A tote is a tote unless it’s by a French luxury brand, which can cost thousands of pesos.
People who see Hervé Chapelier bags for the first time at SM Aura are either put off or drawn to the utilitarian specs: a trapezoid-shaped nylon or polyamide bag with handles in a number of lengths—cross-body, handheld or over the shoulder.
The price tags can induce sticker shock, as the bigger bags can go as high as P18,000.
At the launch of the Hervé Chapelier exhibit of hand-painted bags several weeks ago, local distributor and managing director Cheryl Lee told Inquirer Lifestyle that she had long been a fan of the brand.
“I had already inquired twice about bringing it to the country, but it was only after meeting with Mr. Chapelier that he agreed that the first branch to open in Southeast Asia would be the Philippines,” she said. “I like the brand because it is simple, utilitarian, with no bells and whistles; it’s also my personality.”
Instead of letting the basic-looking bags stand on their own for the event, however, Lee and her team tapped several young Filipino artists to decorate some of the brand’s tote bags.
The results were mixed, with some attractive pieces and others less interesting.
“We suggested the theme of ‘Urban Manila artists meet French luxury lifestyle’ to Mr. Chapelier, who agreed to the collaboration. The pieces will not be sold, but will be displayed at a pop-up shop in Rockwell,” Lee said.
Big in Japan
Since the shop opened several months ago, it has been drawing mainly well-traveled locals and Japanese customers who are either fans or know the brand.
A saleslady who asked not to be identified said that the most popular style for their Japanese customers is the camouflage print available in several SKUs (stock keeping units or variants).
“We don’t need to explain or introduce the brand to them anymore,” she said. “We also don’t have to explain why the bags are priced that way. When some local customers come into the store, however, they are shocked by the prices, which can reach as high as five figures. ‘But they’re just nylon tote bags,’ they say before exiting the store.”
Despite that observation, the store has its share of clients who can choose from a number of styles and colors. The tiniest coin purse-sized bag can be worn across the body and, as in the case of model Maggie
Wilson-Consunji, can easily carry two phones, a wallet, a Ziploc bag of snacks and oil-blotting paper. The largest size can serve as a carry-on bag that can fit enough items for a week-long trip. Since the totes have no compartments, those zippered packing cubes will sure come in handy.
The brand was founded almost 40 years ago in 1976 by Mr. Chapelier, who revolutionized the duffel bag. In the past, duffels featured industrial-strength safety belts repurposed as straps for the roomy bags. With the entry of the Chapelier brand, women had more lady-like carry-alls to choose from.
This season, the camouflage print bags are still there, and are available in basic nylon and breathable polyamide. Those who prefer color over print can choose from hues like coral pink, navy blue, tan, turquoise, cobalt and sand. The Nylon and Cordura lines also come in neutrals like black, grays and blues.
Hervé Chapelier’s first boutique in Southeast Asia is at L1, SM Aura Premier.
PHOTOS BY ROMY HOMILLADA