The Handbag of Happiness: joy worth fighting for

Alannah Hill opens a door into her world of fashion in her new memoir.

Alannah Hill opens a door into her world of fashion in her new memoir.

Fashion icon Alannah Hills shares an extract from her new memoir, The Handbag of Happiness (And other misunderstandings, misdemeanours and misadventures). 

Can a really, really expensive designer handbag make you happy?

Twelve years ago, I bought a really, really expensive handbag because I thought it would make me happy. My Miu Miu handbag dazzled with black and silver Italian sequins, often startling envious bystanders into staring at it until they risked going blind.

The interior of the Miu Miu was black kid leather, the clasp innovative and silvery cool. The handbag was so devastatingly beautiful that I forked out $4000 for it - the most money I have ever spent on an accessory, a shoe or a handbag.

I didn't believe in wasting money on designer clothing, jewellery or handbags. I preferred the knock-offs because I always ruin the interior of a bag. Lipstick, hairspray and lip gloss - they all love blowing themselves to pieces inside my handbags. I think it's because I leave my bags in the hot sun and it somehow forces the lipstick and hairspray to just kind of ... blow up - lipstick everywhere!

I believed in spending money on designer kitchens, marble bathrooms, vintage hand-blown pink chandeliers, dodgy real estate and a staggering shares portfolio with $300 worth of Rio Tinto and a few diamond shares. (Unfortunately, the Rin Tin Tin soon plummeted to catastrophic new lows and looked like it might never regain consciousness.)

But suddenly I wanted to know what it felt like to say, 'My bag? Oh ... it's Miu Miu!' You see, I was a successful 45-year-old businesswoman but I'd never owned a designer handbag. I didn't think I deserved to and, quite frankly, I thought people who purchased handbags over $1000 were insane! The few people I allowed inside my home would often comment on what they considered a disappointing, lacklustre, designer-deprived wardrobe.

'... not even a Dolce & Gabbana wallet? Chanel purse? A Balenciaga tampon holder? Come on ... you must have a few vintage Yves Saint Laurent leather totes lying around? They're iconic!'

Yeah ... and they're $50K!

One bitter-cold November afternoon when I was in New York for business, I marched into Bergdorf Goodman on Fifth Avenue, slammed the ludicrous $4000 onto my Black American Express card and then levitated.

I'd never been so happy in all my life! In fact, I was so happy I levitated six floors up, suddenly appearing in the fancy Bergdorf Goodman restaurant, where I congratulated myself with a Bergdorf burger and Diet Coke. I'd done it! I finally owned a designer handbag.

My handbag suggested to everybody I swanked toward that I was a successful person showing economic prosperity - the stains of childhood insecurity miraculously gone!

For ten minutes I was so puffed up with happiness I felt like a bright red helium balloon.

And then the happiness disappeared. And so did the red helium balloon.

After ten minutes, I was back to being me. Just me in an NYC 5 department store, spending $4000 on a bag in the hope it would make me happy. And it did, but only for ten minutes.

I often ask myself the question, What does make women happy? And the brutal answer is, nothing! Not for more than ten minutes at a time. But perhaps those perfect ten minutes are worth living for, and the hours that circle them worth fighting for.

I often ask myself the question, What does make women happy? And the brutal answer is, nothing! Not for more than ten minutes at a time. But perhaps those perfect ten minutes are worth living for, and the hours that circle them worth fighting for, making the ten minutes feel just a little bit longer.

Postscript: I was burgled in 2013. My new Mercedes-Benz was stolen from the garage, three laptops, iPads, four phones, Chanel sunglasses ... all stolen ... along with the happiness glitter bag! I was devastated. Mainly about the happiness bag! I worked alongside a St Kilda detective and helped him track down the bag. I found it on Facebook!

The burglar had given my car and happiness bag to his mother, who of course had to show off her new stolen gifts online. The mum stood proudly next to my stolen Mercedes clutching my happiness handbag. Her crim son lay spread-eagled across the car bonnet wearing my black Chanel sunglasses with a sanctimonious crim-like smirk.

Mother and son were eventually caught, but the only thing I really wanted was that bag back.

Two weeks later the detective from St Kilda knocked at my front door. He was hand-delivering my Miu Miu happiness bag. I felt the rush of red helium balloon happiness all over again - but only for ten minutes - and then I was back to being just me!

  • The Handbag of Happiness (And other misunderstandings, misdemeanours and misadventures) by Alannah Hills is published by Hardie Grant Books. It is available now.