Giving Well-Worn Luxury Handbags Some TLC
By ALINA DIZIK
Once you find the perfect handbag, you hate to see it go. It starts with a scratch here and there, and then the zipper stops working. Pretty soon, that favorite bag is too embarrassingly shabby to carry. But there's hope for it yet.
This three-year-old white Chanel clutch was looking dingy around the corners.
With designer handbags costing several thousands of dollars these days, services devoted solely to revamping handbags help the fashion-conscious extend the life of a beloved purse. Companies do everything from removing ink stains and cleaning the lining to repairing leather and straps.
Refurbishing handbags is especially popular since the recession, says Chris Moore, president of Artbag in New York, a company that sells and repairs bags. Fixing bags is now 70% of Artbag's business, while 30% is from sales. The percentages were reversed just five years ago, Mr. Moore said. "Most of our business is higher-end bags," he said.
The bag in its near-original white
Customers can mail or drop off handbags and receive a price quote before giving the go-ahead to do the work. Bags are shipped back with appropriate insurance. Services offer complex rehabbing like reshaping, replating scratched hardware, as well as the option of adding new hardware and even changing the color of a bag. The most popular fixes include interior and exterior cleanings, polishing leather and fixing straps, according to Mr. Moore.
We sent four worn designer bags to be fixed at four services, including a designer boutique that makes repairs on its brand-name bags.
Overall, we were pleased with the high quality of work to repair our bags, which originally cost from $900 to $1,500. Handbags we were ready to cast away were turned into wearable condition.
This four-year-old Louis Vuitton bag was in need of a good cleaning and a new leather strap.
The slow repair times and cost were the biggest downsides. Services were much pricier than those of, say, a local shoe-repair shop that also does leather-repair work on handbags. And each service didn't have an online component that would have let us register our bags or pay online, which could have cut down on the many phone calls during the process.
Service at Fordham Repair, a jam-packed office on the sixth floor of a building in New York's Garment District, was informal, but it was the fastest and the least expensive of the services. We dropped off our five-year-old Chloe purse with scuffed-up leather, scratched hardware and torn stitching. When we called back for our quote, we were asked again what we wanted to repair and were told it would cost $145 with shipping.
The bag was re-dyed black and stitched; we were told the scratched hardware couldn't be fixed when we dropped it off. We later got a call from Fordham and were asked for our credit-card information and address, and the bag arrived just a few days later, only two weeks after we dropped it off.
The bag with a new strap and newly conditioned leather
While the bag didn't look new, it looked less faded and scratched and in wearable condition. But it was inconvenient that the company doesn't use email to communicate to customers. We played phone tag a bit to reach the supervisor by phone, but the 60-year-old company isn't changing to email anytime soon, said Scott Meyers, vice president. "We're dinosaurs," he laughed.
This five-year-old Chloe purse had scuffed up leather, scratched hardware and an undone stitch.
Artbag in New York was the costliest, but did the best restoration work. Our four-year-old evening bag from Chanel was cleaned and reshaped to look like it hadn't spent years in a closet. At the store, we learned about their leather-stiffening service and the knowledgeable clerk recommended we also get it cleaned. The stiffening process involved completely taking apart the handbag and reshaping it by adding buckram cloth, a stiff cotton used in bookbinding, between the lining and the exterior.
The carefully wrapped purse arrived at our doorstep less than four weeks later. We noticed a huge difference in the shape and the exterior leather looked newer. The company offers hard-to-find services like replating scratched hardware, repairing exotic leathers and rethreading hand-beaded bags.
When we dropped off our three-year-old white Chanel clutch to be cleaned at a Chanel boutique in New York, we didn't need a receipt to show we bought it from a Chanel store. Instead, the manager readily accepted our graying bag and told us the repair could take eight to 10 weeks. He wasn't sure whether the leather could be repainted because of the design but said he'd need to send it away to be examined by the repair center.
The bag looking a little less scratched and faded
We got a call to pick up our bag five weeks later, but the store offered to ship it if needed. The leather had been restored close to its original white color and we were impressed with results. While it didn't look brand new, the discoloration was gone.
The Chanel service may vary by location. The company doesn't promote its service and wouldn't directly comment on the repair policy of its boutiques.
"We take after-sale service very seriously and give the same attention to quality end results and client satisfaction as any service experience," a spokeswoman wrote in an email.
Handbag-rental service Bag Borrow or Steal Inc., started their bag-refurbishing service two years ago. We printed out an online form and sent in a four-year-old Louis Vuitton handbag with a broken strap. Mailing the bag was free with the online slip we printed but we needed to pay $16 for insuring the package.
Six days later, we got an email that our bag was received and we would get a price assessment shortly. After two weeks, we had to call about the assessment. "Typically we call all customers within the week," says Tiffany Ullian, fashion director at the Seattle-based company.
We paid $300 for a small fix to the strap and for an exterior cleaning. We didn't point out a small tear on the outside of the bag and it wasn't repaired.
Our bag was returned after almost six weeks. The fixed strap looked good as new and the leather looked less dull. This was the slowest service and we felt the high price wasn't worth the wait. "We're looking at the customer experience very closely," says Ms. Ullian.
Bag of Repair Tricks
Here's how four services that refurbish worn purses compare:
SERVICE HANDBAG REPAIR/COST POPULAR SERVICES COMMENT
: Chanel bag with dull leather and flattened shape. Reshaping and leather cleaning: $322, including shipping.
: Zippers, cleaning, replacing interior lining.
: A good deal for a bag that initially cost about $1,500. Items were shipped quickly.
Bag Borrow or Steal
: Louis Vuitton tote with broken side strap and dull leather.
: Fixed broken strap and exterior cleaning: $300, including shipping.
: Exterior and interior cleaning, ink-stain removal.
: Service was slow, but a good quality repair. Repair packages at various prices are available.
: Chanel clutch with discolored white leather that looked gray in some areas.
: Leather whitening: $121.
: Hardware and chain handle replaced, fixing leather, replacing chain handles.
: For Chanel bags only; service may vary by store and can take up to 10 weeks to repair bags.
: Chloe bag with scuff marks on leather, scratched hardware and torn stitching.
: Stitching and blackening of leather: $152 including shipping.
: Lining replacement, handle replacement.
: Had to call several times to get status of the bag. Service was affordable and handbag was returned quickly.