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'It' Or Miss?

This fall, designers are bringing out the heavy artillery.

August 19, 2007|Booth Moore and Melissa Magsaysay | Times Staff Writers

THIS fall more than ever, luxury brands are hanging their profits on the handles of some seriously tricked out, dare we say ugly, "It" bags. As the market becomes overcrowded with satchels, hobos, totes and clutches, designers are upping the wow factor with the kind of extraneous straps, buckles, silver plates and zippers one might sooner expect to see on a kustom car. By late July, Prada and Versace already had their bags of the season slung over the shoulders of celebs, building buzz weeks before they even hit stores. Of course, the labels' PR machines duly sent out photos of Madonna, Katie Holmes et al., bags in hand, to magazines and newspapers worldwide. In the coming months, luxury brands will actually host "bag parties," a trend that began last season when Yves Saint Laurent threw a Champagne-soaked party in Beverly Hills, where the guest of honor was the Downtown bag. Luxury megaliths Gucci, Chanel, Prada and Chloe are old pros at this game. But this season, it's not just the usual big-label suspects who are in the running. Now even jewelers, boutique dressmakers and stationery makers are getting into the status bag game. But before you open your old "It" and pull out the plastic to buy a new one, we gathered them all up to evaluate their design, value and, well, OK, practicality. All in all, it may be a good season to buy shoes.

Cartier: The Marcello | $1,000

This pinched-leather wonton of a purse comes in playful colors such as raspberry but opts for an understated perforated logo, which is a nice respite from this season's metal mania. But if you're dropping $1,000 at Cartier, you want a little bit of bling.

Smythson: The Nancy | $1,700

The stationery maker's first foray into "It"-dom is a quilted white doctor-style frame style that bears an unfortunate resemblance to a bag of Stay Puft marshmallows (but that does make it comfy under the arm). The frame keeps the bag's sturdy shape, and the inside is roomy.

Fendi: The To You | $2,300

The most exotic of the bunch, this creature is made of lacquered calf hair, which creates the effect of feathers. Still, with its mother-of-pearl inlay throughout, we don't know if it is fish or fowl. The handle does double duty so it can be a carryall or folded over into a clutch. Points for creativity and versatility, though far from PETA friendly.

Anya Hindmarch: The Lautner | $925

This bag is reaching for an architectural pedigree and a midcentury modern feel, but the chunky hardware looks as if it were re-purposed from a bathroom towel rack. Despite that, there's something simple and appealing about this bag, kind of like a Lautner design.

Chanel: Coco's Croco | $2,995

Fans of Reggie the alligator, rejoice! No reptiles were harmed in the production of this bag, which is made of satin quilted to look like crocodile. There's even a built-in makeup mirror on the inside of the flap for tableside touch-ups. But nearly three large? You might just as well accessorize with the live version.

YSL: The Uptown | $1,895

This could be vintage except for the modern silver bolts on top of the frame. It's a shape Grace Kelly would have loved, with several slim compartments. It's pretty enough, but we feel as if we already have it in our closet. Or our grandmother's closet.

Prada: Leather with silver plate detail | $2,390

It's hard to get past the 3 1/2 pounds of hardware to notice the beauty of the ombré patent leather underneath. With three rows of zippers -- that's right, three -- a nonfunctioning padlock, and a silver placket approaching the size of a car license plate, this bag is the heavyweight of this competition. Start practicing those curls now.

Mulberry: Mini Mabel | $895

This purple patent purse (try saying that three times) is the Fruit Roll-Up of fall carryalls. And with a luggage tag so big, the bag is practically accessorizing it.

Versace: The Hit Bag | $2,380

Jessica Alba was sporting a black version during a recent Paris press tour, and we had to wonder, did it drive her as crazy as it drove us? The silver metallic version is about as appealing as a wall safe, with a major metal plaque and handles cut so small Nicole Richie would find them a tight fit. All in all, a bad bag.

Jimmy Choo:

The Alex | $3,225

What is this, a Dadaist joke? A bag you can't get into? That's right, this spacious pony hair hobo has an obstructed opening, thanks to an unmovable, just-for-looks strap across the top. Add to that heavy hardware that keeps the bag from sitting upright and your money is safe -- even from you.

Gucci: Rabbit

Indy bag | $3,990

If you were contemplating a new bag or a new pet, your problems are solved. The plush rabbit hair is irresistible to touch, but don't let it fool you. This bunny's got a nasty bite. The studded metallic fringe, silver-plated handle and bumpers are overkill. Make that roadkill.

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