Would you put $8,000 on the floor?
Purse hooks keep that Ferragamo bag away from thieves and some very nasty microbes
ANNE KINGSTON | July 9, 2008 |
Now that women have the Swiffer, it's time to address the next obstacle to female emancipation — the systemic discrimination that forces them to hang thousand-dollar-plus bags inelegantly from a chair back or, worse, has them languishing on the floor vulnerable to thievery, filth, scuffing, and nasty microbes.
Remedy has arrived in the newly rediscovered purse hook, a gizmo that hangs from table tops and costs from $5 to upwards of $50. It's the new female equalizer, used by women of all ages everywhere from the dining room of the luxurious Gran Hotel Son Julia in Mallorca to North Bay bingo halls.
The hooks have been around since the 1920s, when handbags emerged as a symbol of the emancipated women. Queen Elizabeth is said to employ an S-shaped one to hang her handbags, the contents of which remain a perplexing mystery. But only recently, in the current era of insanely fetishized "It" bags, has the logic of the hook gained traction.
"I take mine everywhere," says Toronto society doyenne Catherine Nugent. "And if I had a dollar for every time somebody told me they wanted one, it would be wonderful." Her silver hook was a gift from a friend in Brazil, where girls grow up with the superstition that you'll lose all of your money if you put your purse on the floor. "In Brazil, though, it's true," Nugent says. "People will come along and steal your purse." In France, better restaurants provide purse stools, Nugent notes wistfully, a rare civility here. She likes having her bag next to her. "It beats using a separate chair which most women do."
Robert Gage, the puckish Toronto hairdresser whose salon provides tables and hooks for clients' handbags, views dumping purses on the ground as a Canuck foible. "Canadian women are notorious for putting their bags on the floor," he says. He blames the morphing of purses into luggage. "It all started with those huge bags with the little feet on the bottom," he laments.
Once grounded, that cute Coach bag becomes a microbial bullet, as anyone who has watched Oprah knows. The germ count lurking on purses is sickening, literally: mould, yeast, a plethora of illness-inducing bacteria, and plenty of E. coli. Public bathrooms are gruesome, says Nugent. "You know the stalls have been designed by men," she says.
The mania for purse elevation has created an entrepreneurial bonanza. Kim Moody and Ashley Allen of Calgary saw the potential two years ago and started up Hook-Hers ("Canada's longest, strongest, prettiest purse hook") imported from the U.S. "There's huge interest," says Moody of the $30-to-$45 line, which may soon be sold on Oprah's website. She reports they even can come in handy on the speed-dating circuit where people migrate from table to table. "If a couple has nothing to talk about, it can be an icebreaker," she says.
Rolo, a Toronto store that stocks stylish fripperies, has sold more than 3,000 of its $19.95 model with a mirrored top and rubberized underside, says store co-owner Rowley Ocampo. "Women buy one, then they come back to buy for friends," he says. He uses one on the seat in front of him at movie theatres to hang his bag. "I don't care if I'm a nuisance," he says. "Movie-theatre floors are disgusting."
On purse blogs, hooks are discussed with messianic zeal. In mid-June, "Kate" gushed on LuxuryLink.com about a US$35 "eco-friendly" model made from recycled zinc: "I love this product! I receive a compliment whenever I use it. I have already stocked up and am giving them as gifts and everyone loves it!" The title of a posting on another blog sounds like Barbie's Ph.D. thesis: "The Purse Hook: Necessary or Ridiculous?"
The answer is obvious. True, hooks work only with the ladylike purses favoured by the Queen; big bags with long shoulder straps will end up back on the filthy floor. And they do add to the amount of essential crap women haul around. But more ridiculous are businesses that cater to women not providing them. Toyota has twigged, and lists a "purse hook" among accessories offered on its 2008 Corolla. In Spain, restaurants and hotels engrave them in a branding exercise, says Monika Perez, a manager at the Gran Hotel Son Julia. Nugent reports Toronto's Four Seasons Hotel has considered offering them in its Studio Cafe. Maybe one day restaurants and salons will boast of providing purse hooks as they do wheelchair accessibility. Until then, it seems the sisters still have to do it for themselves.