Debenhams says women's loads are lightening. Tell that to the handbag designers.
Designer handbags: a weighty issue
I caught the end of one of my favourite episodes of Sex and the City the other night. It was the one where Samantha attempts to use Lucy Liu's name to help her move up the legendary Hermès Birkin waiting list. "Why put yourself through that humiliation for a bag?" asks the sensible Miranda as Samantha regales being frogmarched from Hermès. "It's not a bag. It's a ******* Birkin!" shrieks Carrie, slamming a fist on the table.
I hear you, Carrie. Loud and clear. If ever there was a handbag nearing perfection in terms of function, glamour and size, this is it. The only thing I could possibly complain about - if ever I were to lay my hands on this iconic accessory - is the weight. Even without anything inside, a Birkin is heavy. But isn't being heavy a crucial part of handbag snobbery? I've seen a certain expression creep onto the faces of Victoria Beckham and Katie Holmes whenever they are hoicking around their special-edition, supersized Birkins, which allegedly cost $30,000 (Dh110,000) a pop. It reveals a mixture of effort and smug satisfaction. I'm sure just knowing every gram of handcrafted leather costs a small fortune makes the suffering worth it. And who knows? If it were me, maybe I'd be the same.
A handbag buyer from a leading department store once told me the Birkin belongs to a very exclusive club of handbags that perennially outperform whatever is hyped up to be the latest It-bag. It's joined by the Marc Jacobs' Stam, which is inspired by a doctor's bag; Alexander McQueen's Novak, a hand-held, crocodile granny bag with a flat bit at the bottom for a laptop; Mulberry's Bayswater, which is based on an old music satchel and Chanel's quilted 2.55.
Although these bags look very different, they are all practical. They look glamorous and compact on the outside and are as roomy as Dr Who's Tardis on the inside. They are all also heavy. So my ears pricked up when I heard about the recent claims from the department store Debenhams - which sells a mountain of handbags annually, including several designer collaborations - that a trend for smaller handbags is the result of an overall shrinkage in the weight of gadgets women carry around every day. The average weight has allegedly gone from 3.5kg in 2006 to 1.3kg in 2009. This summer, Debenhams said, bags will be at their lightest for seven years.
Really? What bags are we talking about? Prada's clear PVC bags, Stella McCartney's wicker hand-helds or Marc Jacobs' and Dolce & Gabbana's bum bags, perhaps? Certainly not the ones everyone is clucking over at the moment: those sturdy, hand-held granny styles by Dior and Fendi, the Chloé satchel and Louis Vuitton rucksacks. They feature chunky utility pockets, cumbersome handles and a sturdy leather structure that could actually do some damage.
I certainly don't buy into the argument that the decline in the size and weight of gadgets such as mobile phones and MP3 players has reduced the average weight of a handbag. Until I got my iPhone, my little Nokia mobile felt roughly the same weight as an ice lolly. All right, so my Discman is redundant and I no longer need a Filofax, but as for a laptop? The five-year reign of killer heels has seen off any chance of adding that to my daily cargo. (It's amazing how bulky pumps can be.)
As for girlie gadgets, I've always found mobile chargers to be featherweight, if a bit tangly. And an electronic organiser? What is that? The most noticeable bulky addition to my handbag in the past three years has been my make-up bag. The cosmetics boss Leonard Lauder calls this the "lipstick effect". Sales of lipstick have risen 12 per cent since Lehman Brothers collapsed, which Lauder puts down to a woman's desire to pamper herself despite hard times.
He has a point. I wouldn't dream of leaving the house without a roll-call of crucial potions, from eyelash serum to collagen plump-up lip cream. I'm currently touting around a Smythson Maze bag (same as Samantha Cameron's), which has such a cavernous interior that I'm convinced it was inspired by a toolbox. Is it heavy? Of course. But let's just say knowing it's full of everything I need for my day actually takes the weight off my shoulders.