The women who can't wait to pay £13,000 for an alligator skin handbag


Last updated at 15:49 10 January 2008

Liz Jones

Let me tell you about the latest fashion must-have. It is made from either matte or glossy "exotic" skins, meaning deeply cruel and unsustainable python or alligator.

It comes in cherry red, metallic blue and a deep, lustrous gold.

It is quite slouchy, and, at almost a foot long, is fashioned in the shape of a crescent.

Tucked inside, amid a pure silk lining, is a discreet gold plate, upon which your initials will be engraved.

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expensive handbag - £13,000

The bag's rivets and fastenings are made from handfinished vintage gold. When you take delivery of this new, fiercely-fought-over accessory, it will be in its own limited-edition quilted leather box, a bit like a coffin.

The name of this bag? The Burberry Warrior, studded as it is with pseudo Roman coins.

The price tag of this ridiculous item? £13,000.

Burberry is an "exclusive" brand (meaning the shop assistants are snooty, the prices sky-high) that likes to celebrate its British heritage. It did indeed invent the trench coat, which became vital for keeping soldiers in the trenches warm and dry, but like most "luxury" brands it now manufactures most of it's garments and accessories in the Far East.

There are other Burberry bags on offer this season (including the Beaton, the Bloomsbury and the Manor; I told you they like to harp on about their heritage) but it is the Warrior that is causing so much excitement.

The bag (for that is what it is; something in which to stash your bus pass and your lippy - although this one also has pockets for your iPhone and iPod) was first launched at an 'exclusive' (goodness, how that word has been demeaned.

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Every time I use it just exchange it in your head for "moronic" instead) series of soirees in stores in London, Las Vegas, Beverly Hills, Milan, Rome, Madrid, Kuwait and Moscow; you note they didn't launch it in Chelmsford, or Kabul.

The giddy height of the top end of the Burberry price range has enabled the brand to increase the average price point of its handbags by more than 25 per cent.

Sod the economic downturn, the troubles in Kenya and Pakistan, and global warming, there were enough over-Botoxed, impossibly spherical-breasted women lining up to buy the latest in a long list of obscenely expensive handbags that the Warrior promptly sold out (the oxymoronic £100,000 Chanel Forever, anyone? Or how about the £23,484 Louis Vuitton Tribute?)

While I can understand that the wives of Russian oligarchs or Las Vegas gangsters might hanker after a gold piece of arm candy, I am intrigued to find out who on earth in London has felt compelled to put her name down on the Warrior waiting list.

Jenny Eagle, 33, works for a celebrity agency called First Artists Management, is single and lives in Twickenham.

She says she received a hefty Christmas bonus this year, and that instead of frittering it away on designer clothes or shoes she is going to splash most of it on the gold version.

"I put my name down for it early this week, and I am so excited! This will be the most I have ever spent on a handbag, and I know people will think it an extortionate amount, but to me this will be an investment and, hopefully, a family heirloom."


And then a clearly successful and intelligent woman reveals the real reason she hankers after this bag.

"I work in the celebrity business and rubbing shoulders with top celebs such as Kate Moss and Sienna Miller, you start to long for their designer accessories."

Proof, surely, that no matter how sensible we think we are, we are all in awe of the stupid, tiny women who populate our red carpets, women who are nonetheless too bright to carry anything other than a freebie.

Jenny goes on: "I know most people will think it's only millionaires buying these bags, but there are a lot of single, professional women like me who work hard for their money, and feel this is the ultimate luxury treat.

"I don't have children to spend money on, so this is my way of pampering myself."

It is funny, isn't it, how the notion of "pampering" yourself and being hardworking and independent have become so intricately linked with the notion of spending money on something that is gaudy and that we don't really need.

It is almost as if we are trying to buy love, or happiness.

A similar story is told by 28-year-old Xenia Xenophontos, a senior PR manager, who has a flat in Central London which she shares with more than 55 designer handbags, all pristine in their little cloth bags, their authentication certificates tucked neatly in the pockets, and all kept at exactly the right temperature.

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expensive handbags

She, too, is unashamed to say she has put her name down for a Warrior.

"When I produce mine everyone will notice, and it will bring me a lot of kudos.

"I buy bags both as an investment and because they are so beautiful.

"I love them so much I even research the history of handbags.

"My friends tease me, and I am well known in stores like Selfridges, where I place orders for the latest musthave bags.

"I just love looking at them and touching them."

The one thing the women I spoke to have in common when asked why on earth they are so desperate for something so frivolous, is the mantra that they work really hard, and deserve to be rewarded.

The tragedy is that it is not just the wives of Russian oligarchs who are buying into this nonsense, but ordinary women like you and me.

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expensive handbags

It has become relatively easy to produce almost carbon copies of, say, a Miu Miu chiffon cocktail dress, and many women have, quite sensibly, opted to spend less money on just one key designer item, and to instead buy armfuls of clothes that are, more and more these days, going to be fashionable for just one short season.

The second was the rise of the "chav", a decidedly downmarket woman (or man) who bought into a high-end label (remember Danniella Westbrook and her Burberry check life?) and devalued the label's exclusivity.

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expensive handbags

And so, to keep their very high-spending, core clientele happy, the big designer houses decided they had to produce something intricate and expensive and impossible to rip off.

This meant they increased the price of, first, shoes, which now begin at around the £400 mark, and then they decided to pour all their creativity and snootiness into the handbag.

While expensive bags have been around since the Thirties (at Gucci, Hermes, Dior and Chanel) these bags were not meant to be remotely fashionable or disposable: they were investment pieces that were kept for life, and then handed down to the next generation.

The cult of the big money bag had its seeds in the early Nineties, when Miuccia Prada revitalised a tired luggage brand with a very desirable nylon satchel, and took off in 1997, when the Italian label Fendi came up with the baguette (swiftly followed by its smaller cousin, the croissant), with its myriad permutations of colour and fabric.

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expensive handbags

I remember being in Milan in the spring of that year and being puzzled by all the Japanese women queuing outside the store for the new delivery.

But soon, I, too, was infected by the disease.

Today, take a front seat alongside any catwalk and you are assaulted by the sight of models, who have surely only ever lifted something as heavy as a cigarette, staggering along the catwalk, weighed down by totes as large as hippos.

At the ankles of all the fashion editors are piles of big, shiny, £1,000-plus bags; you would think you were in the departure lounge of Heathrow rather than there to do a job.

None of the fashion editors has paid for these bags, of course.

That would be silly.

When I was the editor of Marie Claire, I once received 22 designer handbags at Christmas; the lower down the masthead your name appeared in the magazine, the smaller the bag you were given.

We should remember, too, that the models who emerge from backstage with a tote slung over their skinny shoulders have never had to put a hand in their pocket; they are sensible, and invest all they earn in real estate.

So don't feel sorry for those of us who work in the business, having to fork out so much cash in order to look good.

And please don't worry about the women who have already bought the aforementioned Warrior; they can probably afford to splash out more money on a bag than most of us can on a car.


These women and how they spend their (husbands') cash don't concern me.

What does concern me is the drip, drip, drip effect of these monster bags. Selfridges reports that the average price of designer bags is now £850, a rise of 55per cent since 2005.

Women, more and more of us (we now own between four and 14 handbags each and are prepared to spend up to £380 per bag) think it is obligatory to spend a month's salary on a bag we perhaps don't even really like that much.

Of course, the profligate spending habits of Carrie Bradshaw in Sex And The City didn't help.

Soon, every lowsalaried PR girl or shop assistant bought into the idea that to live far beyond her means was somehow cool.

Take 23-year-old Claire Honey, who works as a PR executive and lives with her parents in Essex. 'I cannot wait to get hold of this bag!' she witters.

'This is like a dream come true, and I am using all of my holiday money, money I have saved from my salary and an extra gift from my parents to afford the Warrior.'

And listen to this: 'It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own something which is just so special and beautiful.'

She is opting for the gold alligator version, but how about investing in a painting? She goes on: 'This is how I treat myself.' You see?

We have knitted together so closely to the idea that lining the pockets of conglomerates like LVMH and the Gucci group is somehow empowering.

Lauren Wyper, 23, works in the fashion industry, is single and lives in her parents' house in Surbiton. She says: 'I don't have to pay any money for living costs, which means I can indulge myself with fabulous handbags like the Warrior.

'Having the latest bag is very important in this industry. I can't turn up for a meeting with a new client with any old bag, and this will become a real talking point and people will remember me for my bag. It will become the talk of my friends and everyone will want to see it and stroke the soft leather.'

You wonder she doesn't just adopt a cat. It is as if we have all gone mad. When I wrote about the new Nancy bag designed by Samantha Cameron for Smythson on these very pages late last year, I wrote (oh, the shame) that it was 'only' £950. At Christmas, I spent £500 on a Bottega Veneta woven clutch that can take my phone or my car keys, but certainly not both.

I became one of those women who refuse to put their cream Prada on the floor, and so sit it at the table over dinner or even (and I really have done this) demand that an extra chair be commandeered for it.

But, contrary to what the big fromages at Dior and Chanel and Burberry might think, I have a little bit of hope that women will, very soon, come to their senses.

To carry such a blatant status symbol could soon become as crass and unacceptable as driving a 4X4, or eating a two-for-the-price-of-one chicken from Tesco.

I recently sat on a plane next to the effortlessly beautiful and obviously wealthy actress Natalie Portman. As we stood up to disembark at LAX, she pulled down from the overhead locker a green, heavily-scribbled-on hessian former army bag. I pulled down my Louis Vuitton personally monogrammed traveller.

Try to guess which one of us felt cheap.