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In a recent interview with Entertainment Tonight, Oprah Winfrey recounted an incident in an upscale Zurich boutique that she deemed racist.
Winfrey says that when she asked to see a $38,oo0 handbag, the sales associate told her it was too expensive.
The accusation started a media frenzy and led the shop owner, as well as Swiss tourism officials, to make public apologies.
Winfrey has since said, “I’m really sorry that it got blown up.”
News of the incident has led some people to wonder, why did this bag cost as much mid range luxury sedan?
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. By now you've heard about Oprah Winfrey's handbag fiasco in Switzerland. She went into a boutique in Zurich and asked to see a $38,000 bag. She says the clerk thought it was too expensive for her. There have been accusations of racism and Oprah herself now says she's sorry. The whole thing has blown up. But what about that $38,000 bag? Nicole Phelps is executive editor at Style.com, and she's with us from New York. Nicole, thanks for joining us.
NICOLE PHELPS: Thank you very much.
HOBSON: So let's leave Oprah out of this. Who buys a $38,000 bag?
PHELPS: The super rich, high net worth individuals. I think that more and more you're seeing these kinds of bags sell in the Far East, in the Middle East. The markets are really hungry for that kind of good there.
HOBSON: And apparently in Switzerland. And in the case of Oprah, it was a crocodile skin bag. Is that what drives the price up, is the material that's being used?
PHELPS: There's two stories. I think that regular leather bags have become more and more expensive over the last 10 years or so, but crocodile bags in particular often drive prices up into the five figures. It's a rare commodity. And depending on how you use it, it can be more expensive. For example, small pieces of crocodile scrap make the price less. The larger the scale, the more expensive the bag. If you use the center of the animal, the scales are larger there, and that drives up the price as well.
HOBSON: And I'm sure as listeners here you say that, there are a lot of them who think why is anybody buying these bags anyway. There are big questions about animal treatment here. But I'm going to leave that aside for now and ask you about this country. What about in this country, what kind of bags are people buying, these high-end bags, and how much do they cost?
PHELPS: More often designer handbags are in the low four figures with entry-level prices in between one and two thousand dollars.
HOBSON: Which is still a lot, for a lot of people.
PHELPS: For sure. There were jokes about not having to spend your whole paycheck or, you know, skipping rent for a month to buy a bag. But now a handbag does cost about as much as monthly rent in New York City.
HOBSON: Huh. And the names that we're thinking of, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Gucci, Prada - are those the big brands that people are going after? Chanel?
PHELPS: Certainly. Chanel and Hermes, I would say, are the top of the line, and those are the bags that probably cost more than the Pradas and the Celines and the Louis Vuittons of the world. But what's interesting is that once upon a time Chanel and Hermes were sort of the top, and now you see other labels sort of creeping up into the high four figures too.
HOBSON: Now, the University of Minnesota did a study about this and found that one reason that women like to buy these handbags, which are often very big, is because they want to use them to tell others to stay away from my man. They - the handbags can act as a shield, this study says. They're calling it the power of the purse. Is that part of this?
PHELPS: Well, certainly there's an element of prestige to carry a designer handbag, and I think just as people like to say a man's shoes tell you a lot about a man, a woman's handbag translates, you know, how big her bank account is, what kind of job she has, where she lives.
HOBSON: But what about the idea of using it as protection? If a very petite woman is holding a bag that is half her size, is that part of the story?
PHELPS: They have - they're quite heavy, yes.
PHELPS: Handbags tend to be quite heavy. So I imagine they would make a good weapon if need arose.
HOBSON: Nicole, do you have one of these?
PHELPS: I have a few.
HOBSON: A few. Is that typical?
PHELPS: Well, among fashion editors, we do develop fetishes.
I think everybody wants the latest it-bag.
HOBSON: Nicole Phelps is the executive director of Style.com. Nicole, thank you so much.
PHELPS: Thank you.
HOBSON: And listeners, if you've got one of these bags or maybe even a few, let us know, hereandnow.org, Facebook.com/hereandnowradio. Still ahead, we'll look at the little known illness that mimics dementia, but unlike Alzheimer's, it's curable. Stick around for that. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.