Try this fashion experiment: carry a Roots purse anywhere outside of Canada and then be gracious and proudly Canadian as strangers demand to know where you got your gorgeous bag.
Under the radar, and lacking garish identifying logos, smooshily soft Roots bags are made from the exact same leather as certain fancy-schmancy French brands (that shall go nameless), and they look suitably “international” when worn on the streets of any major world capital. As well, a Roots bag can be yours without having to fork over several thousand dollars to net-a-porter or ssense. So why do Canadians still crave “designer” bags that cost three (four, five, six) times as much and are often poorly made from cheap unyielding leather? Again, no names.
Well, I lied. Here’s a name: Michael Kors. His bags are weighed down by big shiny logos and gold-tone chains (I’m shuddering as I type that), and are made of meh leather. Beautygeek-in-Chief Janine recently observed as we walked by yet another one of his stores, “Michael Kors is the new Nine West.” Oooh. Burn.
Kors's world-dominating logo’d bag assault is so far from what made him a household name to begin with: the luxurious four-ply cashmere sweaters and plush camel coats he created for Rene Russo in 1999’s The Thomas Crown Affair. Her character’s expensive wardrobe was covetable, luxurious.
Michael Kors then was the king of luxury sportswear; now he defines the middle market and is, as of earlier this year, a billionaire. His IPO (initial public stock offering) in December 2011 was incredibly successful and since then the stock has more than quadrupled from its $20 IPO price. So good for him, I guess. But what about us, the people who now have to look at those terrible bags? (Change may not be far off -- according to Suzanne Kapner of The Wall Street Journal, Kors has become too ubiquitous.)
Karl Kowalewski, who oversees manufacturing and sources the leather for Roots, knows all about crummy bags making inroads into the market. He hears it from his contacts when he visits Linneapelle, the biggest leather trade show that takes place twice a year in Milan. “ I see some of these other major brands. They want to improve their margins, so they say ‘Don’t show me anything that’s over $3 a sq ft.’ And under that, it’s heavily corrected, it’s cheaper leather.”
Roots bags are made of aniline Italian leather. Aniline is a transparent light dye which gives leather “a transparent coat, so you see all the wonderful grain and any imperfections of the leather,” explains Kowaleski. The result is a bag that’s soft, not crackly. A bag you can grow old with.
Right now, Roots is collaborating with American heritage brand Horween Leather Co, one of the oldest tanneries in the US, creating bags from the most durable-but soft-to-the-touch and most translucently dyed leathers. I wish I could get a couch made of this leather. #dreambig
it's all about the leather
In her memoir, In My Shoes, Jimmy Choo’s Tamara Mellon saw the quality of her company’s goods go down when her new banker bosses who had taken over Choo in 2007 decreed “we could no longer use leather that cost more than 25 British pounds ($45 CAN) per square metre, a significant drop from the minimum £42 ($75)-per-square-metre top-grade leather that luxury brands should use.”
Choose profits over quality and you end up with shoddy bags that get sold to people who don’t know any better. They see the designer name and feel like they’re buying quality. It’s betrayal, pure and simple.
And bags made of cheap materials will wear quickly and look shabby in a few months. High-quality durable leathers age well and look better and better as they soften and get more beaten up.
Think of the idealized cool Paris girl, in scuffed boots with a beloved, ancient bag absentmindedly slung over her shoulder. It could be a Roots bag. It most certainly wouldn’t be Michael Kors.
For more information on Roots bags, visit roots.com.