I had dreamt of this moment since I was a teenager – purchasing my first Chanel bag. I remember religiously devouring high fashion magazines ladened with exquisite editorial photos and luxury fashion brand advertisements. My imagination would run wild from page to page, living vicariously through the gorgeous models clutching these desirable luxury handbags, dreaming of the day when I would have one of my own. At the time, turning this dream into reality seemed impossible. My parents were hard working farmers and we never had extra money to splash out on unnecessary things, splurge on luxury items, go on overseas holidays, let alone inhabit the life I saw in magazines like Vogue. However, dreams somehow mysteriously materialise, and in September 2014, this particular dream was about to become part of my real life ‘editorial story.’ I had been working as an expat in London for a couple of years and finally saved enough money to plunge into the luxury handbag world. I decided my birthday would be the perfect occasion (or excuse) for this momentous event, and without hesitation, booked myself a trip to Paris that September. What better way to celebrate both occasions than in the city synonymous with Chanel and the legendary founder Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel. This would be the ultimate, fashion-girl-dream-come-true city to purchase my first Chanel handbag.
Avid Coco Chanel fans will know her first shop was opened in 1910 on Rue Cambon, Paris. The address where she is said to have invented the concept of the modern boutique by displaying and selling her hats, fashion accessories and famous Chanel No.5 perfume to wear with her garments. And this was the exact same Chanel store where I headed as soon as I arrived in Paris. Surely a place where fashion dreams come true? Standing on the pavement opposite the store on Rue Cambon, my eyes soaked in the building exterior for a few moments. Reality check intact. I wasn’t dreaming anymore. I stepped off the pavement and walked towards the entrance with a mixture of intense excitement and fearful trepidation at the thought of finally realising my Chanel purchase. What bag would I choose? Iconic or new season? Classic Flap or Boy Chanel Flap? Would the sales staff be friendly? Would they sense my bank account didn’t contain millions only my hard earned and saved expat dollars? Would the experience feel as glamorous as the image I had crafted in my mind from years of pouring meticulously over editorials and adverts in glossy high fashion magazines? I drew a deep breath, held my head high and entered the store with confidence, poise and purpose. I immediately scanned the beautiful store layout. Gorgeous bags, jewellery and sunglasses adorned the open shelves and locked display cabinets. On first impression the store looked pristine, spacious and luxurious. Just as one would expect from such a famous luxury brand. However, as I made my way further into the store and turned left into the main salon area, my excitement quickly evaporated into unexpected shock and horror. I had walked into the middle of a tourist ‘luxury handbag’ purchasing frenzy. The opposite of what I expected would be a serene and graceful shopping experience in the famous Chanel store in Paris.
Small groups of women were huddled around mountains of expensive Chanel bags strewn all over the counters. Others were circling in for the snatch-and-grab, ‘this is mine’ purchasing kill should any of these bags be carelessly discarded in favour of another. Sales assistants with strained faces scurried around the store, eagerly trying to satisfy the hungry demands of the rude and ungrateful tourists. The energy and behaviour the tourists exuded was far from glamorous, and it seemed like they were purchasing a Chanel(s) for the sake of purchasing a Chanel because their wallets were deep and wide enough to have as many bags that took their fancy. I stood there horrified that one could forgo any thought of style, elegance and grace which for me had epitomised Coco Chanel and the Chanel brand for so long. My dream collided with brute force against the reality in front of me, scattering and bouncing over the shop floor like thousands of runaway pearls fleeing from their necklace confines. This purchasing melee was not for me. I turned away from the ugly scene and walked slowly and gracefully out of the store that day. Making my way solemnly back to my hotel empty handed, I contemplated the scene that had just played out before me and decided Paris could keep her crazed tourists. My Chanel dream would have to wait.
Disappointed but not deterred, I vowed to try again upon my return to London. I took the plunge a few months later at the Chanel store on New Bond Street just before Christmas. The same feelings of excitement and trepidation were there, but at least I was prepared for any potential purchasing melee. Luckily the store was quieter and I had the peace, serenity and space to saviour the moment of purchasing my first Chanel. It was still nerve wracking choosing the right bag. I decided the Iconic Classic Flap bag in black was too instantly recognisable as Chanel. I wanted something a little different, a little special, a little unique. A few weeks earlier on a flight home from the Munich Christmas Markets, I sat next to a woman who was carrying what looked like a tiny black studded Chanel bag. I was instantly captivated and tried not to obsessively stare at her stunning little piece of luxury. I couldn’t stop thinking about this Chanel bag. As it transpired, the bag was from the Chanel Métiers d’Art Paris-Dallas pre-Fall 2014/2015 collection which featured Kristen Stewart in the ad campaigns. Wandering around the New Bond Street store I couldn’t see any on display and asked the sales assistant for help. Apparently I was too late in the season and the black had sold out. All that remained was navy and deep burgundy. Drawn to the burgundy colour, I carefully picked up the bag, hung the leather and chain strap over my shoulder and made my way over to the tall, narrow mirror. Upon seeing the reflection I immediately fell in love. The bag was perfect. A little different, a little unique, and very special to me. Special as it was going to be my first Chanel bag and because the bag was from a range inspired by the city I call my second home – Dallas. But that’s another story. I left the Chanel store that afternoon with a huge smile on my face, my Chanel carefully cocooned in beautiful wrapping paper and ribbon, and mentally skipped with glee all the way down Bond Street. Dreams do come true.
So if you are about to turn your luxury dream purchase into a reality, perhaps find a quieter store away from the maddening, indecorous tourist crowds so the experience feels as magical and glamorous as you imagine. Unless you are up for the challenge of elbow fighting the crazed tourists with their bottomless platinum credit cards, and willing to persist with the relentless eye gazing required just to catch a sales assistants attention.
And who knows, maybe one day the Chanel Boy bag will find its way into my closet too. But until then, I love and cherish my first Chanel.
Chanel bag | Vera Wang Lavender Label leather jacket | Country Road jeans | Dior sunglasses | Little Heart & Texas Star Print by Glynnis Miller