With so many handbags available at just every every store around, how can you tell the real thing from a knock-off? And is a four-figure bag really worth the price?
With ExhibitItalia, a "Made in Italy" exhibition featuring more than 100 Italian companies and manufacturers in Houston this weekend, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to ask handbag importers and designers to tell us what they look for when looking for a handbag.
What are you going to use it for?
"A customer with a strong personality knows well which is the right bag for any occasion," De Rosis says. "The handbag should convey the mood and the spirit of the moment. My ideal customer is a woman who desires style and fashion that complement her personality and doesn't need to just carry a label. She is a person with a strong personality who chooses to wear a piece of 'art fashion' to underline her good taste."
"Try this: remove the brand and logos from a purse and guess who made it. You may be surprised at the result," De Rosis says.
De Rosis says the brand logo on her handbags is less prominent because a bag should be noticed for its style, not brand. "Try this: remove the brand and logos from a purse and guess who made it. You may be surprised at the result," she says.
Where is it made?
Look at the label closely. Many bag manufacturers — and even some top designers — ship parts of a handbag made elsewhere to Italy to add on a final strap or tag and then call it, "Made in Italy." To be sure that the entire bag was in fact made there, make sure the tag says, "100% Made in Italy," Corsetti says.
Check the leather
In a leather bag the first thing to check is, obviously, the leather. "You should check the patches that compose the bag. The bigger, the better," De Rosis says.
The most luxurious — and expensive — leather is "nappa," which should be free from any defect, wrinkle or scratch. A common leather is drummed leather. It has a nice aspect but it is less expensive, as it is obtained with a second-choice leather and drumming process hides the defects, De Rosis says.
Many different grades of leather are used but the high-quality bags are made from 100 percent calf leather, Corsetti says. "This is among the most luxurious leathers, soft to the touch and lightweight."
Other quality materials are deerskin, and lambskin materials. Most of the Italian tanneries have been in the business over 100 years and are conscientious of the environment and the quality of the materials they produce, Corsetti says.
Since the bags are hand-cut, stitched and finished by craftsmen, no two bags will be the same," Corsetti says.
Smell the leather
Smell also counts — it should be pleasant — but is usually not the most important thing, because it depends on the chemicals used for the tanning process, says De Rosis, who notes she uses only natural and environmentally friendly leathers. "And they smell fine!"
Check the finishes and lining
You can appreciate a fine handbag upon the stitching, De Rosis says. The stitches should run parallel to the margins and should be near each other.
And often, better handbags have leather lining.
Is it handmade?
A good bag should be made by craftsmen trained in the art of leatherwork, Corsetti says. "Many of the manufacturers in Italy have a history handed down over the centuries of quality products and don’t mass-produce products from die cutting machines. They take pride over profits in the products they create. Since the bags are hand-cut, stitched and finished by craftsmen, no two bags will be the same," she says.
For De Rosis, choosing a handbag is like picking a piece of art for your home. "It will give emotions to you and it will talk to your guests about you, maybe for a long time, because you will love it every day you come back and see it. And, maybe it will increase its value as the time passes by," she says. "So, this is my philosophy, to create long lasting pieces of 'art fashion,' which will be loved by their owners."
"The key aspect to a fine bag is satisfaction, the satisfaction of knowing that the person crafting your bag is a professional trained in the field of fashion and leatherworking," Corsetti says. "A person that takes pride in the product they make, they are proud people, conscious of the traditions, the environment and their customer's overall satisfaction. A true quality leather handbag 'made in Italy' has a timeless look, with quality hardware such as zippers and straps. The essential shape and design of the bag is classic and will fit any lifestyle yet still be in style forever."
ExhibItalia will take place at the George R. Brown Convention Center Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. Tickets are $9 in advance; $12 at the door.