Friday, October 16, 2009
Creating my "Coach Purse" identity.
Early on, I wrote briefly about the Coach purse I had purchased for my 40th birthday. It was about $350, more than ten times what I'd ever paid for a purse. So why did I do that?
I can't say I was buying it because I have an eye for quality and nothing less would do. In fact, my Coach purse, with the gigantic Cs all over it didn't seem especially well made. And if it had been a high quality item, but no one other than myself would have known, I don't think I would have gotten it at that point.
What I was seeking was some sort of outward manifistation that I'd arrived at a certain level. If I were from a certain tribe in the Pacific islands, I might have chosen to wear special feathers or bones or stones to signify some sort of status.
For me, the Coach purse was that status. You may well be reading this thinking, "Good Heavens, how shallow!" And if so, prepare yourself as I read recently in a book by Dana Thomas, that there are Japanese girls who work as prostitutes to earn money to buy Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Hermes bags.
Purses are the "luxury" item within most women's reach, if they choose to go that route. Unlike a Mercedes or a $600,000 home, if a woman wants a $300 or even $2000 bag, she can probably get it. And because of the profit driven goal to mass market "luxury" with a Coach or Louis Vuitton store next to a McDonalds kiask in many airports, luxury has lost its quality, if not its status. At least according to Thomas's book, Deluxe How Luxury Lost Its Luster. She writes that to mass produce these items, they are often made on an assembly line in China right along side purses that are 1/10 their price, often with a Made in Italy tag sown inside.
I had the canvas purse a bit over a year and it showed its wear considerably. The seams weren't holding up well and the zipper sometimes stuck. And by the time I'd seen my 10th highschool girl with the same bag, and been the recipient of one friend's ribbing about whether I thought they'd crammed enough C's on that bag, I was doubting the wisdom of my purchase.
On the other hand, people really did notice the bag and comment on it. "Nice purse!" I heard more than once when I was checking out at a store. Often the clerks knew how much it had cost, even in stores that didn't sell Coach. And one Saturday morning when I set it on the ground at a garage sale while I was digging through a clothes basket of kids books, a woman grabbed it. I jumped up and said, "That's mine!" as she carried it to the woman running the sale. She apologized and said it probably was unlikely to find a real Coach purse at a garage sale.
I got the Deluxe book at the library a few weeks ago and reading about the shoddy workmanship prompted me to call Coach and explain what had happened. They said I could mail it to them (at my cost of about $15.00 with insurance) and they would assess it for normal wear and tear or workmanship defects.
Today I got a letter in the mail from Coach offering me a $367.14 credit for another Coach product. They do not give cash back, though I would vastly prefer that as never again shall I plunk down $300 for a purse.
In closing, I think I learned a few things. If girls at 16 are caught up in wanting to create an image based on an expensive status product, I can only hope 25 years later, at my own age of 41, they will know better;-). But I also believe there is such a thing as quality or art that does bring you enjoyment, and that is for each person to define for themselves. I have a friend who carries a $1500 Louis Vuitton bag, which she's had for almost 10 years now, that brings her a lot of enjoyment and for her it was worth it.
In closing, one irony is that I often grab all the loose change around the house and stick it in a plastic baggie and toss it in my purse. Then when buying something (I usually pay cash), I was pulling this plastic ziploc bag of change out of my $350 purse and how did that contribute to the whole image thing??? Wish me some personal growth this year;-). Eileen