It all started the first time I heard Lil’ Kim rap on Junior M.A.F.I.A’s “Get Money.”
“Admirin’ my shoes by Gucci/I be eatin’ sushi, playin with my coochie/Countin’ lucci/I got banks to rob/Convertible Saabs/I’m married to the mob,” Kim rapped.
I don’t know if it was the fact that her bank-robbing, sushi-eating, designer-shoe-wearing aesthetic was the farthest thing from my suburban life, or if I just loved the fact that something actually rhymed with “coochie.”
Whatever it was, this 10-year-old was hooked.
Aside from her love for Dooney & Bourke and enough cameos to infuriate any heiress, my mother kept her accessory game simple. What her closet lacked, my fifth grade heart desired … a statement bag. One worthy of writing a rap verse around, at that.
It took a few years and a slew of bad waitressing jobs but once I ordered my first piece, a monogram satchel, no handbag was safe. Every time I laid eyes on a new piece, my collection grew.
“You spent $800 on THAT?” I would gasp at the nylon totes and microscopic clutches my friends were investing in. “You could have bought three or FOUR vintage pieces!” I’d assail them before they could answer. In a year’s time, those expensive bags would be quarantined to the back of their closets.
Save for a few of my peers, it was older women who fueled my passion and embraced my search, reminiscing about what it felt like to unwrap their first “real” handbag.
A family friend even dug out a brown monogrammed leather
her mother-in-law had purchased with Atlantic City winnings back in the late 70s. Had I ever seen a copy of TV Guide outside of a grocery store checkout line? No. Did I squeal when I accepted this piece? You better believe it.
Scouring the Internet became an all-consuming pastime. It didn't stop when I closed the windows for eBay and Etsy -- it was my favorite thing to talk about, it was a never-ending scavenger hunt. It was Gucci.
My inbox quickly became cluttered with links to auctions, photos of pieces friends had been coveting and estate sale buzz. My lunch hour could be marked by two things: a Lean Cuisine growing cold on my desk and counting down the minutes until the Google Alert I’d set for the term “Vintage Gucci” appeared in my inbox.
It's less of a compulsive thing because it's so respectful -- and there's an element of curation to it. Whenever I sling a vintage handbag over my shoulder, I know there’s a story behind it and that alone is worth every effort. Did the person before me scrap and save to afford what was considered a major status symbol in the 70s? Or were they sick of looking at a gift from an ex-lover and had to clean house?
The past lives of inanimate leather goods have deep meaning for me; as my collection grows, each piece is living a story of its own. There’s the black camera bag my boyfriend gave me a few Christmases back. Running my fingers over the red and green stripe that splits its middle, I still gawk at just how flawless something that has a good 15 years on me could be.
There are the two suitcases I bought for a steal on Ruby Lane. Delivered after I’d been laid off from a job I loved, I’d bought them in a bout of insomnia. But now that they’d arrived and my financial future was in ruins, their giant box mirrored the size of my buyer’s remorse. Tearing through the cardboard, I found a gracious note from the seller; she hoped the luggage would send me traveling. Although I’d never dream of subjecting these beauties to the rugged world of the baggage claim, she was right. They helped guide me to a new position I’d soon find myself in.
There’s the wallet with gold horse bit hardware that my friend Drew compared to something Salt ‘n’ Pepa probably “spent their first big checks on.” After stuffing it full of business cards and change, I decided it was too good for my daily commute and retired it to a life on display in my bedroom.
And I'm not alone. Last week, after a long day at the office, I noticed a teenager clutching a roomy navy tote with an interlocking “G” detail. The familiar striped handles rested on her black coat comfortably.
My first reaction was to bombard her with questions. Surely she couldn’t know how excellent this vehicle that held her iPod, books and makeup truly was. It took every ounce of strength for me not to exclaim “WHERE? HOW MUCH? WHAT?!” when we passed each other on the platform.
Instead, I opted for eying the bag knowingly, exchanging smiles… and Googling the tote the minute I walked in the door.