‘Insensitive’: Pharrell Williams’ $1m Louis Vuitton handbag attracts criticism

Even in the outlandish world of luxury fashion, where handbags can sell for thousands of pounds, the cost of the latest attention-grabbing accessory from Louis Vuitton is astronomical. With a price tag of $1,000,000, the Millionaire Speedy bag is living up to its name.

If quiet luxury has been the sartorial mantra of the year, this brightly coloured and bedecked new bag is offering an antidote. Reportedly sold on a made-to-order basis, the bag comes in yellow, blue, red, green and brown. It is a silhouette already popular at the brand, but this version is made of crocodile leather rather than coated canvas and has hardware made from gold, with added diamonds. It bucks the quiet luxury trend for eschewing logos in favour of lots of them.

It is the work of the musician, entrepreneur and Louis Vuitton creative director Pharrell Williams, who took on the role in February, and was spotted carrying the bag at Paris fashion week over the summer. Not a lot of details were known about the bag at the time, but it now appears, thanks to an Instagram post by American basketball player PJ Tucker, to be available to buy.

The price tag will be prohibitive – except for the 1% for whom it could be the ultimate in conspicuous consumption. But even those who can afford it will still have to wait to be invited – the bags are reportedly only going to be available to buy for certain vetted Louis Vuitton clientele.

While what is and isn’t good taste in fashion is a contentious subject, the bag has attracted some criticism. “In a world full of horrors, a sunshine yellow $1m bag doesn’t shine, it hurts,” says Orsola de Castro, co-founder of Estethica and the fashion activism organisation Fashion Revolution.

Caryn Franklin, a fashion and identity commentator, agrees: “The million-pound bag made of all the usual status signifiers – exotic leather, crocodile, gold hardwear and diamond embellishments – is a brand gimmick and an insensitive declaration of global north privilege. It’s not cool in 2023.”

The senior vice-president of Peta US is understood to have sent Pharrell a letter inviting him on a tour of a crocodile farm. With many big-name houses now having banned fur, the use of exotic skins such as crocodile, alligator and ostrich by luxury fashion labels such as Louis Vuitton is coming in for renewed criticism.

The bag arrives at a time of much discussion of the nature of luxury fashion, which is in a constant balancing act between accessibility and aspiration – and its prices. When the former Céline designer Phoebe Philo launched her debut eponymous collection last week, the prices – from £12,000 for a double-breasted shearling coat to £6,200 for a large, chocolate brown bag – were discussed almost as much as the cuts and colours.

Average luxury prices are up by 25% since 2019, according to the data company Edited.

“I believe it’s time to redefine what luxury means for today’s standards and embrace only a process that creates true, good beauty, engaging positively with nature and its people throughout its life,” says Castro.

She would centre that luxury around a product that is “100% traceable in its material, and transparent when it comes to cost – creating a luxury product which affords luxury to the people who make it. A luxury that costs, but pays back.” She equates luxury with rarity, and, she says, “what is rarer than a major fashion brand paying its workers a living wage?”

“Sure, spend all your cash on pricey identity statements,” says Franklin. “But make ethical and purpose-led purchases”. She highlights a bag from “eco and luxury” brand Elvis and Kresse, which has been released in response to the Millionaire Speedy. “It also costs a million pounds because it’s made from non-exploitative and recycled materials with the entire amount going to charity. Now that’s a statement.”

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As the website states: “If we are going to have a price that is clearly designed to generate headlines then why not generate headlines for the right reasons?”

Other big money bags

The Birkin
The bag perhaps best known for its hefty cost is the Hermès Birkin. Named after the actor and singer Jane Birkin, run-of-the-mill versions sell for £5,000-plus, with £16,000 being about average. But rare and secondhand versions often go for even more than their fresh out of the box cousins.

The Arlo Bag
Also made from an exotic skin, this time “polished alligator”, this bag can be yours for a cool £26,860. It is the work of The Row, the brand that is synonymous with quiet luxury, and the most expensive bag on sale through their website.

The classic Chanel
The signature “flap” bags from Chanel are often what many people think of when they picture a luxury handbag. A lambskin version of the classic bag will set you back about £9,000. But expect that to increase – Chanel reviews its prices frequently and raised them by 8% in March.