Life & Culture

Affordable arm candy


If you are the accessories editor of In-Style or Vogue, or the handbag buyer for Browns or Net-a-Porter, you will, I concede, be instantly able to identify every "It" bag on the planet - from an Anya Hindmarch to a Zagliani, and everything in between.

For the rest of us, however, the proliferation of "It" bags over the last decade has made it impossible to know whether that glossy, tan baby hooked on the arm of the very stylish woman in Miller Harris in Bruton Street cost the same as a small Korean-made car or merely a couple of hundred quid in Reiss (or even less in River Island or Zara).

Which is really good news because, with the price of designer bags having now reached totally bonkers levels, there is a need for most of us in the real world (especially those of us who are not celebs being "gifted" the latest designer bag so that we can be photographed carrying it), to find stylish, beautiful alternatives that do not instantly announce themselves as cheap copies.

If you haven't noticed how prices have gone skyward, let me remind you: while a hefty £650 bagged you 2007's hottest piece of arm candy, the going rate in 2011 is a ruinous £1,500 to £2,000, with even diffusion (i.e. designers' "cheaper") ranges now hitting the £600 mark

However, the arrival of the latest handbag trend, the beautifully crafted, but understated bag, carrying no visible logos or hardware has made it even more difficult for anyone (other than the previously mentioned accessories editors/buyers) to tell whether the bag is a hot designer baby or merely hot.

If you want superb quality leather and strong design without the need for a second mortgage, Desa, the family-owned Turkish brand which has been making for top Italian and French designers for more than 30 years, now sells under its own label, with beautifully slouchy hobos as well as more structured bags, all under £400.

Modalu, the UK bag firm which has been basking in the Pippa Effect after Ms Middleton was papped carrying one of their bags, is another label to look for when you want style without splurging. They use fine quality leathers, and while I would cross the road to avoid its recently renamed Pippa Collection (way too reminiscent of "organiser" bags seen in the back of the Saturday supplements), their Artemis grab bag, Paulette leather tote, Kelly-style Skipton, city-slick Chelsea and endlessly stylish grab bag, Mimosa, are strong on desirability and low on lucre (mostly under £200).

Jaeger and Reiss, too, are both reliable hunting grounds for pricey looking bags, mainly at under £300, while for those who wish to save the planet, the elegant bags from Tamara Fogle, gorgeously crafted from recycled leather and vintage fabrics, are on-the-money trend-wise, with a big dollop of stylishness. LK Bennett also has desirable bags, mainly under £350, including beautiful frame bags, which tick the current "retro mood" box.

Mulberry's low-key Carter also has a retro feel but is delectably ladylike and timeless, as it should be for £995.

For stylish arm candy under £100 try Zara, which has a superb tan tote bag at £75; River Island with a tan and animal print leather tote that punches well above its £50 price tag; and Topshop, with slick tan leather grab bags and elegant clutches.

Finally, as the economy stands on the precipice, JC Fashion gives its inaugural "Let them eat cake" award to Christian Louboutin who, in the spirit of helping us through the recession, has produced the "Sybil", a reversible tote, with tan/black ombre leather on one side and leopard-print calf hair on the other, at just £895. Sadly, it's so gorgeous we want it, despite the irony...

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