Sunday, December 6, 2009

Love and a Louis Vuitton

This post is a love letter in two parts; one part to a luxury brand and one part to my husband. I waited and wished a long time for both of them.

But first…

Stop reading if you the type of person who would never spend a month’s rent on a handbag; stop reading if you are the type of person who associates morality with frugality; stop reading if you are the type of person who buys fakes from dubious street vendors and thinks that no one can tell.

However keep reading if, like me, you know that there is no substitute for the real thing; that there is nothing wrong with eating tuna fish – and not the expensive no-dolphins-harmed-kind but the cheap caught-with-a-net-soaked-in-oil-kind - because you spent all your grocery money on a bag that is worth feeling hungry for; that you understand that love sometimes can be best expressed with a luxury item.

In 2003, while backpacking around Paris, I became obsessed with Louis Vuitton. I watched with envy as Parisians from eight years old to eighty years old casually toted their LVs, using them to transport everything from lipstick to baguettes. LVs rested on cafe tables, rode the Metro and picknicked in Les Jardins Tulieres. LVs were everywhere.

And there I was - a filthy Canadian. Any vague sense of style I had back in Canada was hidden by my massive backpack, which by west coast standards was "designer", being a name brand (Jack Wolfskin for Women) and waterproof compartments. Oo la la! I have never felt more ugly in my life. I stood outside the LV flagship store on the Champs Elysees and vowed to one day carry my own LV.

I returned to Paris in 2007 on my honeymoon. With a more appropriate wardrobe and sans backpack, I dared to cross the threshold of the LV store and swooned at the sea of logos and chic, multilingual staff shuffling customers from display cases and holding the bags up for inspection. In what still feels like one of the most critical decisions of my life, I approached a clerk and asked to see the Speedy model.

For those of you who don't understand LV lingo, the Speedy is their most entry level bag. Think of it as buying a Cadillac without an engine. LV makes it in many sizes, many patterns, and it is probably one of the most commonly produced fakes. LV actually sells scarves that cost more than the smallest Speedy. The Speedy is not leather but "treated fabric" with leather handles and trim and the tell-tale brass padlock engraved with some of the most beautiful words in the English language: "Made in France".

I was sold the minute I held the bag in my unmanicured Canadian hands. I felt like I was buying a tiny bit of Paris and it was no regret that I spent my month's rent on the gorgeous, traditional logo covered handbag. Leaving the store, all honeymoon shiny, my LV nestled in its own bag, in its own box, with its "passport" tucked inside, the telltale brown shopping bag slung over my shoulder, I was on a major LV high. My new husband graciously bought dinners for the rest of our honeymoon.

Before my husband and I returned to Paris in 2009, I had a stern conversation with myself about the financial irresponsibility of purchasing another LV. I also convinced myself, and quite rightly, that I didn't need another LV. On our first day of walking around stunning Paris, I tried hard to ignore all the LV bags out for red wine and spring strolls. I didn't cross the threshold of the LV store and tried to content myself with buying far less superior French items, like jam and lingerie.

It didn't work. I was craving an LV bag. I started to joke with my husband about buying "Louis" un petit frere. I started to visit the LV boutiques in all the major department stores and I stood outside the LV administration offices, near Les Halles, snapping photographs like some sort of deranged designer bag stalker.

On our third-to-last day in Paris, my husband and I were enjoying one of our long, ambling strolls around Paris, trying to savour every detail of its beauty and trying not to focus on the fact that we would be leaving soon. Predictably we ended up on the Champs and my husband steered me towards the LV store. Once inside I tried not make eye contact with any of bags, walking in a determined straight line for the escalators that lead to the store's museum, or what I think of as a kind of personal place of worship. My husband stopped me and spoke the most romantic words he has ever spoken after "will you marry me":

"Pick out your bag."

I am only a tiny bit ashamed to write that I cried a little. Tears of happiness. Tears of gratitude for my incredibly generous husband who understands, and never judges, my love for luxury. Tears of disbelief that I was fortunate enough to marry a man who has never once said, "how much did that cost?"

Then we kissed in the middle of the LV flagship store on the Champs Elysees in Paris. An almost French kiss! And then we picked out a petit frere for Louis.

That night my husband still bought me dinner in Paris...