Goodness, have you been to Bond Street?’ sighed my neighbour the other day, as she caught me whisking by clutching an array of designer carrier bags from Lanvin, Cartier, Chloe and Celine.
‘No, the Co-op,’ I beamed, for my ‘stiffies’ — those beauteous, be-ribboned paper holdalls — contained not new outfits and horrendously expensive heels, but dog food and bin liners.
Her face fell. But, come on, admit it, I’m far from the only woman to treasure my stash of ritzy carrier bags and wheel them out time and time again to lend a little lustre to the everyday.
And here’s the evidence: for there is a new trend in the re-sale market — now, it’s not just about second-hand Hermès Birkins and Dior Saddle Bags, but the packaging they are sold in too, with paper bags and empty boxes from brands such as Louis Vuitton and Chanel selling for hundreds of pounds online.
Hannah Betts, who lives in South London, explained why she uses a designer carrier bag for her supermarket shopping
According to research by the price comparison website money.co.uk, analysis of eBay reveals that empty watch boxes are the most valuable bits of packaging bling (Rolex’s going for £160), followed by designer shoe boxes (even mere Nike’s average £55), paper bags and jewellery cases.
Those iconic black-and-white Chanel carriers are hotly coveted: a collection of 17 recently sold for £265. While pale orange (sorry, ‘Imperial Yellow’) boxes from Louis Vuitton and duck- egg blue Tiffany incarnations sell for average prices of £74 and £51 respectively.
Recently, a single 22cm-wide Louis Vuitton paper carrier went for £32! While even empty candle jars and scent bottles hold value, going at 50 quid a pop if they’re by Diptyque, Dior or Saint Laurent.
On the Gen Z social media hangout TikTok, eco-conscious teenagers have boasted about transforming these branded accessories into art works.
But, let’s be frank, the real reason for their popularity is the pose value.
The market is being driven by young Instagrammers keen to emulate the lives — and, specifically, the designer-strewn, walk-in wardrobes — of stars such as Kylie Jenner, who has appeared on Instagram surrounded by Louis Vuitton carriers.
Or one thinks of those 2.2 million #unboxing videos, in which a terrifyingly taloned influencer unwraps her latest designer haul. The logic is: avail yourself of the right props and you too can look like an Insta-winner, without the cash.
This means I’m sitting on a goldmine, if I cared to part with my trophy bags and boxes, which I very much don’t.
Hannah said she has amassed a treasure chest of luxury packaging, because she has cherished every gift and every swish purchase, while squeezing every last bit of pleasure out of it. Pictured: Shoppers on New Bond Street
For I have amassed a treasure chest of pristine luxury packaging, carefully moved with me everywhere I have ever lived.
I even keep the keys to my South London flat on a length of ten-year-old, utterly exquisite Chanel ribbon, all the better to fish them out of my (sadly non-Chanel) bag.
It’s not that I am loaded — far from it, I only acquired a mortgage aged 47. It is merely that I have cherished every gift, every swish purchase, squeezing every last bit of pleasure out of it that I could.
Perfume flacons and candle jars have become vases, shoe boxes are kept to house photographs, bags deployed to add a certain glamour when a Tesco version just won’t cut the mustard.
I once toppled off a bus near my home, so busy was I preserving the life of the ancient, already vintage, ruby Roger Vivier carriers I had clutched in each hand for a trip to Claridge’s, having to crowd surf the waiting queue until upright again.
Alternatively, I will reuse posh packaging when presenting friends with gifts, generating a certain disappointment when the offering inside is not a Prada handbag or Gucci loafer, as happened at a poor pal’s 50th. (She was lucky. At least, I didn’t ask for my stiffies back.)
People may mock those of us who cling to such fripperies, but there are many good reasons for our addiction to affectation.
For a start, my passion is about a love of striking design, be it Louboutin scarlet (to match its soles), or Liberty purple. It’s the same reason I used to buy up M&S’s carriers back when they did ones covered in strawberries or lemons. They are beautiful and beauty is never not a good thing.
Hannah said she also reuses posh packaging when presenting friends with gifts, generating a certain disappointment when the offering inside is not a Prada handbag
But, let’s get real here, my packaging passion is also to raise my sartorial game — to get Chanel chic on a Zara budget.
I’d never brandish a fake. Counterfeiting is illegal, said to fund drug dealing and other varieties of organised crime. It is no less immoral, an affront to the creativity of the designers I admire. But faking that uber-luxe shopped-till-I-dropped look? Bring it on!
For sure, there’s a slightly Hyacinth Bucket aspect to my upscale arm candy, smacking of aspiration and what might once have been known as being ‘all fur coat and no knickers’.
My posh-boy boyfriend certainly finds it, and me, ridiculous. If I had been born a rich Parisian rather than a state-school girl from Brum, then doubtless I would be too insouciant to bother. I would simply toss my unbrushed hair and transport my belongings in a wicker basket.
However, those of us who can only afford a wicker basket tend to dream of greater things. Doubtless, it reveals the lack of savoir faire exposed back in my 20s when I famously pronounced ‘Gucci’ with hard cs to collective mirth.
After 23 years writing about fashion, I still have to remind myself how to say ‘Loewe’ (‘loh-wev-eh’) and ‘Moschino’ (‘mos-key-no’). And that’s exactly the way these brands want it — luxury is never not about sorting the sheep from the goats; small wonder we goats want more.
However, it is no less a case of great British pride: of making do and scrubbing up well, even when faced with a distinctly un-swanky bank balance.
I think of Joan, my beloved, working-class grandmother, who taught herself to tailor and was always impeccably turned out.
Hannah said she once stalked an Anya Hindmarch tote online for eight years until she could afford to make it hers. Pictured: Louis Vuitton carrier bags
As keen a frequenter of Birmingham’s Rag Market, as she was its Jewellery Quarter, Joan was known to barter even in M&S.
Given these skills, she achieved couture looks on a Cadbury’s factory worker pay packet, from her wartime heyday to her death at 92.
So it was the pride of my young life when I could afford to buy Joan scent and scarves from (Audrey Hepburn’s) Givenchy — the little luxuries she’d hankered after, but had never been able to afford. And, when she died, we discovered the packaging, carefully hoarded for its happy memories.
In this light, I’m not ashamed of my tricks, such as investing in second-hand treasures via Lincolnshire’s Arch Label Agency, or online at Vestiaire Collective, Hewi, and eBay.
I won’t be buying up paper bags, but I did once stalk an Anya Hindmarch tote online for eight years until I could afford to make it mine. I will continue to seek out vintage high-end heels for less than new LK Bennett ones; and add designer brooches to High-Street or charity- shop finds.
Witness the friend who snipped the Chanel camellia off a carrier bag she had been given and sported it as a corsage. (She can’t be the only one — they too can be purchased online.)
And why not? It’s as cheering as buying up fabulous Florentine soap for £2 a bar at TK Maxx, or wearing cheap-as-chips eye pencil with expensive base — the sort of savviness a (thriftily) luxurious life is made of.
People may scoff, but the last laugh will be my own — of joy.