Your handbag is hysterical!

Did the designers of Gucci's Hysteria collection realize what they were selling?

By Catherine Price

Published April 22, 2008 1:30PM (EDT)

I was flipping through this weekend's New York Times and noticed an advertisement that, while not particularly newsworthy, made me laugh enough that I had to write about it. It was for a new line of Gucci pocketbooks called Hysteria and featured a pouchlike bag, presumably made of python skin, that costs $4,350 a pop.

Granted, I'm the sort of person who buys $10 Kate Spade knockoffs from the guy on the corner and then peels off the label in case someone might actually think I spent more than $10 on a purse, but I find the Hysteria collection, well, hysterical. Mostly, it's for an etymological reason -- the word "hysterical" comes from the Greek "hysterikos," which means "womb." Or, more specifically, "disorder of the womb," a definition that dates back to the ancient Greek belief that the uterus was a free-floating organ that wandered through the body as it saw fit, bumping into other sensitive body parts (lungs, heart) and causing problems wherever it strayed. ("The Rogue Uterus" -- coming soon to a theater near you!) Physicians thought hysteria had something to do with sexual deprivation (though pretty much any female behavior could be considered "hysteria," especially if male physicians didn't understand it), and in the Victorian era, its treatment involved "pelvic massage" with what we'd now call vibrators -- which makes me wonder if some of those distressed ladies weren't a tad bit more clever than their doctors realized.

Equally enjoyable, though -- and again, I may be speaking only for myself here -- is the Gucci promotional video for the bags. It features a series of moist, disembodied lips blowing kisses and mouthing the words "Gucci" and "Hysteria" over and over again (and occasionally "Gimme Gucci," just in case you miss the point). The best moment is when a rhinestone-crusted pair of lips says "Gucci" as a flowering pattern erupts around it, blossoming into a shape that looks vaguely like a woman's reproductive system (a pubic triangle with two flowers resembling ovaries). I am aware that I am reading way, way too much into this. But still. Brava, Gucci ad team. Brava.

My other favorite part is the soundtrack -- a repetitive, pulsating beat punctuated by the lips' declarations. I love how dramatic it is! If you changed the images (swapping out the swirling pictures of handbags with, say, Kiefer Sutherland), you could use the background beat in an episode of "24"; it'd be perfect for someone trying to dismantle a bomb. Except, no, in this case, it's just a handbag. (Note to Gucci: At the end of next season's video, you should make the purses explode.)

Anyway, as I warned above, nothing particularly newsworthy here. But I do wish that companies would check the meaning behind their products' titles -- witness the Lolita bed, marketed toward little girls. Then again, if someone's really going to spend over $4,000 on a handbag, I guess the joke's kind of on them, anyway.

Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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