which reinterprets (some have said “defiled”) the venerable corporate logo. A contemporary artist, Prince sliced and slashed L’s and V’s into abstraction, and then arranged them into new alignments against traditional silhouettes. The final touches are spray paint and graffiti.
    “Handbags allow every woman to express her personality and how she feels about herself, and today there are so many great styles that allow her to do that,” says Pat Hambrick, senior vice president of marketing for Bagborroworsteal.com, which rents luxury fashion accessories, offering more than 3,000 styles from more than 100 designers. Coach and Chanel are perennial favorites. “A black evening clutch can dress up a classic black outfit, and a pink tote says, I’m ready for spring.”
    Totes are also popular. Kate Spade’s “Rae” comes in kelly green calfskin with an oil-slick finish and 14kt white gold accents and knotted rope handles. It retails for $625, but can be rented from Bagborroworsteal.com for $30 a week or $90 a month.
    “Louis Vuitton does a clever job of keeping bags fresh and very today while still being classic,” Hambrick says.
    Less dramatic styles than the Richard Prince collection are traditional Louis Vuitton shapes wrapped in pearlized gold, silver or violet with logo stamps. The “Neo Bucket” is a brown-and-tan monogram canvas model, accented with red vinyl trim and red cotton lining ($2,240).
    At Jake, the color palette includes the “Perry Mini,” an orange suede satchel with link chain shoulder strap ($695), and the “Kan-Kan” portfolio, a ruffled shoulder bag in fuchsia ($595), both by Be and D. But Wetzel’s pick is “Sellerie” by Golden Goose, a soft leather satchel for $1,345.
   “The leather in this cocoa color screams four seasons, so you can use this baby all year round,” Wetzel says.
    Stephanie Demas is a Loop paralegal who says she is obsessed with bags.
    “The bigger, the better,” Demas says. “I try not to take my car everywhere, so everything goes in my bag.”
    Demas carries a Betsy Johnson number, for which she paid approximately $500. It’s a warm brown with leopard print lining and has a dozen inside and outside pockets, including a laptop compartment. The bag gets heavy, and sometimes the security scanners slow her down. She doesn’t mind. “I love how it looks, and I like having all my stuff with me,” Demas says.
    Depending on the design, hobos and totes tend to be more casual and satchels and messenger bags are dressier, says fashion consultant Jackie Walker, author of I Don’t Have a Thing to Wear: The Psychology of Your Closet (Simon & Schuster, 2003).
    “A corporate woman has to make sure that her bag is organized,” Walker says. “It’s not very professional to be digging around, looking for something.”
    Marc Jacobs’ “Softy” group takes care of that. The collection includes an A-line satchel and tote (from $368) in three colors—black, poppy and canvas white. A matching zip clutch ($168) keeps credit cards and currency close at hand.
    High style doesn’t have to mean high price. Jessica Simpson’s colorful totes and hobos run about $100. Joy Gryson, a former Marc Jacobs designer, is introducing a new line at Target, starting at $20.
    In Walker’s view, a factor that will continue to drive the bag trend is an increased desire to lessen dependence on store shopping bags, whether paper or plastic. Fair Indigo (fairindigo.com) and online retailer Reusablebags.com sell fair-trade totes and satchels that are both perky and environmentally amicable.
    “Bags are fashion, but people want to be good to the earth where they can,” Walker says.

photo: Kate Spade Handbag

Published: April 06, 2008
Issue: 2008 Spring Green Issue