Notes on fashion, style and culture

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Luxury handbags are the UK's cup of tea

According to the World Luxury Index, an analysis of the most searched for luxury brands, it was found that British shoppers love designer handbags more than any other country.

Whether this is a form of conspicuous consumption, or mimetic desire – a form of keeping up with the Jones’s – the research conducted by the Digital Luxury Group, looked at global online shopping habits, and measuring the demand against each market’s internet population, demonstrated that ‘the UK shows the highest affinity for luxury handbags with 422 searches per 1000 internet users. Surpassing the US, France, Italy, Japan, and others.’

 Quite a feat for a country in the grips of a recession.

Designer bags - the everyday status symbol
So what has caused this obsession with super expensive bags? As much as we might argue that they are better quality, more beautiful or last longer than an ordinary bag, the undoubted truth is that designer bags have become the ultimate status symbol and fashion accessory in modern societies. A designer tote demonstrates that the owner is ‘in the know’ with regard to the latest bag on the scene and therefore marks them out as the epitome of fashion. Carrying the latest ‘it’ bag is an insignia for the fashion elite. Of course, keeping up with the cost of purchasing these bags is not cheap, which brings us onto the other reason why designer bags have become such clear status symbols – they are expensive.

It is no coincidence that the priciest bag on the market – the crocodile Birkin which can cost anything from £25,000 new, (but have been known to go for up to £100,000 at auction for bespoke versions) – is the most searched for luxury bag in Europe and the US. It is the ultimate symbol of wealth and luxury. Not only do they retain their value, but like prized works of art, they will likely increase in value. These most exclusive of handbags can be found being traded at auctions like rare old masters.  A Birkin slung over the shoulder is undoubtedly intended to inspire envy from other women (in the same way that a high-end sports car attracts stares of jealousy from other men). It is the ultimate arm candy - the supreme super model trophy wife.

Designer bags and, to a lesser extent, designer sunglasses, watches and shoes are the most easily recognisable and flagrant symbols of an aspirational society today. People use them as a way of declaring that they have ‘arrived’– indeed that they ‘matter’ in today’s material driven world. Bizarre at it may seem, success in modern society is measured by bags.

So according to the Digital Luxury Group, which were the most desired of these trophy shoppers?

Alexa Chung with her namesake bag by Mulberry
Mulberry was named the most-searched bag-brand in the UK. The British brand received more than twice the number of searches than second brand Chanel. However, Coach was named the world’s most in-demand – followed by Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci and Longchamp. The rest of the global top-ten index included Prada, Hermes, Mulberry, Marc Jacobs, and Michael Kors.

When it comes to iconic, the Hermès Birkin bag – inspired by British actress Jane Birkin – was the most searched for iconic model across all markets. With crocodile leather, one of the most expensive skins, being the most searched-for style by consumers in the US, UK and France. The research also revealed that Americans favour their Birkin in the more ‘out there’ colour orange, while the British prefer the more conservative tan, and the French go for classic black. The Birkin beat off competition from other ‘it’ bags, such as the Chanel 2.55, Louis Vuitton’s Speedy and Mulberry’s Alexa.

A crocodile Birkin bag – the most searched for model in the US, UK and France
The US had the largest share for searches for the classic Chanel 2.55, while Brazilians showed a taste for more niche brands. Brands that do notably well in Brazil compared to other markets include Céline (ranked 3rd in Brazil, 13th globally), Balenciaga (7th in Brazil, 17th globally), and Goyard (11th in Brazil, 29th globally).

Although the majority of the top 50 luxury handbag brands are European, American brands are making their mark in the market with 14 out of the 50 handbag brands in the report originating from the US. This included the most in-demand brand Coach; whose advertising campaign is fronted by actress Gwyneth Paltrow. However, Coach is less sought after in Europe, ranking only 7th in the UK, 11th in Germany, 19th in France, and 29th in Italy.

Coach - the No.1 searched for brand globally
The report also noted that the Japanese have fallen out of love with Louis Vuitton, where it is the only country in the report to rank out of the top 5 (coming 9th in Japan). As recently reported by The Economist, however, 85 per cent of Japanese women already own a Louis Vuitton product. These combined insights suggest that the label is perhaps suffering from over-exposure in the Japanese market and that, as a result, Japanese consumers are looking for something ‘new’.
The classic Louis Vuitton Speedy 30
Meanwhile in France the more affordable brand Longchamp is the country’s most desired label, with twice as many searches as its super-luxe counterpart Louis Vuitton.

The top 10 most searched luxury handbags globally:

1. Coach
2. Louis Vuitton
3. Chanel
4. Gucci
5. Longchamp
6. Prada
7. Hermès
8. Mulberry
9. Marc Jacobs 

10. Michael Kors
The ever popular Chanel 2.55 - a design classic
This report is the first digital analysis of the luxury handbag market and covered more than 130 leading luxury handbag brands in eight global markets including the UK, US, France, Italy and Japan.

A free version of the report is available for download at: An in-depth industry analysis, the WorldHandbagReport, is available for purchase.

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