There was a time when fashion designers could make or break their career on a sexy silhouette or an unusual use of color and fabric. Now most fashion careers are subject to the whims of handbag consumers. With huge margins and high visibility, bags like ChloÃ©'s Paddington and Vuitton's Murakami can add hundreds of thousands of dollars to the bottom line, or a nice $300 million in the case of the Murakami. So luxury kings like Bernard Arnault, owner of mega-brand Louis Vuitton, fret over the star power of each one they produce.
What makes a handbag hot, in some cases even before it hits the store shelves? It could be Lindsay Lohan's endorsement or a placement in a big box-office movie. And a handbag can become an instant best seller because of one quirky design detail, like last season's Fendi Spy bag with its weird dangling closure.