August 6, 2022 12:21:29 pm
As someone who barely ever questioned Carrie Bradshaw’s fashion choices, I was shaken out of my nonchalance after the Sex and the City (SATC) movie in 2008. Carrie gifts a $4,500 handbag to her Black assistant Louise. It’s a Louis Vuitton, a “Motard Firebird”, which debuted that year. Louise already has an LV — only, it’s a rental. When she opens the gift, she can’t believe her eyes. “My very own Louis Vuitton?!” she exclaims.
If there is one handbag that should have been hidden away, it is this one. It’s a quizzical palette of purple, coral and yellow, made worse by embellishments that pop like ulcers. But, as SATC emphasised, a Louis Vuitton — even a garish one — is timeless.
As the issue of “mehengai” is raised, somebody’s Louis Vuitton bag quickly slides under the bench. pic.twitter.com/Rtra8qsBEt
— Ajit Datta (@ajitdatta) August 1, 2022
A Louis Vuitton has been a symbol of aspiration for some time now. Filmmaker Karan Johar’s NRI, globe-trotting leads are often shown with a Louis Vuitton in tow as part of the upper-class Indian fantasy that Johar sells. It’s not far from reality, however. Louis Vuitton is one of the world’s top 10 valuable brands (Forbes puts it at number 9), mostly owing to its emphasis on handmade, limited editions, durability and changing inventory. It is also one of the most visible luxury brands because of its distinct brown “Monogram Canvas”. The pattern of interlocked initials and flowers inspired by Japanese designs makes the monogram easy to identify, even by those untrained in fashion-spotting. It’s why accusing a Member of Parliament such as Mahua Moitra of “hiding” a Louis Vuitton during the recent Parliamentary discussions on inflation and price hike is easy because the monogram is too obvious. It announces itself like a luxury car. It’s not scared of being itself. In comparison, it is less easy to identify, for instance, a Chanel handbag or Maybach sunglasses.
Louis Vuitton’s monogram pattern possibly goes against everything we have been taught is good taste. Growing up, we are told that it is shameful to flaunt one’s blessings; that an understated design is a mark of sophistication. We want a luxury good, but we don’t want it screaming the brand name. A monogram pattern — the idea of a name being stamped over and over again — would seem morally repugnant.
Or, so we are told. Louis Vuitton’s monogram was trademarked in 1896, about four decades after the brand was created, to prevent counterfeits. The pattern boosted Louis Vuitton’s luxury status but its synonymy with the brand led to the business of replicas and “real fakes” across the world. Suddenly, it seemed that the aspiration wasn’t so much to own the bag as much as the pattern.
Even today, Louis Vuitton look-alikes proliferate street markets in India. Other brands were inspired by Louis Vuitton’s logo-fication and devised their own monogrammed patterns. Monogramming became a luxury power-dressing craze, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi sporting a suit monogrammed with his name. In 2015, at `4.31 crore, it became the world’s most expensive suit ever to be sold at an auction.
Monogrammed Louis Vuittons were so massy an aspiration that they became commonplace, either as originals or pre-loved or fakes. In the previous decade, Louis Vuitton moved away from its logo handbags in order to reduce the dilution of the brand from fakes, among other reasons. A decade ago, a court dismissed Louis Vuitton’s lawsuit against Warner Bros. for using counterfeit bags in their film Hangover Part II.
In a world of fakes, Moitra’s handbag, possibly a Grand Palais, is, thankfully, an original. This is not the first time that a female politician has been mentioned in the context of her handbag. The former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati, installed statues of herself across the state with several carrying a handbag. As much as her statue-frenzy was criticised, the bag invited equal suspicion. Is it a Birkin? Is it a Prada? Should a Dalit politician be sporting a handbag? What could it all mean?
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The handbag, as a feminine stash of secrets, is often perceived as a place to safeguard illicit items — lipsticks, sanitary napkins, antidepressants, contraceptive pills and who-knows-what-else. Patriarchy loves to belittle femininity when all other barbs fail, and the handbag is a last resort. Yet, there is a lesson to be learnt from the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whose “handbag became the sceptre of her rule,” according to her official biography. When she reprimanded her cabinet, it coined the phrase “ to handbag”, a word now used to refer to women ruthlessly and verbally crushing people. It’s like when Moitra shot back at her critics with a medley of photos of her handbag in a tweet that read, “Jholewala fakir in Parliament since 2019”, a spin on the time when the PM described his humble origins. Nothing like a trusty Louis Vuitton to do some good old handbagging!
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