Mar 24, 2008
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Got handbag envy? Rent one

Mar 24, 2008

NEW YORK, March 24, 2008 (AFP) - Green with envy over the latest "Kelly" handbag by Hermes, but unable to cough up the thousands of dollars for the privilege -- and cachet -- of owning one? Help is at hand : rent the bag online.

Chanel bag to rent on frombagstoriches.com for 299.95 dollars

Thanks to strong word-of-mouth and a healthy Internet buzz, there is now a number of American websites offering thousands of handbags from brands such as Yves Saint-Laurent, Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs and Chanel, each for rent by the week or the month, with an option to buy.

The online boutiques operate much like other shopping sites, with a search function, scores of product photographs, rental prices, and a purchase basket that helps whisk you through the digital checkout line, of course with your credit card at the ready.

On the aptly named "Bag Borrow or Steal" website, a Bottega Veneta number in woven leather costs 90 dollars per week or 229 dollars per month for non-members -- members receive a 30 percent discount.

Looking to make a more glamorous statement? A crocodile skin "Kelly" bag -- named after the legendary actress-turned-princess Grace Kelly -- by fashion pioneer Hermes will set non-members back a whopping 500 dollars per week.

"Mass luxury and trading up has a largely untapped market," says Samuel Mangiere, co-founder of "From Bags to Riches," headquartered in St Paul in the northern state of Minnesota.

Since the website's debut in early 2004, Mangiere has seen business double each year, with early 2008 already showing a 57-percent increase.

"Instead of buying a 1,000-dollar handbag, a much stronger value proposition is a rental for 100 dollars," he tells AFP.

While the renter may not enjoy the full benefits of ownership, Mangiere says "the consumer is still experiencing the core element behind a luxury brand -- emotional fulfillment."

Consumers seem to agree. Mangiere says "tens of thousands" have already used the high-end service, and receive their bags via express courier.

The core customer demographic, he says, are women aged 20 to 55: "Single women with income of 60,000 dollars per annum, married women with household income of 125,000 dollars per annum and college students."

He admits certain celebrities use the site but won't provide names, undoubtedly to protect starlets whose reputations would plummet if fans discovered they were accessorizing on the cheap.

The most coveted bags this year? A padded Chanel (299 dollars per month), a Louis Vuitton carry-all (139 dollars) and an evening handbag by Gucci (85 dollars).

Other online bag rental sites have had difficulty satisfying demand, with "waiting list" signs next to popular models.

Imagine the horror felt by a fashionista who wants the latest style on her arm in time for the weekend, only to be told it isn't available.

"We pride ourselves on our ability to be in stock on the handbag our customers order," Mangiere says.

Upon return of the bag, experts undertake three separate screenings to make sure it has not been replaced with a fake.

Counterfeiting has crippled the luxury consumer goods industry, but Mangiere "guarantees" his bags are the real deal.

An email reminder is sent a few days before the bags are due to be sent back, and clients risk another charge to their credit cards if they don't return the loaned items on time.

But women have been known to develop an affection for their handbags, and could find it near-on impossible to be separated from the "Kelly" of their dreams once the rental period comes to an end.

Fifteen percent of "From Bags to Riches" total revenue is from purchased handbags, Mangiere says.by Paola Messana

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