| Paris Hilton: Trendsetter
London, March 17: Of all the subjects that divide the sexes, it is probably the female love of accessories ' and handbags in particular ' that baffles men the most.
For women, a handbag is a statement of personality and attitude. It is an indicator of status, a declaration of mood, a weapon in a crowd and a home on the move.
For men, it seems to be little more than an expensive and clumsy device for carting around unwanted receipts, storing pieces of fluff and losing keys. It is certainly no substitute for a really good trouser pocket.
The chasm between the sexes looks likely to grow deeper with a study suggesting that women’s love affair with handbags has reached a new level of intensity.
Figures published in Britain show that spending on handbags has more than doubled in five years. Between 2000 and last year, sales soared by 146 per cent to a record '350 million, the market researchers Mintel found.
Claire Birks, the author of the study, believes that the phenomenal growth is being fuelled in part by the must-have celebrity handbag.
“Women have been buying handbags at such an incredible rate that the market value has achieved very healthy growth, despite falling prices,” she said.
“The rising number of working women has played a key role in this market as they not only have the money but also the need for stylish, well-accessorised outfits and handbags. It is now commonplace for women to have a wide variety of bags for a whole host of occasions ' from smart evenings out to a night in the pub and from a day in the office to a day’s shopping.”
Top-of-the-range designer bags with price labels of '1,000 are not uncommon and their popularity has never been greater. Any woman wanting one of this season’s must-have handbags, the Dior Gaucho, should be prepared to fork out '815 and join a month-long waiting list.
It takes just a glimpse of a new Gucci or Chlo' bag on the arm of Kate Moss or Paris Hilton in Heat magazine for that model to fly off the shelves at Selfridges and Harrods.
But while designer brands have played a part, the rising sales have mostly been driven by cheaper imported handbags and own-label imitation designs.
Supermarkets are also branching out into the lucrative accessories market. Their market share rose by 122 per cent between 2000 and 2004.
Tamara Mellon, the owner of the Jimmy Choo label, said she had seen a major change in the accessory market.
“It doesn’t matter what you are wearing ' if you have good shoes and a good bag, you will look right,” she said.
“Handbags are a status symbol, the perfect accessory to dress up your day and your outfit.
“For women of all ages and from all walks of life, acquiring a handbag is an enjoyable experience, a mood-altering exercise.
“We have seen a remarkable transition over the past few years whereby women will spend a significant amount on accessories as they are now making the statement that clothes used to make.”
Last year, a study found that 60 per cent of women own at least 10 handbags, while 3 per cent have at least 25.
The Mintel report suggests that the demand for handbags has yet to be sated.
“There is no reason to believe that sales will not continue to increase over the next five years,” Miss Birks said.
While men may remain baffled by the attraction of handbags, some light has been shed on what they contain.
A survey of 1,700 women carried out by Prudential discovered that alongside the old train tickets, receipts and pens, the average handbag contains around '550 worth of personal possessions.
Typically, they include a mobile phone, a purse, a hairbrush, perfume, a make-up bag, a leather diary or personal organiser and house and car keys. In summer months, a pair of sunglasses usually joins the collection.
Most women questioned assumed that their handbags and contents were worth only '150.
The Daily Telegraph