Because I don’t pay much attention to fashion, I didn’t know who Tomas Maier was until the other day when, thumbing through an August edition of Vogue magazine, I learned he had designed a velvet-on-python satchel (read great big handbag) for Bottega Veneta.
Mr. Maier, it turns out, is the creative director of the company, a high-end clothing and accessories purveyor best known for the “luxurious sensuality of leather,” at least according to New York magazine. He has been experimenting with new interpretations of the company’s “intrecciato” pattern, which Vogue described as the label’s “signature weaving technique.”
Vogue also said it can take an artisan three years to learn how to properly do intrecciato. No wonder the satchel, made by aligning the python’s scales precisely on the velvet to create a “continuous serpentine pattern,” costs $3,450. The text trumpets that the handbag reaches “painstaking new levels of opulence.”
Snake and crocodile are all the rage this year, with crocodile out-pricing snakeskin, as far as I could tell by perusing a number of Web sites of notably spendy stores. The most expensive bag I came across was made for Tiffany’s in South Africa of glazed crocodile skin: It had a 24K gold-plated brass fastening and a price tag of $17,500. Elsewhere, a crocodile clutch (a small, hand-held purse, for you gentlemen readers out there) was $5,810. For the most part, however, if you’re in the market for a chic leather bag for Christmas, expect prices to begin just under $300 and hover in the $1,000 range.
The modest commercial building at the southeast intersection of Sayre’s Path and the Montauk Highway in Wainscott bore Tomas Maier’s name until recently, although the property now has an “in contract” real estate sign. Until the boutique closed, I hadn’t actually noticed that a Tomas Maier shop had opened there in the summer of 2010. Who knows what goods I missed, and at what prices? I’m told Mr. Maier is also a designer of sexy swimwear for both men and women, and I guess that’s what was being sold to the summer crowd. (Clearly I haven’t been in the market for a $395 twist-tie bikini.)
That handbags have joined watches and jewelry in displaying status and wealth is old news. I know it’s a pipe dream, but I still keep wondering when I see an adornment that costs in the five figures — when equally stylish inexpensive alternatives are available — why no humanistic government has yet evolved that would get up the gumption to impose a hefty luxury tax on these decorative items for body building — a sort of Robin Hood tax that could come into play. So you want to buy a $17,000 handbag? How about an extra $1,000 for underprivileged kids’ school lunches?
My husband and I recently went to the new Islamic rooms at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where extraordinary tiles, rugs, and gold jewelry, among other treasures of an earlier age, are on display. I am glad, and amazed, that such lavish and beautiful items exist. The question is, at what human cost?
The best I can do to frame such wild luxuries in a positive light is to think back to Reaganomics, the trickle-down economics theory. Surely someone in South Africa raised or captured that python, right? Someone tanned the leather, someone shaped it, someone designed what it was to become, someone executed the design, someone marketed the product, and someone offered it for sale. . . ? Perhaps Ms. Warbucks is justified in thinking the outrageously expensive bauble she wants for Christmas has done mankind some good? She might very well think so, but I am not so sure.