“A Handbag?!”

Mr Worthing was found in one, the Iron Lady used one as a weapon and girls used to dance around them at discos. Today they are full of money.

As the outlook of the luxury goods sector has become more uncertain and even jeweller to the stars Tiffany & Co has announced a decline in its growth and a profits warning, British niche leather goods brands, selling handbags and the like, seem to be doing rather well. What is it about British handbags?

On 8 December, I was blogging about Mulberry’s success – “Mulberry Trebles Profits”. Now, Anya Hindmarch, the luxury leather accessories group, has announced more than double pre-tax profits in 2010. Despite that, the company says that it is rethinking its international expansion strategy as even this sector enters harder times; though the double-digit growth forecast for 2011 doesn’t sound too bad to me.

To my mind these companies sell nostalgic exclusivity. A status-consciousness wonderfully epitomised by Lady Bracknell, in Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance Of Being Ernest; whose famous exclamation put the British handbag firmly on the world’s cultural map.

“The business is on a very sound platform for expansion, and our Britishness and quirkiness is absolutely fundamental to that,” said the new boss of Anya Hindmarch James McArthur.

As a brand, “British” is positioned in our illustrious past and these guys are leveraging that very well. They now even have the windfall benefit of Meryl Streep and The Iron Lady to help them raise the profile of the British handbag once again: although the former PM’s boxy, no-frills black Asprey (The British Standard Since 1781, apparently) became a symbol of ruthless conquest when worn on her arm. During her years at Number 10, underlings who incurred Lady Thatcher’s displeasure lived in fear of being “handbagged” – getting the sack.

While many of us clothe ourselves these days in Asian mass-produced garments, some can still afford haute couture, or Savile Row suits. There is even a Savile Row Bespoke Association to try to protect products custom-made to the client’s specification. Although the term “bespoke” seems to have moved on some. Anya Hindmarch has its own bespoke product range where you can personalise your handbag, with letters and words, a bit like the stick-on letters you some times get on lower priced products, but better and with pictures too.

Wouldn’t it be great if Harry Enfield got one, as a present for someone who might appreciate it, “bespoke” with “loads of money” emblazoned on a field of azure and gold?

Mark

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