"I am literally a 'bag lady,'" says Rosalie Huang, one of Taiwan's most recognized fashion authorities. "I love bags. I have so many of them that I have lost count. Do I have enough? But how much is enough?"
Huang lives and breathes fashion. As editor-at-large and creative director of Vogue Taiwan and Vogue China respectively, this fashionista is not your run-of-the-mill trend watcher. She keeps track of people's changing lifestyles, and the way those changes are impacting their consuming behavior.
"I treat my work seriously and with a lot of passion. (Fashion) is sociology and psychology. It's closely linked to economic trends. If people's lifestyles are changing, their attitude toward consuming and dressing will change as well. That's how I see it. It's not just about filing reports on the latest trends. It's not that anymore, and it's never been that to me."
A fashion consultant and occasional designer, Huang has been involved in numerous industry-related exhibitions and product launches. These past two months alone saw her frantically organizing shows in Taipei, Beijing, and Shanghai for Vogue's "Bag Magic," a three-week exhibition featuring famous pouches from premium brands including Loewe, Dolce & Gabbana, Celine, and Escada.
"You need to build a bridge between the designer, the brand, and the consumer. I spend my time and energy heavily on that. The goal is to deliver a very straightforward message," she says.
"People today are more sophisticated and are wiser with their finances, especially when it comes to spending money. They ask themselves, 'Do I really need this? Why? Why do I appreciate it? If this is not suitable for me, will I still learn to appreciate it?"
The more informed the buyer is, the less prone he or she is to impulse-buying, she continues.
"Many of us have gone through that. You buy something on impulse, and a few hours later, you regret that you've ever laid your eyes on that purchase," Huang smiles.
"We have a choice. We don't have to blindly follow anyone or to be told what to wear. There's no such thing as a must-have. What you must have is information and the (desire) to know what's out there. You must have the ability to differentiate the good from the bad. You must know what's suitable for you."
Huang practices what she teaches. She naturally loves branded clothes and accessories - her wardrobe is full of them - but she is just at home buying products from sidewalk vendors and traditional markets provided that the items are well designed, she says.
"They are my 'finds,'" says Huang. "I also design my own bags and accessories. I have been doing that since I was little."
When it comes to luxury brands, she goes for limited editions-only or vintage pieces.
"You will appreciate and respect them more if you know the brand's history and the story behind its products. Many of those brands are over a century old, and they are still around. They must be doing something right," says Huang.
As far as luxury retailing is concerned, premium bags are the biggest moneymakers for fashion houses, she continues. In fact, close to 60 percent of several labels' revenues comes from accessories led by those trusty leather bags, says Huang.
"Today's consumers believe they can get more mileage out of branded bags and other fashion accessories than a piece of garment," she explains.
"Bags are more affordable and more versatile. If you want to spruce up your wardrobe without seriously damaging your budget, you would likely do that by purchasing a handbag."
At the Taipei 101 Vogue "Bag Magic" exhibition that opened last week, iconic handbags from Celine's classic Boogie bag to Pleats Please's Tube bag are featured.
"Perhaps you've noticed that several brands are focusing their advertising on bags, not on clothes," says Huang. "They have even revived classics like Loewe's Amazona bag and Hermes' Kelly bag. Although they are sporting new colors and patterns, their spirits live on."
In addition to budget considerations, consumers find it "easier" to purchase a bag because the latter fulfills a need, she says. To Huang, that pouch is no different from a "traveling" world.
"A photographer's bag, for instance, contains the lensman's tools of the trade. It's his livelihood. A makeup artist and her makeup kit are inseparable too," she says. "The bag is an extension of yourself. It fills a tangible and intangible need."
The next big thing in fashion, Huang adds, is technology crossing over to fashion, and vice versa.
"IT companies are looking into the fashion industry for pointers now, and are looking for ways to 'accessorize' their technologies. People are tired of lugging around plain and boring bags for their gadgets. They want more life and color," she says. "Before, we saw athletic brands crossing over to fashion and vice versa."
Although women constitute the world's bag market, more men are switching to fancy products too, she says, adding that the kiddie bag arena is another potentially lucrative market for lifestyle brands.
Proving her point, Huang takes note of the guys window-shopping at Taipei 101 Mall.
"Look at that man," she says, pointing to a youngish-looking guy carrying a toddler on his right arm. A huge bag with floral prints was slung on his left shoulder.
"Men still have to carry things. Unlike women, their bags do not contain beauty products or personal care products; they contain gadgets, laptops, reports. That bag represents his miniature world. It contains what is essential to him, or whatever it is that serves his purpose on that day. That's why I called this show 'Bag Magic.' It's a bag of dreams, secrets, and necessities."
A bag could also contain a day's "harvest" or a bunch of "deliveries," says Huang.
"At the end of the day, you come home and your bag is either lighter or heavier," she says. "Perhaps you did a presentation that day, and you handed out the thick documents stashed in your bag to your clients or bosses. Your presentation turned out great. You go home and your bag is light but your heart is full."
Unlike shoes and clothes, bags defy fashion seasons and need not come in specific sizes or measurements.
"One size fits all," says Huang. "They also represent a good investment. A well-made leather bag could last for years. They also tend to look better as they get older.
Whenever she is free, she indulges herself by designing her own bags.
"Don't ask me how many bags I have. The only thing that I can say is they are all like my friends. I'm not saying that in a 'crazy' way but I do," Huang laughs.
Pointing to the bright green handbag that she is carrying during the interview, the industry watcher says the bag "picked" out the outfit that she is wearing that day - a black velvet jacket with a green lacy ribbon, and a shapely black skirt with green accents.
"I love this bag because it's made from the most sensuous material. I also love things that move, hence, the tassels. I also like the decisive snap of its lock. Its color, dazzling green, also gives me so much joy," she says.
"This morning, when I was preparing to get dressed, the bag decided that I should wear this. Sometimes it's the necklace, sometimes it's the sweater who make those decisions. They speak to me, and this one said, 'Take me.'"
To Huang, her clothes and accessories are living, breathing objects.
"My clothes are like my friends. Sometimes I need to hide behind them; sometimes I need them to empower me. I even have clothes that give me a 'friendly hug.'"