In my previous column I ruminated on logo-ed merchandise and confessed that I coveted a Louis Vuitton handbag (Artsy GM — $1,630, as advertised on the Louis Vuitton site). I realized that the thing was made of laminated canvas, stamped with muddy LV monograms, and had the unprepossessing shape of a beach tote. I understood that it was an expression of what Marx would call “exchange value” — its worth purely imaginary, with no connection to its usefulness. Yet I desired it, and desire, as any good Third-Wave feminist will tell you, ought not to be dismissed out of hand.

 

The issue becomes clearer — or perhaps more foggy — if one moves from consumer goods to fine art. Here, the idea of authenticity suddenly seems more elevated and inspires more reverence. The difference, one might argue, is… More…

One of my seasonal rites is shopping for a new handbag.1 It’s a mystery to me why I have to do this. You’d think a bag would outlast a season.2 But these things get a lot of wear and tear. Pen marks appear on the surface; unidentifiable lint accumulates at the bottom; once-sturdy straps fray and then suddenly snap, scattering loose change, Kleenex, tampons, and costly pills for allergy and anxiety in all directions.

Even the best handbags don’t wear well. I inherited two Coach bags from my mother. Coach bags are supposed to be indestructible, and, it’s true, they don’t fall apart — they just look increasingly awful. One of the bags my mother left me was originally off-white but, with time, turned a sickly beige. One day, I realized it had taken on the coloration and texture of human skin. The other bag was black and… More…