Fashion columnist Katie Trotter on why designer labels and celebrity endorsements don't always make for the perfect handbag.
Katie Trotter: Forget branding, buy the bag you like
Bag recognition has become something of a national sport over the past decade. Choosing the right bag is based on it being a status symbol, not a practical investment. Curiously, while we're content to rummage in the bargain-basement bin for our clothing purchases, the same can't be said about our approach to handbags.
Perhaps it has to do with the changing ideals of modern dress - women are much more likely to don casual wear than they were 20 years ago. We think nothing of pairing yoga pants with a plain T-shirt and comfortable flats, so perhaps having the right bag is the only way to show the world that we are still fashionable and that we haven't given up completely.
You can, in part (and I say in part because, let's face it, we have a choice) blame celebrities for the surge, as for these passionate few, the handbag is something of an idol, an idol we are attracted to as foolishly as a moth to a flame.
Then there are the pages and pages that fill up the glossies every season, begging, teasing and taunting the modern consumer to indulge. "Buy me! Wear me! I'll help you look like someone who knows what they are doing," they mock. What we forget is that accessories are the backbone of the fashion industry - designer handbags are expensive, and at times unnecessary. As I have said previously, fashion should have nothing to do with branding and everything to do with craftsmanship, so it is critically important that we learn to differentiate.
Unlike jewellery, a handbag - despite what its creators will tell you - is not and will never be an investment. Why? Well, firstly, it will wear - leather will eventually lose its shape, linings will pucker and stain, and the turnover of trends are too impermanent to rely on a solid "classic". We often fall into the trap of thinking we need something huge to carry, which isn't the case (no pun intended) because all we need is enough space for a wallet, mobile phone and make-up pouch. Anything more is simply space for clutter and a potential backache.
Simply stick to what suits you, and bypass the fleeting trends with buckles, studs and fringing; they will only sit collecting dust in the back of your wardrobe the following season when another gimmick becomes the raison d'être. Stay well away from a designer knock-off; no matter how good a copy it can be sniffed out by those in the know faster than the aroma of rotting fish. Go for items that look as if they have been inspired by the catwalk and not copied from it. Avoid anything synthetic as it will not sit well. Stick to natural fabrics such as leather, suede or moleskin.
This season is encouraging a bright colour spectrum, which will help you stand out in the normal sea of navy, brown and black. The "Doctor Bag" at Miuccia Prada has cleared a path for the distinct new shape of the season, as have the beautifully impractical "tiny" bags seen at Dolce & Gabbana.
From hand embroidery to velvet, fabric manipulation is key, and exotic patterns look set to play a big role, as seen at Mulberry. Again, far from being practical, or politically correct, fur in various types is another hit,with play on short-haired, long-haired, and even dip-dyed for the adventurous. If you don't feel comfortable wearing leather, Stella McCartney has a fantastic collection of faux leather bags on offer.
What is it about bags that we never seem to tire of? Is it that they carry around a little part of ourselves? Whatever it is, think carefully about your next selection. What shows real nous is knowing how to beat the enemy at their own game. Walking out with something you actually like rather than what you have been told is cool is the way to go.