Exclusive Status: It's in The Bag

There are many Louis Vuitton bags on display at its Fifth Avenue store. The $52,500 Tribute Patchwork bag is meant to celebrate the history of the company.
There are many Louis Vuitton bags on display at its Fifth Avenue store. The $52,500 Tribute Patchwork bag is meant to celebrate the history of the company. (By Mike Appleton -- Bloomberg News)

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By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Forget your Coach purse. Put away your Kate Spade. Even Hermes's famous Birkin bag seems positively discount.

The Louis Vuitton Tribute Patchwork is this summer's ultimate status bag, ringing in at $52,500. And it is arriving in Washington by the end of the season, ordered by a woman whose circumstances and identity the company has ever so politely (again and again) declined to disclose.

"We find the customer there is a very sophisticated client," said Brigid Andrews, Northeast regional vice president for Louis Vuitton. "When there's something that is this special, I'm really not surprised that we had a client who wanted it for her own collection."

The company made the bag that special not only by price tag and design -- 14 LV bags were cut up and sewn together to make it -- but also by offering only five for sale in North America and 24 worldwide.

R&B superstar Beyonce Knowles got one. The other four? Their names have not been revealed.

The bag, says Milton Pedraza, chief executive of market-research firm the Luxury Institute, is a lesson in creating cachet. What, after all, is a luxury retailer to do when even suburban high school students are wearing sunglasses with Chanel's interlocking Cs and toting purses plastered with the LV logo, both real and fake?

The ultrawealthy -- those with net worth of at least $10 million -- are demanding products and services that set them apart from those who are merely wealthy, he said. Retailers are obliging by creating increasingly expensive merchandise and limiting production. And the actual product often seems less important than how many people have it.

"If my Louis Vuitton, which I'm paying a few thousand for, everyone has one, what do I get?" Pedraza said. "How do I get that exclusivity that I long for?"

To achieve that, darling, you had to pre-order the Tribute Patchwork bag months ago. Louis Vuitton boutiques in New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Chevy Chase got the call. Delivery began discreetly in July, with the bags arriving in a clear, Plexiglas trunk covered with the LV logo.

It was publicly photographed on Knowles's arm last month. Purse bloggers (yes, they do exist) also reported spotting the singer toting the bag while wearing a satin shirt, shorts and sky-high stilettos as she left a taping of MTV's "TRL."

The Tribute Patchwork is Louis Vuitton's most expensive and exclusive bag to date. Though Washington has long bemoaned its second-class status when it comes to fashion, Louis Vuitton's president for North America, Daniel Lalonde, said the market has shown an exceptional "appetite for show bags."

The Tribute Patchwork is handmade at a workshop in France and is made up of pieces of 14 Louis Vuitton handbags, including the monogram denim from spring 2005, the Lady Steamer with Alligator from fall 2006, the Cuir Tresse from spring 2007 and the Talentueux Suhali from spring 2003. Andrews said Louis Vuitton's creative director, Marc Jacobs, designed the Tribute Patchwork "as a celebration of the history of Louis Vuitton."

Some fashion followers, however, feel that history should not be sliced, diced and rearranged into one purse.

"Limited-edition handbags give us purse fanatics something to drool over, to lust after, to want," said Meaghan Mahoney of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who writes the Purse Blog. "But there comes a time when no matter how limited something is, no matter how much fuss goes behind it . . . the product just plain old sucks."

Still, Mahoney said she would relish the opportunity to see the Tribute Patchwork with her own eyes.

"At least that way, those who are lucky enough to see the handbag in person will gain instant bragging rights," she said. "After all, the bag is not much more than bragging material by itself."

The Tribute Patchwork bag is not the most expensive ever created. In 2005, auction house Doyle New York sold a black crocodile Hermes Birkin customized with a clasp and lock featuring 14 carats of pave diamonds set in white gold for $64,800.

Not to be outdone, Chanel will launch a bag in December made of white alligator skin and diamonds. The iconic double-C clasp will be studded with 334 of the jewels, or about 3.56 carats. The chain strap will be made of white gold trimmed with more alligator skin. Only 13 will be available worldwide.

Price: $260,150.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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