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Here’s the thing: I am a bag person, through and through. My husband has said that I’d rather eat cereal all the time in order to buy another bag as if it’s a bad thing.
I’ve carried cheap bags, and I’ve carried really expensive bags, and you can always, always tell when you’re touching/feeling/smelling one that costs more. In my eyes, bags are a practical investment opportunity: The placement and length of handle, width of opening, and exterior pocket situation all matter. Better construction, design, and material up the price tag—and make a difference in the final product.
There’s no denying there’s a status or cachet that comes with certain silhouettes, too, and that’s something that’s mattered to me. As someone who grew up middle-class far from the big city and dreaming of a glossy job, slinging a particular bag over my elbow and walking into an office or a meeting or a party has signified accomplishment and arrival in a way nothing else, for me, could.
They’re also something others notice. A piece of jewelry or a watch might fly under the radar, but a bag is front-and-center. Colleagues who know, notice. I was the person who reliably had some iconic silhouette from a heritage house stuffed with my stuff. And that’s exactly why my recent love affair with Polène, a direct-to-consumer label founded in 2016 by a trio of siblings, was worthy of commentary. A bag’s gotta be good to earn a spot in my line-up. It’s rubbing elbows (or corners) with some heavy-hitters, and there are some cases where a high tide doesn’t raise all boats, but sinks anything with a patchy body job. My closet is one such case.
Each Polène style is numbered (Number Six, Number Seven, Number Eight, etc.) and elegantly simple, free from the fuss and bells and whistles that new labels can flirt with in an attempt to distract from the industry mainstays. The sleek design isn’t meant to pass itself off as something it isn’t—these are not, I repeat, not dupes or imitation anything—but is an aesthetic passport that allows it to fit in with the Hermès, the Chanels, the Loewes.
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Like all of its styles, the Number Nine—Numéro Neuf in the much dreamier sounding French—is handmade in Spain with Polène’s signature way of draping leather, inspired by couturier Madame Grès, and consequently has a supple, soft look that’s still got shape: This isn’t a bag you set on a table only to see it flop to the side or gape when left too empty. The leather itself is full-grain and has the rich feel, and smell, that I expect from pricy bags (but don’t count on from lower-price versions).
The timeless vibe and won’t-get-sick-of-it shape are two elements that have me already considering my next Polène (it’s the beautifully basic Umi, if you’re curious). Bag aficionados and bargain hunters alike ought to consider saying “oui” to the Parisian label. Whether it’s kicking off your handbag collection or just adding to the ranks, it’s a worthy one.
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