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Entries in handbag (46)


The Hidden Truth About Eelskin

Last year I bought this vintage 70s eelskin handbag in a charity store. It is not the only eelskin bag that I own: I also have a soft red pouch. However, I have not often used them in the belief that the softness of the skin meant it was quite fragile. Research lead me to discover that the opposite was in fact the case. But it was not the only thing I learned …

I found out the real truth about eelskin. I was so shocked I consider it my duty to expose the infamous lies of the fashion industry.


It is in fact the skin of an unpleasant and unattractive scavenger that lurks upon the ocean floor, eats dead and dying fish, and kills its enemies with slime.

Yes, slime. I am not joking. (If you want to read more about this revolting defence mechanism, click here.)

The creature is the Pacific hagfish, one of few jawless (Agnathan) fish, and it does resemble an eel, being long and thin. Perhaps it was simply a poor and inadvertent translation into English that produced the misnomer, or perhaps it was a deliberate marketing ploy, but whatever the truth of its origin, ‘eelskin’ is certainly a more appealing name than ‘hagfishskin’!

… whatever the truth of its origin, ‘eelskin’ is certainly a more appealing name than ‘hagfishskin’!

This jawless fish is eaten in Asia, so its skin is a culinary by-product, which is ethically pleasing. The resultant leather is highly prized, being very smooth (it feels like silk) and exceptionally strong, making it almost maintenance-free, and is used in the creation of every kind of accessory, clothing, and even furnishings.

Clean & Care

While eelskin can be conditioned occasionally with colourless shoe wax, this is not recommended for lighter-coloured items as over time added oils can darken the pigment of the skin.

For oil stains (grease, suntan oil, lotion etc) apply rubber cement (available from art and craft stores) sparingly to the stain, let dry and peel off. Many applications may be necessary, but it should eventually come out.

For liquid stains, let dry naturally overnight. Water will not stain, but in the case of some other liquid, splash with water to thoroughly rinse out. Blot excess water, but do not rub.

For ballpoint ink stains, rub with clean finger, or if that does not do the job, try a pencil eraser, rubbing very gently. It’s best to attempt this while the mark is fresh. Permanent ink cannot be removed. [Tips from Coast]


To buy new, check out Maiden Voyage, Sova Leather, and Coast.

Photos: January 2015, April 2016


Summer Luggage

In homage to my vintage leather hatbox, I bring you some ads for Prada luggage from the 2006 Spring/Summer campaign. Of course I am partial to the rose-trimmed hatbox, but my favourite is the enormous vanilla bag in the third spread. (Isn’t it funny that people use ‘vanilla’ to describe white, after the ice cream of course, when a vanilla pod is actually quite black?) I love white in general, as high-maintenance as it is – it is a far more energising and uplifting non-colour than black.

I also enjoy the languor of the model, Sasha Pivovarova, lounging about decadently with her white cat, as though it is far too much effort to rise, and I love the dove-grey socks, and the bamboo-soled shoes. There are quite a lot more images in the series than I managed to collect; you can view them here.

(Click on images for larger versions.)


Winning Silver

Many good things come together in this silver metallic clutch by Country Road that I found a while back in an op shop (thrift store).

So, what’s to love?

  1. A bag on a wrist strap is so kicky! It also makes it much more convenient to hold – clutching a bag under the armpit always feels precarious.
  2. The elegant, slim shape harks back to my beloved, lost envelope purse.
  3. Silver is much cooler (in both senses of the word) than gold, and I have always preferred it.  
  4. Silver, like grey, matches everything! This minimalist style will always look elegant, even when strict minimalism goes in and out of fashion.

I call this a first class thrift shop find!


Grass Roots

I am not sure if it is the connotations of summer that I love so much about woven accessories, or if it is the very tactile pleasure of the texture beneath one’s fingertips. I prefer them in more natural, neutral colours than dyed brightly—although further down this story there’s a pair of Hermès tomato red wedges that I might we willing to put on my feet, if I was willing to pay the trifling sum of $1,355. I also love the fact that these very solid objects have been constructed from such seemingly flimsy materials.

Weaving is a beautiful technique evocative of ephemeral nature made to last …

Weaving is a beautiful technique evocative of ephemeral nature made to last, of admirable dexterity and artistry. Traditionally a distinctly feminine craft, it alludes to tribal histories, to earth mothers (and experimental couturiers) keeping ethnic crafts alive, by appealing to acquisitive fashionistas of more urban jungles.

It really seems such a simple, elemental and practical craft, but it is amazing to see what can be achieved with a good eye for design, nimble fingers and patience. It’s also simply beautiful.

A few of my own favourites

I was delighted when I spotted this vintage basket case (ha!) in an op shop (thrift store) a few weeks ago, for the princely sum of $3. Two of the hinges at the base were completely broken, and I had to repair them – I was in a hurry to use this as part of a costume for a fancy dress party, so I used what I had nearest to hand: some twine that camouflaged well. It wasn’t easy to weave it through the flush hinges, but waxing the end did help. My original intention was to use it for storage; scarves perhaps.

The hat I pounced on last summer at Country Road, recognising it for its—ahem—‘inspirational’ source: a hat by Burberry (see below). I do love it though for a fun sunhat: it’s far more edgy than a regular floppy cartwheel, and much less common than a fedora.

I purchased the slingbacks on eBay from a Frenchwoman who told me although she liked the shoes, she couldn’t wear them because they were too low! They feature a pretty, geometric pattern in black and natural straw. I have a sneaking fondness for the kitten heel, which often seems to get a bad rap in fashion magazines simply for not being as sexy as a stiletto.

I also absolutely adore this lovely little woven handbag. It too came from an op shop, and my guess that it is someone’s travel souvenir, bought on a whim then discarded in a nonplussed moment. I really like the intricate design in the weaving of this one, and the handles are plaited – a pretty, extra little detail.

When to Wear

If it’s not enough to say such materials are too (visually) synonymous with summer to wear in winter, then at least, while I don’t subscribe to prescriptive fashion rules (such as no white after Labour Day – which is American anyway and doesn’t apply here in Australia but still sounds ludicrous to me), one must be pragmatic about straw, grass, raffia, cane, et al. They are not suitable for winter simply for the fact that any sudden downpour is likely to ruin them! Obviously, they won’t keep you very warm either.

High Fashion

Weaving has enjoyed a season in the brilliant sun of high fashion in recent seasons, with Salvatore Ferragamo, Dolce & Gabbana and Burberry all taking a hand. Some of these garments are deliciously impractical and incongruous, such as the sculptural and quite surreal D&G corsets and dresses, but I enjoy them all the more for it. I adore the Burberry trench too (above), but really, when is it suitable to wear? Not in winter surely, and such a closely-fitted coat (probably silk-lined to boot) in warm weather? Or am I merely forgetting the chilly realities of what the British humorously term ‘summer’?

Scroll down for some couture inspiration. (Admittedly these tearsheets are probably a year or two old, but I still love them.)

Photos: December 2015


Mission Brown

A while back I had bought a little leather crossbody bag to replace a very similar one that after many years of use had worn out. It’s a convenient, lightweight and tiny bag I like to use shopping when I don’t need a tote. The replacement bag is lovely Italian leather, soft and supple, but there’s just one thing wrong with it: it’s red. Scarlet. Pillbox. Bright, in-your-face, lipstick red.

Now, I love red, and it is one of my favourite colours, but in these more minimalist days I came to realise that what I really needed was a tan leather bag. A red crossbody bag had become just too cute for me. I wanted something that was more discreet, neutral; something that went with everything.

… in these more minimalist days I came to realise that what I really needed was a tan leather bag

It became my mission to find a new one. Because I felt a little guilty buying another new bag when for all practical purposes there was nothing wrong with the red one, I decided I would hit the op shops (thrift stores) first. Some weeks of desultory searching went by, and then last week I hit paydirt. Sort of.

I found this tan leather wallet with a wrist strap in an op shop. It is by Roxy, unused, fits my phone inside, and cost only $8. I don’t love it, particularly not the embossed logo on the front (which friends assure me is discreet and barely noticeable), but it is perfect for use as a lunchtime purse (if not for marketing), and will do until something better comes along.

Ironically, it is too big to fit in some of my smaller handbags, so I have to decant the bare necessities into a coin purse.

The mission continues!

(Photo: December 2015)

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