x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Who has style when everyone owns the same handbag?

Designer handbags can be a pleasure for a woman to buy, but what are we saying about our values when we spend so much?

Recently at Dubai Mall, I counted 11 women carrying Chanel handbags in the first 40 minutes of my shopping trip.

I appreciate that fashionistas love Fashion Avenue, and that last year's UAE GDP per capita was estimated at around $49,600 (Dh182,000). But that was still a lot of Chanel.

Defining luxury is difficult. Traditionally luxury items were those that could be afforded by only the elite class. Luxury brands are of course known for high quality and high price.

Handbags display positive price elasticity: the more expensive the bag, the greater the demand.

Consumers cannot get enough of luxury, it seems. For some, it is not enough to buy just a luxury bag; they seek out limited editions or special skins which can increase the price of a classic Botega Veneta Tote from around Dh5,000 to Dh120,000.

The question becomes this: if everyone is carrying one of a limited number of brands (Hermes, Chanel, Dior …), what has happened to personal style?

As I entered Cafe Arabia in Abu Dhabi, my friend called out to me: "I love the arm candy! Who is the designer?" When I answered that the bag was from Zara, she was surprised and told me not to tell anyone.

I was affronted by her snobbery and began thinking about why we no longer value taste, and look down on the high street shops when it comes to choosing handbags.

The big luxury companies have done a good job convincing us that buying their goods is pleasurable. Advertisements have been designed to create longing in the target market. As you enter a boutique, the doorman makes you feel intimidated, special and pampered all at once. At the point of sale, the shop assistant makes you feel distinguished from the other customers: they are only browsing, but you are buying.

The packaging is sublime. The bag in its special box, wrapped in tissue, is placed in another beautiful bag, which often carries a ribbon or decoration. Using your new handbag you feel part of an exclusive group that you aspired to belong to.

The problem with all this is that it will need to be repeated once you see next season's handbags. And next season comes quickly. Some fashion houses have many different collections: Spring/Summer, Autumn/Winter, Cruise, Fashion Show …

And after a couple of months, your once-coveted clutch looks strange and dated to other fashion followers.

To have the "it" bag of the moment, you would need to spend around Dh12,000, three times a year. The fact is that these bags depreciate in value to zero, and take up a lot of cupboard space.

Always having the latest bag does not make a lady stylish. It is merely an indication that she can spend a lot of money. She might as well walk around with the price tag still on it.

We have a large number of people with very high disposable incomes, and currently there are not a lot of attractive investment opportunities. In addition, some local consumers are not very knowledgeable about personal finance, and a savings culture does not exist.

Once it becomes easy to spend Dh12,000 on a handbag, the value of money changes: that sum is no longer seen as means to pay rent, educate children and purchase groceries, although it should be enough to make a significant contribution to a family's monthly budget.

Branding is a result of globalisation, as multinational companies extend their reach. Brand loyalty helps distinguish quality and speed up shopping time, but what percentage of the UAE's GDP is being spent on luxury brands?

The US writer Gore Vidal said: "Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say and not giving a damn." Many people can afford to buy what they want, but think about their financial stability before they buy. Their priorities are maintaining a three-month emergency fund, ensuring no balance on their credit cards and planning for their financial future.

You should value your bank balance or investment portfolio as much as your appearance. Before making a purchase, think about the real motivation for your choice. Personal and social responsibility have a place in buying decisions.

However, this does not apply to gifts. So if any of my friends reads this and wants to buy me a present, my shoe size is 38 and the latest BiBi Platform Louboutins are to die for.


Reema Marzouq Falah Al Ahbabi is an Emirati homemaker and MBA graduate. Rym Ghazal will return next week