When I was fifteen, Mum and I travelled to Italy to visit her family. An eye-opener on many levels, but for me the journey began the love of something I could now not possibly live without:
I try and remember what I did before that point. I mean, where did I put my stuff? You know, the shit I now carry around with me every day? I won’t list it; that would be far too embarrassing. The contents of a woman’s handbag are truly secret. Did I really just hold onto my purse all of the time, having nothing to put it into? Did I only need money? Surely I must have needed something else with me? Oh, wait, this was before the blessed mobile phone. Or as some describe it; the communication leash. Matt Damon once said that. ‘What would I want to have a mobile phone for? It’s like constantly having a leash around your neck!’ I wonder if he has one now.
I saw it at the market. Every Saturday morning in Mum’s home town there was a street market. I loved it. There was a man selling Levi Jeans at ridiculous prices. And you’ve got to remember this was the mid-nineties. Levi’s were hot, hot, hot. Actually, I think the jeans this guy was selling actually were hot. There was a Levi factory nearby and the ones he were selling were classed as seconds. Yet there was nothing wrong with the jeans; they simply weren’t finished. Excess leather had to be cut off the Levi’s tag at the back and the button holes on the fly needed to be cut through. Other than that, they were fine. I bought five pairs.
One of them was dark blue and had a different cut to all the other jeans I had bought before. I remember returning to school and being teased horrendously over those jeans. It seems so ridiculous now, but in those days, and my home town being a small one, anything new was frowned upon. Apparently this style hadn’t reached home yet or even Adelaide – the closest city. That’s where people from my home town look to for fashion inspiration. You can see the problem; in 1995 there was no internet and Adelaide was months behind the fashion world.
By the next year everyone had purchased the same dark-blue jeans. I couldn’t believe how something I got so much stick for was suddenly so acceptable.
I’m straying from the topic, though. At the market there was also a lady selling shoes and handbags. I bought a clumpy pair of summer sandals which my mother and her high-styled Italian brothers rolled their eyes at. All of them questioned my fashion sense when I was over there. Ever since I had become a teenager I had worn the baggiest clothes I could find. I had, which back then I thought were C-cup breasts but were quite obviously a D, which I was desperate to hide. There was some backwards thing happening at my school. I remember reading in Judy Blume books (yes, I read Judy Blume, what’s wrong with that? Is far better than my Babysitters Club fascination) how girls would be teased if they were flat-chested. Well, at my school, you were teased if you were large chested. I was very much a target. Woe me, and all of that bullshit. Yes, you can hear the violins. I’m not complaining (though I quite often do, as well as crying miserably when going out to buy a bra to discover that hardly anyone makes my size) it wasn’t all tragic. I just wish that I would have had the knowledge that all the boys that were merciless in their attacks on me would one day want a chick with big tits and all the girls that scoffed at me would covet them. So anyway; I spent my teenage with hunched-over shoulders and baggy clothes, covering what turned out to be my only valuable asset.
A committee was formed by Mum’s siblings – my aunts and uncles – and I was marched out of the house one morning to buy a range of tight-fitting clothes I felt practically naked in . I guess they felt I’d been quite good-humoured about it all so that day at the markets I was allowed to buy the clunky shoes without too many objections.
Then I saw the bag. Or should I say, bags; but there was one in particular that stood out above all others. It was black. In those early days of handbag-obsession I often bought black bags. Truth was, you couldn’t really buy any other colour back then. I never buy black bags any more.
The bag was a miniature backpack, semi-glossed leather with two small push-lock pockets on the front. I can’t remember if the opening flap was also a push-lock closure or not. What I do remember is that it had a little handle above the back straps and that’s how I would carry it around. The relatives all approved of the bag. Ah, finally, she has taste!
I returned home and the bag went everywhere I did. I won’t wax lyrical at how happy I was to have a token of who I was could be carried around in front of me, that I finally had an example of my actual taste rather than the horrible clothes I wore because they were all I could afford.
I soon became obsessed. In the beginning (when I could finally afford to buy my handbags) it was more about quantity than quality. Yet through all those stock-standard handbags that I could I soon discovered what types of bags were my favourites. I liked bigger bags. What’s the point in having something to carry your stuff around in if you couldn’t fit it all? I discovered the my favourite design was the bowling bag design; simple, classic, can be held in the crook of the arm. I liked totes; too. Simple totes.
My dream bag seemed well out of my reach. Back then it was a Louis Vuitton Speedy 30. It’s not really the Louis Vuitton print that was my desire, though I love that it’s classic and elegant. It was the design of the bag itself. The short rolled-handles that fit perfectly in the hand without discomfort and the classic shape that looks both elegant and compact yet is surprisingly large on the inside. But Louis Vuitton’s were out of reach for me; they were for celebrities and socialites.
My first special handbag was, ironically, a Guess one. I really hate Guess bags now; they’re hideous. Clunky, heavy, full of buckles and over-designed with too much going on. Yet the one I had was a butter colour, a large relaxed tote stitched rolled handles. I loved it, and have not seen anything like it; is certainly not one of those mass-produced Guess bags you see on the sale tables at department stores.
And then I went to England. Stepping outside of Australia, Adelaide in particular, I got to view all of the handbags I loved first hand, rather than the internet. I realised that my tens and tens of handbags were like I was over-eating. What I really wanted was one well-made, well-designed bag. Not fifty cheap ones.
I gave myself a budget and researched which designer bag I would buy. It came down to the Louis Vuitton Speedy and the Mulberry Bayswater. I couldn’t move past the craftsmanship, design and all-leather materials in the Mulberry bag, so a chocolate buffalo leather Bayswater was my first-ever designer bag purchase.
It’s beautiful and I love it. Classic. Great for every day use, over the shoulder, or in the crook of the arm. For a long time I was satisfied with just that bag. Every other single bag I owned was thrown or given away. I did keep a few – they’re in the shed – because a friend suggested I might want to let any daughter I may have play with them. I had realised, finally, that one well-made good quality thing – whatever it is – beats many of something sub-standard.
The same year I got my Louis Vuitton. It was as beautiful as I suspected it to be as well as being light and roomy on the inside. As those of you have read in my early blog, this UK trip I bought my next coveted handbag; the Mulberry Bayswater tote. Out of all of them, it is my favourite bag. I love it’s size (it’s huge) it’s functionality, the length of the handles, the shape – all over it.
One day I’ll have a Birkin. Perhaps. But I think for anyone to buy such an expensive bag – which costs more than most cars – when you still have a mortgage would be foolish in the extreme. I guess I’m like everyone who has an obsession – we all have a thing. For my husband it’s coins. For some women; it’s shoes. I see bags as functional works of art. I rarely look at a painting and coo in the same way as I do when I see a beautiful handbag.
My favourite designer has to be Mulberry. I love that their bags are English made and have a reminder of English country life – most of their bags are made with simple yet sturdy leather in earth-toned colours. When I look of them I think of Wellington boots, country manners, hedgerows and hunting. If you want to see what I’m talking about, head over to their website: www.mulberry.com
So that’s my handbag fascination and the story of how I got there. But I can tell you for sure; the story is nowhere near finished.