Downtime

Chasing Chanel

Why I keep searching for the perfect handbag that I’ll never actually buy.

Periwinkle Chanel handbags.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Chanel.

I’m disgusted that it’s come to this: I have 18 Chrome tabs open on my laptop. But these aren’t aiding my background research for a short story or offering insight into which long-term savings account would best suit my needs. No, this browser glut is all in service of finding the perfect Chanel handbag—an item that, incidentally, I won’t be able to afford and will never, ever actually buy.

My Chanel-chasing habit—investigating new and pre-loved options, the array of fabrics to choose from, and what I’d wear with them—induces a combination of dreamy aspiration and deep self-loathing. Instead of doing what I’m supposed to be doing, I’m deliberating on what color calfskin would most enhance my secondhand wardrobe and increasingly reclusive lifestyle. And I lack the resolve to stop.

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Extravagant wealth is gross and morally suspect. The entire point of carrying a Chanel bag is to demonstrate you have the money to buy a Chanel bag, and that is despicable. To me, owning luxury goods indicates a vulgar adherence to consumerism and an absence of imagination. It’s solid proof that we’re doomed as a species. I always considered myself better than that. The only reason I ever wanted more money was to shop for healthier, more responsibly sourced groceries at Whole Foods. I’d be the kind of person, who, if they became a millionaire, would give generously to charity and wear a baseball cap and filthy Birkenstock sandals to restaurants; maybe I’d drive a Prius.

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But, it seems, I am very much not better than that.

I blame my predicament on Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks, where Rashida Jones plays a well-born writer who pairs the classic quilted Chanel bag in black with a slouchy denim shirt and canvas tote—my own uniform. When I watched it over the Christmas holiday, I thought, “Yes. That could be me.”

But it couldn’t. That version, priced at $6,200, costs five times more than my car is worth. I come from a long line of proud bargain hunters—everything in my closet was bought at South Florida thrift stores or at a steep discount. I own exactly zero designer pieces. In a rare lapse of financial prudence a decade ago, I bought a $300 Kenneth Cole hobo purse only to give it away, because all I carry around is a grubby, mustard-yellow backpack.

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I have now started pining for the disposable income that accompanies success in a way I hadn’t before. If I published a novel, I could buy the bag outright with the advance, even if I had nothing left over. And would spending half a year’s mortgage payments on an accessory make me feel like I’ve arrived? I wonder if I’d experience a rush of endorphins every time I ran my fingers over those two interlocking, iconic C’s—would it be the same as stroking the head of your newborn child?

People I love would judge me harshly if I dropped that much money on a bag. My 12-year-old stepdaughter, when I mentioned this newfound need to her, scoffed and said, “Don’t be stupid, Jen.” I fear my mother’s urn on our bookshelf would start shaking. I envision my friends squealing for me in the first breath and reevaluating my sanity in the second. But I don’t even care.

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This frenzied exploration has taken me to some unexpected places: How much would the bag cost if I bought it back home in the States (I currently live in Cardiff, Wales) with my British credit card (4,800 pounds, a savings of 700 pound)? Could I ditch my day job and find a role at Chanel to secure a discount? I even scoured Glassdoor to find out what it’s like to work there (3.9 stars out of 5—permissible).

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I’m now also aware of the signs of a counterfeit: Fewer than 11 stitches per side of a quilted diamond; wonky overlapping C’s in the logo; serial stickers with more than eight digits. So, hoping to land a pre-loved version, I’ve added the Depop app to my phone’s home screen. I recently messaged the seller of a mini Chanel flap bag to ask if the shoulder strap described would indeed stretch across the body. I have become a time waster, the dreaded and despised of online sellers everywhere.

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After a morning of purse research last Monday, I walked to the corner store and bought a pack of cilantro and three scratch-off lottery tickets. I promised my boyfriend that, if I struck it big, I’d put the winnings toward paying off our mortgage, but I was lying. The first thing I’d do is book a train ticket to London, leading me onto my next recurring fantasy: bounding into the Chanel store in Belgravia, wielding my credit card.

“The way we look, we’d be escorted off the premises immediately,” my boyfriend told me.

“I would, of course, dress up for the occasion. It’d be the Pretty Woman shopping experience I always dreamed of, but without the obligatory sex with a stranger,” I said. “Stop trying to kill my spirit.”

Luckily the scratch-offs yielded a prize worth $2.75, so my shallow consumerist nature wasn’t exposed. And it probably never will be. Still, the dream is that one day I’ll find a Chanel bag in a Fort Lauderdale Goodwill, satisfying both urges, then—the thrill of the chase and owning a treasured heirloom piece I can eventually pass on to my stepdaughter, even if she hates it and regards me as an imbecile for even considering it in the first place.

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