Handbags, Heartbreak & Holding onto Hope

A handbag is so much more than the sum of its parts, writes Penny Lewis – they’re symbols of hope, even in these strange times

Unlike my past track record with men, I am a handbag serial monogamist. If I lock eyes on a bag I fancy it becomes my constant companion until I am on to the next one. I use bags until I tire of them or they’re eventually worn out – like my beautifully simple black Coach crossbody (2014).

But my handbag relationship chain is broken at the moment. There’s a lot in the world that’s broken now and in a pandemic there’s little reason to carry more than a pay-wave card and hand sanitiser on the rare occasions you leave the house. What once seemed important doesn’t any more.

My vintage Louis Vuitton crossbody (2019), my loyal friend for the past year, remains untouched since lockdown began. It’s now redundant, like I am, but at least it will have a job once we’re allowed out.

On the morning of March 25, hours before Level 4 lockdown began and when I was still working at home, I spent $569 on a Deadly Ponies Mr Mini Leopard in Periwinkle for my daughter’s 16th birthday present.

On holiday with my beloved Louis

On holiday with my beloved Louis

Just over a week later, Bauer Media summoned its New Zealand employees, of which I was one, to attend a Zoom meeting. The audio was patchy, but the man’s face made it clear it wasn’t good news. The company was closing its operations in this country, effective immediately.

On Monday, April 6, my daughter’s birthday, it was official – our magazine jobs were gone. “You’re lucky I bought your present when I did,” I semi-joked to the birthday girl. When the time is right I hope my beautiful teenager gets to socialise with her new handbag and enjoy it.

Since the day my friends and I lost our jobs I have had time to think – a lot. And those thoughts have included handbags.

Looking back at my 20s and early 30s, I was usually single but I always had handbag-game. As a journalist my budget never stretched to big-label bags, but I did have standards. Just like now, as soon as I purchased a handbag I loved it came with me everywhere, day after day, which is more than any boyfriend ever did.

Most of my bags were black, some have been red. Most I bought myself, with the exception of a fabulous red patent Vivienne Tam (2001) a dear friend gave me for my birthday. I have photos of me wearing it as Jacinta and I skipped down a Hong Kong street, heading towards the next bar.

Kate’s unfortunate timing

Kate’s unfortunate timing

Years later, I bought another red bag, a Kate Spade (2018) on sale at the airport in Melbourne, a boredom-buy when my flight was delayed. The next day, I woke up to the news Kate had taken her own life at home in New York.

I left my Kate Spade bag, with its quirky plaited strap and fun tassel detail, in its dust bag for months after that. Kate Spade the woman did not own the brand when she died, but it seemed ghoulish to don a cheerful red bag with her name on it when she had been so sad. Even the message printed on the dust bag seemed poignant “she tucked her coral lipstick away and floated back to the party”. I have only used this red bag a couple of times though – it’s a little small – the bag equivalent of a fling without considering the consequences.

Recently I took my biggest handbag, a black drawstring from Superette (2017), for my allocated time slot to collect my personal items from the Bauer office. I am grateful the young security contractor was gentle and respectful as he searched my bag on the way out. Days on, this large black bag the size of a dog still sits by the front door at home. I need to empty it, along with the memories, and put it all away.

I don’t know yet what my next handbag will be, but I am going to love it. I hope you love your next handbag too.

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