90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Wednesday, August 14, 2013

How A Handbag Can Cost $38,000

The Tom Ford "Jennifer" bag retails for around $3,000. (neimanmarcus.com)

The Tom Ford “Jennifer” bag retails for around $3,000. (neimanmarcus.com)

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?




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.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Annie

    I act scornful when I here of these super expensive bags (that’s the same price as a year at college), but really I’m jealous. I’m still in college and can’t afford a bag like that, but I would like one. I think the study that you cited is interesting because I find I’m sometimes intimidated by other woman with really nice handbags or shoes.

  • cyn

    A fool and their money is soon parted.l

  • Rick Evans

    Asking why a handbag can cost $38,000 is as logical as asking why someone would spend $1000 for $10 Teletubbies.

  • downthemiddle

    Who can afford a $38,000 bag?? White or Black, the person behind the counter might have been suspicious.. Oprah looks like a bitch, spending that kind of money on a bag probably made by a kid in a factory..

  • not bob

    I wish they would have shown the picture of the $ 38,000 bag. The $3000 one pictured is ugly. Buy a bag you will want to pull out and use for years, that is the only way the price is worth it. Don’t buy the it-bag and risk not being able to pay rent! A $20-40 trendy bag is great for a season and you don’t feel bad about tossing it when it goes out of style. Build a savings not a closet ladies!

  • gordon_wagner

    So, the 1% spends their riches on handbags? What a freaking waste. This is obscene and then some. Capitalism at its finest.

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

September 15 25 Comments

A Call To Reject Corporal Punishment As Part Of Black Culture

An incident of child abuse by an NFL player has raised questions about the use of corporal punishment as a form of discipline in the African-American community.

September 15 26 Comments

Would You Pay To Get Your Kid Into A Top College?

A San Francisco company charges parents for a consulting package based on the odds their student will get into a certain university, with prices up to a million dollars.

September 12 9 Comments

Senator: Arab Countries ‘Need To Step To The Plate’ In Fight Against ISIS

Mark Begich (D-AK) is one of the few members of Congress speaking out against a key part of President Obama's plan for fighting the Islamic State.

September 12 Comment

Ecuadorian Drilling Damage Inspires Documentary

An American and an Ecuadorian are inspired to help Ecuador heal from decades of drilling and oil spills.