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The Emotional Drive Behind Buying Insanely Expensive Exotic Bags

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Marc Jacobs (left) and Nina Ricci are shilling alligator for spring.
Marc Jacobs (left) and Nina Ricci are shilling alligator for spring.

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When Cara Delevingne stepped onto the runway to open Fendi's spring show, a furry Karlito keychain that will retail for over $1,000 was clipped to her bag. That price may be hard for some to swallow, but it's nothing compared to Fendi's crocodile 3Jours bag that will retail for over $30,000 when it hits stores next spring. At Marc Jacobs, model Julia Bergshoeff circled the set's gigantic pink house with an oversized alligator hobo bag hanging from her right hand. Five days later, the bag was available for pre-order on Moda Operandi for $40,000, with a $20,000 deposit.

Moda had a whole slew of exotics up for pre-order following the spring runway shows, including croc bags from Loewe ($19,900) and Proenza Schouler ($9,500), alligator from Nina Ricci ($9,600), and python from Anya Hindmarch ($3,950). The season's most expensive handbags represent a corner of the luxury market that's reserved for customers who have long since ditched the concept of needing just a purse. Exotic-skin bags are targeted at a shopper whose purchasing isn't driven by price point, but rather by a deeper connection to the bags.

"My first Chanel exotic, my first reveal thread," an avid PurseForum member from the Netherlands wrote in a post. "Let's have some fun, okay?" Three minutes later, another poster joined the thread, clamoring for more info. "I wasn't planning to buy this," the woman, who goes by the username Sdye, confessed. "But I could not say no to this amazing beauty. Our boutique only received one."

Scroll down and detailed shots of a Chanel python wallet on chain bag from the brand appeared, followed by compliments pouring in from other forum members. "Absolutely amazing, it leaves me speechless," one posted. As is typical in many of the reveal threads on PurseForum, Sdye continued to upload shots of the bag and thank posters for the outpouring of love for days after the purchase was posted.

That enthusiasm for super rare, super luxe bags is mirrored on the other side of the counter—from the seller's perspective—too. "The Kirna Zabête client already has several designer handbags, and she does not need another in many cases," Sarah Easley, co-founder of the New York boutique, tells Racked. "So we are looking to inspire the client with something new that is fall-in-love special."

The driving force behind many exotic bag purchases is an emotional pull to the product. "I feel like a handbag is so personal because unlike a dress or a sweater, you often use your bag five days a week, again and again and again," says Easley. "It's really an extension of you. It's very personal. Maybe you're wearing tennis shoes, or leggings, or you're on your way to exercise or the grocery store, and you're not looking your finest. You throw on a big Stella McCartney cardigan and grab your Saint Laurent bag and then you just feel like you have some style. It's really a shortcut. You don't have to take a shower to pick up your handbag."

Loewe's small crocodile puzzle bag for spring 2015.

It's not just people with large disposable incomes opting for python (or crocodile, alligator, ostrich, or stingray), either. An ongoing thread on PurseForum provides a space for users to explain how they afford their purchases, and most comments are from savvy members swapping budgeting tips. Hundreds of pages are dedicated to the topic—the thread was started in 2006 and contains posts from as recent as yesterday.

But cost is indeed a barrier to entry when it comes to exotics, and some brands are going after a wider customer base by bringing down the sky-high prices. "I always looked at exotics as something that was reserved for a certain budget I supposed," Phillip Lim told Vogue UK in a recent story about his new, more accessible exotic bag collaboration with Lane Crawford. "The starting point was breaking down that concept and making it approachable." The six-piece collaboration includes alligator pieces priced at $3,600, a steal compared with Marc Jacobs's $40,000 alligator bag for SS15.

At Kirna Zabête, they don't stock bags in the five-digit price range. "We do well with exotics, but currently we haven't been stocking them over $10,000," Easley explains. "When we buy exotic bags, we know it's an investment piece. We might do a wacky color or wacky exotic skin, but we do classic shapes like the beautiful Céline box."

The buying method has proven to be successful for the boutique. "I'm not on the sales floor every day, so I'm not an expert in this, but I do see the selling reports and how fast things go. Exotics do not sit on the sales floor long at all," she reveals. Easley confirmed that, for the most part, exotic bags sell faster than other, less expensive bags that the boutique carries.

It all comes back to that added level of excitement and personal connection. As Easley describes a typical reaction, "Can't you hear someone right now being like, 'Oh, such a pretty bag, but do I need another one?' They're going right to that practical place like 'Do I need it?' On the other hand, with exotics, it's, 'That's going to change my life! I'll probably get a promotion! That bag's going to make me so happy! I've gotta have it!' People get emotional. It's fun."

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