Hermes vs. less pricey luxury brands for leather
March 6, 2011 11:56 AM   Subscribe

Is there any real way a Hermes leather bag is ‘better’ than your average Gucci/LV/Cartier/etc. bag? I mean once you’re in “Handmade in Europe by a company that’s been around since before 1930″ territory it’s all the same right? Trying to figure out whether to save up (a while!) for the big H or forget it and go for the others.

maybe it's an unanswerable question because all of these have inflated prices and trade on brand value so it's just about how far you're willing to play into that game..? but figured I'd check with the knowledgeable folk in here as part of my decision making process.
posted by the mad poster! to Shopping (27 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I believe of the brands you listed, Hermes is the only one that still hand-crafts bags. I have more experience with LV, and the quality (especially of the more popular styles like Speedies and Neverfulls) is not as stellar as the price would indicate. Besides, LV is mostly know for their canvas bags, not the leather (although I do love my Epi leather Speedy).

I did have an Hermes Lindy for awhile, but I was too paranoid to take it out in public, so recently I sold it to fund some (comparatively) cheaper bags.

I'd recommend you check out the Purse Forum for more info on high end designer bags.
posted by mesha steele at 12:03 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Or here. Mrs Jones tells me that the markup on handbags in general is phenomenally high, if that makes any difference to you. In the "do I really want to make Bernard Arnault types even richer?" kind of way.

On preview - what she said, see my purseforum link
posted by IndigoJones at 12:10 PM on March 6, 2011

Try Etsy. Less expensive, more exclusive, just as well made... your money is going to a craftsman and not a marketing empire, so there's that as well.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:19 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't think Etsy craftsmanship is going to come close to Hermes. But, rather than new, why not shop around for vintage? I think LV is Luxury Vinyl, but that's just me. Older Gucci is wonderful, but can be hard to find.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:34 PM on March 6, 2011

I fell for Longchamp's Le Pliage bags before concluding that I could buy several bags from Target for less than one Le Pliage. Then my husband bought me one. That guy. Anyway, I don't know anything about Hermes but shop around, see if there's something comparable that you could learn to love, try eBay, but at the end of the day, if you're still thinking about the Hermes bag, I'd go for it. YMMV.
posted by kat518 at 12:35 PM on March 6, 2011

Response by poster: I'm looking at (men's) messenger bags so the prices are definitely steeper than for the Speedy etc.. the other problem is that I've noticed a lot of these high end brands are really plain when it comes to men's bags and the ones that are in the $200-500 range tend to be a bit more aesthetically catchy in terms of colours or textures or just design.

The Gucci/LV people definitely told me it's handmade in Italy/France.. are they eliding the truth a bit?
posted by the mad poster! at 12:41 PM on March 6, 2011

I found a fossil leather mens messenger bag at their outlet store for $95 that has been used daily on my 2 hour train commute. It's outlasted occasional use of two LV messenger bags too, although those were canvas.
posted by msbutah at 12:44 PM on March 6, 2011

Having seen H bags in person, I do think they're worth the money in comparison to LV, Prada, etc. If you're not a hardcore bag collector, it may very well be the last bag you'll ever need to buy. If you live near a boutique, swing by and get a feel for the different leathers, styles and sizes, which will also give you an idea of how much you'll need to set aside.
posted by Anima Mundi at 12:44 PM on March 6, 2011

Response by poster: Yeah I'm not thinking of Etsy but, I did think of kinda figuring out the actual factories and people that make these things or have been doing it awhile in the country I'm in and seeing if there are ways of getting these from craftspeople directly rather than big retail chains.. I'm in no rush; I already have a couple messenger bags, it's just that my regular-use one is getting worn out/abraded
posted by the mad poster! at 12:48 PM on March 6, 2011

Response by poster: All these things have only recently become practically aspirational for me in terms of price so I guess I'm just figuring out the quality vs. price issues when it comes to these things in my head these days.
posted by the mad poster! at 12:52 PM on March 6, 2011

Best answer: As for the handmade question, I think some finishing bits may be done by hand, but the majority of the work on each LV bag is done by machine (except for certain limited edition lines, or special collections like Mon Monogram). For a basic men's messenger bag, I think it would probably be machine made, although still be labeled made in France, Italy, or Spain. As I mentioned earlier, I'm not too familiar with Gucci.

Unfortunately, I don't have any specific sources to back this up, just info gleaned from the Purse Forum a few years back when I got bitten by the designer handbag bug. You should check out the subforums for Hermes, LV, Gucci, and any other brands you're interested in for more info, as the people there are really into these bags and are probably more familiar with the craftmanship than AskMe users are.
posted by mesha steele at 1:00 PM on March 6, 2011

Best answer: You might find this article interesting:

"Inside Hermès’s soaring, light-filled atelier in the Pantin suburb of Paris, workers take fine cuts of leather, alligator and python skins and transform them with meticulous detail, waxing threads and buffing hides with an agate stone into subtle matte finishes or high, lustrous shines. Many of the employees have worked here for decades.
A single Birkin bag, named after the actress Jane Birkin, can take 15 to 23 hours to make, and cost 3,500 to more than 40,000 euros.

These traditions stretch back to 1837, when Thierry Hermès began making leather harnesses in his workshop near Le Madeleine in Paris. (...)

Family members recoil as they recall an LVMH official’s suggestion that Hermès bolster sales by creating a line of lower-priced bags.
“It’s exactly what you shouldn’t do,” Mr. Dumas says. “Because you will make a cheap Hermès bag which will sell like hotcakes for three years, and after three years people will say, ‘Hermès is not what it used to be.’ ”
posted by iviken at 1:04 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Try Etsy. Less expensive, more exclusive, just as well made... your money is going to a craftsman and not a marketing empire, so there's that as well.

i'm sorry but, while i can understand your point here, there really is no comparison between the craftsmanship of an hermès and something from etsy.

that said, i find hermès to be better crafted than LV, prada, etc, for the money. and as mesha steele stated, i think i also read something about the fact that they are the last of that breed still crafting the bags entirely by hand rather than only some parts of the bag (thus why many of the other brands can still call their bags "handmade" despite the fact that the majority of the bag is in fact machine made). a good book to read about the luxury goods market is this one—i found it enlightening so perhaps it might help you make a decision about whether it's a worthwhile investment for you.
posted by violetk at 1:09 PM on March 6, 2011

Best answer: My friend is a master leather craftsman at Hermes. He's worked there his whole career. He's the guy they call on when Eric Clapton wants a bespoke guitar case made in crocodile leather. He also runs their archive. He lives and breathes leather, to the point that in his house he has 5 - I'm not kidding - workshops, one of which has a machine that weighs about a ton. He also, bizarrely built a whole new apartment made of vintage Normandy oak beams on top of his existing house, but that's another story]

In short: they really, really care about leather. When any of our friends go round, you'll find him spending unhealthy amounts of time looking at the stitching and the grain of their bags. He is invariably, politely, dismissive. I should add that they our friends don't rock up with Gucci or Louis Vuitton, but stuff like Mulberry isn't in the same ballpark.

I don't know for fact that the other top end brands aren't as well made, but I can tell you that for all the high mark ups, Hermes are very particular about their craftmanship. My friend has a few Hermes "seconds" and when I asked him to show me why they didn't make the grade he pointed out some tiny, insignificant detail I'd never have normally seen.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:12 PM on March 6, 2011 [26 favorites]

Response by poster: thx for the answers so far everyone I find them really informative.

as the people there are really into these bags and are probably more familiar with the craftmanship than AskMe users are.

yeah that site definitely comes up a lot when I google my concerns so it's useful to know that that's pretty much *the* place. I mean I'm a bit circumspect about having PURSEBLOG.COM in my address bar as a regular haunting place but oh well I'll just get over it :)
posted by the mad poster! at 1:13 PM on March 6, 2011

Best answer: Messenger bag is a pretty generic term so I don't know exactly what you're looking for but I own 12 different bags made by two companies: Saddleback (uses leather) and Freitag (uses canvas); Freitag also has what they call their Reference Line.

Both companies make hand-made articles and I can recommend them without reservation. I have little doubt the Saddlebacks will outlast me and that the Freitags, though they won't last quite as long, are very durable. I carry a Freitag with me at all times and use my Saddlebacks when I travel.
posted by dobbs at 1:30 PM on March 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

If you're interested in this issue, I highly recommend the book Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster.
posted by Ian A.T. at 2:05 PM on March 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

Yep, dobbs has it. If utility and durability is what you're really after, none of those designer names can come close to the real world usability provided by a company such as Saddleback.

When it comes to leather, companies such as LV etc. exist simply to extract a tax from those with more money than sense. When last discussing leather here, I pointed out that I have leather motorcycle bags that are 5 years old which are as good as new. I paid $300 Canadian for the pair. These bags will outlast me.

Now, think for a minute about the abuse these bags take. Draped over the rear wheel, down low to the ground, at the back of a vehicle that often travels more than 100 mph. All the water, grit, salt, chain oil, broken glass, etc. of the highway literally gets blasted into these bags, constantly. Yet a quick wipe-down brings them back to show-room condition. There is no reason on earth to support marketing empires with their vastly inflated prices when quality goods-manufacturers such as Saddleback exist. You can spend $1000 on a bag, but you don't need to; and 1/2 that will get you something of vastly superior over-all quality.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 2:23 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: PareidoliaticBoy I remember your story (thanks for your response again) but I think there may be subtleties involved here. Like my leather shoes definitely need some moisture and need to be stretched out with shoe trees occasionally or they just dry up and get tight so I think the type of leather in question is quite relevant. My messenger bag is structurally firm but it has a croc pattern that's abrading.. that kinda thing.
posted by the mad poster! at 2:48 PM on March 6, 2011

Your question immediately made me want to suggest one of those bag rental groups like Bag, Borrow, or Steal, but I think they might be limited to purses. I looked at this one briefly, and while they do offer Hermes, they do not offer anything by way of men's fashion. Maybe with some creative searching, you can find a similar service that does carry messenger bags.

Unless I'm mistaken, I think the idea is it's like Netflix for designer accessories. You pay a fee, select a bag, and rent it for as long as you'd like. If there is one with the kind of bag you're looking for, it seems like a nice way to do a test run. That said, I've never used one of these services, and I have no idea how much it costs.
posted by juliplease at 2:49 PM on March 6, 2011

Best answer: Oh, shoes are a different thing entirely, for sure. For one thing, we are dealing with vastly thinner hide, along with other materials and adhesion requirements, along with a different set of stressors. I only get about 4-5 years from my boots, as an example. But this is a bag that we're talking about here. I 'll suggest that you might want to read this page on Saddleback's site.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 3:03 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Adding onto what PareidoliaticBoy said about his saddlebags... Freitag bags are made from Tarps that hang on the side of trucks that live on the highways suffering the elements 24/7. Not only are the durable, they're very environmentally friendly because they're reusing materials.
posted by dobbs at 4:27 PM on March 6, 2011

In the fashion industry the "made in ..." label is put on by the last country to finish the product. For example, a bag could have the canvass cut and printed in China, shipped to Taiwan where the bag is sewn together, shipped to India where the hardware is installed, and then shipped to Italy where they put together the straps and sew on the "made in Italy" label. I'm not saying I know that's how these bags are made, but it wouldn't surprise me. That's just how things work in the fashion world.
posted by comatose at 10:48 PM on March 6, 2011

Response by poster: yeah. Alright here's my conclusion! For luxury = Hermes. For build quality = lower-priced companies or makers work just fine, especially those who seem to care about their stuff. Skip the brands in between unless you particularly like a particular item of theirs for its own characteristics. And finally sophisticatedly navigating the issues of worth vs. value will take more experience and research but price is a bad indicator.
posted by the mad poster! at 7:02 AM on March 7, 2011

I know this is an old thread but I just wanted to say the following:

There is a price point at which you are buying top quality, and spending more money is more or less like splitting hairs of angels. My mother used an LV bag daily and it held up with absolutely no care at all for 25 years. That bag hauled manuscripts, was used as carry on luggage, was dragged around by kids, and was generally rode hard and put away wet every single day for decades.

A Hermes bag is going to cost three times as much and I'm not convinced that with the same wear it will last 75 years. I mean I get the exclusive thing and by all means if you prefer the design or just want one, it's a fine choice, but I don't think you're particularly buying durability for the money.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:04 AM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: yeah in terms of what I was looking at, the Hermes is $9k, the Gucci is $3.3k (the one that kinda appeals to me) and the LV is $1.7k (the boring Cartiers were $2.2k). I think for now I'll wait it out, and buy the $350 bag I have my eye on from a maker that makes my fav. shoes too and that I like the aesthetics of. I guess in the end, considering I'm not buying industrial equipment, whether I really 'like' it as an individual item has to be a strong factor.
posted by the mad poster! at 7:14 AM on March 7, 2011

You might also look at Delvaux (Belgian, hand made, less known than Hermès, Belgian fashion designer Véronique Branquinho as artistic director).
posted by NekulturnY at 11:28 AM on March 7, 2011

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