The class war over a $39,000 backpack

Wonder how the other half lives? The Olsen twins sell out their alligator bags

Topics: Consumerism,

The class war over a $39,000 backpack (Credit: Salon)

If you wanted to sum up what people mean when they toss around phrases like “class war” and “the 99 percent”  and “WTF,” you might put it all down to this: $39,000 backpacks. Sold out.

It’s been four years since the entrepreneurial Olsen sisters, Mary-Kate and Ashley, launched their luxury fashion line, the Row, and three months since they debuted their stylish and exorbitantly priced black crocodile bag. But it was the news this week that at the Paris launch of the handbag line, Ashley Olsen bragged that the backpack “was the first thing that sold off the shelf” that really took the let-them-eat-cake. Olsen added that luxury brands do well in hard times, noting that “During our last economic crisis in the U.S., the only thing that went up was Hermès,” before, in the words of Women’s Wear Daily, “returning to sip Champagne with guests including Michelle Harper and Christian Louboutin.” As a commenter on CNN observed of this news, “This is what’s wrong with America. The income inequality in this country is outrageous, we are well on our way to becoming a 3rd world country.” Or, as another more aptly expressed it, “That’s cray cray.”

Of course, it’s not as if piles of supple ostrich skin are flying off shelves like some end-of-days scene out of the Missoni for Target debacle. For perspective, it should be noted the New York Daily news reported last summer that a whopping two people had pre-ordered the bags. And back then, Barneys fashion director Amanda Brooks told Fashionista.com that “They truly are classic bags – and I think you also might be the only one who has it.” I happen to think that if you’re paying almost 40 G’s for something 7-year-olds usually carry their lunch to school in, it had better be unique. I also think it should come with the deed to a house in the Catskills inside of it.



The rich will always be with us. There will always be big diamond rings and oversize mansions and $10 million weddings and impossibly priced accessories. Times are not equally tough on everybody, and Ashley and Mary-Kate are not the ones responsible for this economic pickle we’re now in.

But it takes a special kind of out-of-touchness to boast, while sipping champagne, of selling out of an item that costs about as much as a year’s tuition at an Ivy League university. To blithely say, as Amanda Brooks has, that “If you were ever going to spend $39,000 on a bag, that’s the bag you should buy,” when the average American annual income is, coincidentally, $39,054.62. If you’re going to spend $39,000, you could also employ a person for a whole year! Wealth does not equal social obligation. And you can spend thousands on your purses and still be a decent, generous person. But these are not times for ostentatious displays of having, when far too many have not. And if you think the bag is so classic, you could always get it in the leather version. It’s only $3,900.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 22
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>