The Color of Money


bag collage

Four bags: same model, same size, different outlet, different color, different price! Photo: Laura Fosmire

Color is important for all women; white adds volume, red should not be mixed with pink, and black is never out of fashion. The question is, how much are women willing to pay for just the right color?

“These Jenna totes sell like magic,” says Vincent, a clerk at the new Michael Kors store that opened on September first at Rockefeller Center on 50th Street and Fifth Avenue. The large grey leather Jenna tote goes for a “modest” $398, according to Vincent, but he assures me that “they last for life.”

“Three hundred ninety-eight dollars is still quite a bit off my price point,” I admit with a sinking feeling as I inspect the oh-so-desirable shiny MK pendulum that hangs from Jenna’s handle.

”Are you having any sales on this?” I ask.

“Not any time soon,” he replies.


Grey large Jenna tote for $398, sold at the MK Flagship store in NYC. Photo: Carolina Küng

As a Swiss  – and worst of all, a student  — I generally back away at this point and contemplate all the H&M bags and microwave dinners I can buy with $398. However, I have been in New York for almost a full semester, long enough to have caught the consumption bug – a phenomenon as predominate as apartment cockroaches – and as such, I decide to entertain the fashionista in me a little while longer.

“I saw this bag for $100 less at Macy’s,” I let slip, with that careless tone of voice I like to think I learned to do so well during my high school acting classes.

“Really?” Vincent asks, “In this color? That is strange.”

“Actually, I saw it last night on Macy’s website in a dark khaki color for 25 percent off the original price,” I explain.

“Oh,” he replies, unimpressed.

While propping up the tote on its glass shelf, Vincent explains that Michael Kors creates specific bags for different sales outlets; the original Jenna is part of the MICHAEL collection sold only in official brand stores. Flagship-grey Jenna is special because she is only sold at this store. Her sister, on the other hand – online dark khaki leather Jenna – albeit the same size and model, was made solely for online sale and is not exclusive. In this way, grey Jenna is a unique product.

“So the only difference between these two bags – one which costs $398 and the other $298.99  – is the color?” I ask again.

“Yes,” Vincent tells me to my surprise. Interesting.

Having drooled over flagship Jenna just over the appropriate time, I decide to visit Macy’s on 34th Street and Sixth Ave., in search of online Jenna. As I arrive at the ground floor I ask Daisie King – the store clerk at the Michael Kors stand – where I might be able to find the large Jenna tote that I had seen on the Internet in dark khaki brown.

“We don’t sell necessarily the same things in the store as on the internet,” King tells me, “but we do have some other large Jenna totes on sale.”

“Here it is,” she says as she introduces me to a “loden” – a fancy word for the color green – colored Jenna mercilessly tossed under a pile of other discount bags. It takes me a few minutes to believe that this item, hidden away in a corner shelf, is the same luxury bag that Vincent pampered at the flagship store. A quick examination of the interior lining, tag and product name however reveals that loden Jenna is indeed the same make and model as flagship Jenna, but $99.50 cheaper, purely on account of its color.

Macy’s does not sell the khaki brown Jenna on the floor, King tells me, but loden and khaki Jenna are currently the same price.

“Online and floor prices are not always the same,” King says. Online pricing is done by a different team than floor pricing, and Macy’s and an MK representative decide together which items will go on sale, she explains. “Down here we log every bag that gets sold. Then we present these numbers to Kors and they instruct us on which items can go for sale, which ones they want to send to us and how low we can take the prices.”

Vincent’s explanations ring a bell in my head at this point.

“So not all Michael Kors models get sold for cheaper prices here?” I ask.

“No – we only do discounts on some bags,”  King tells me.

“And have you ever sold this Jenna tote in a grey color?” I ask.

“I don’t think so – we never sold it at discount, that’s for sure,” she replies.

“So theoretically, if I am willing to be flexible on the color, I can get a Jenna for 25 percent cheaper at a department store or online than at the flagship?” I ask King.

“I guess so”, she replies, clearly not as impressed by this surprising discovery as I am.


Loden large Jenna tote for $298.99, sold at Macy's store in NYC. Photo: Carolina Küng

King was busy with early Thanksgiving shoppers at the Macy’s “one day sale” on Wednesday Nov. 16 – which store clerks claim generates high profits for the department store with more sales and cheaper prices than black Friday itself. Macy’s high discount strategy could help explain the department store’s continued growth in the third quarter: the latest company balance sheets demonstrate an increase in sales by 4 percent to $5.8 billion on the floor, and online increases of up to 40 percent.

Exhausted from the holiday shopping hype, I sit down at a Starbucks and decide to google the Jenna as I sip a pumpkin latte. To my surprise – and after only a few gulps – I discover a third Jenna sister, this time for $79 cheaper than the flagship sister, sold online only at a discount retail website, and available only in black leather.

At this point I am curious to share my discovery with fellow shopping lovers so I decide to set out and ask a few customers how far they are willing to stretch their bank accounts for a different color of the same item.

I make my way back downstairs to the Michael Kors display, where I meet 27-year-old Giselle Williams trying on two Michael Kors bags in front of the mirror, striking all the poses she could casually act out with her purse while walking down the street.

“Buying a bag is an important decision,” she informs me solemnly. Williams claims to be delighted with Macy’s one day sale, but her eyes light up when I tell her that, just at arm’s length, there is a bag that sells for $100 more at the flagship store; Williams cranes her neck to look over the group of excited shoppers already huddling around the discount stand.

“One hundred dollars cheaper just because of the color?” she asks, with some degree of suspicion. I confirm.

“One hundred dollars is a lot of money” she concludes. “I would not give 100 bucks more, the bags are all made in the same way and with the same material and fabrics anyway.”

Michael Kors window at Rockefeller Center, NYC, Photo: Carolina Küng

Hoping to spice the debate up a little, I head back to the flagship Michael Kors store where I explain my findings to Courtney Colavita, the worldwide Digital Editor for Gucci, who is inspecting a bag herself – albeit not a Jenna. Half expecting her to run out of the store in a frenzy, I am extremely surprised when she tells me,  “I would pay 100 dollars more for a bag, it is a special purchase because you get a whole brand experience. When you come to a specific store it’s because you believe in that brand, because you are buying into the dream of that brand.”

Her shopping buddy, co-worker Sheila Pellizzari, is considerably more excited and interested in my information.

“Of course I would buy the cheaper one! It’s just a bag, How can they [Michael Kors] allow Macy’s to sell their stuff so cheaply and dilute their brand like this?” she asks.

Colavita does not agree, and after discussing the issue for some time, both conclude that it depends on how much you are dreaming of a specific color and obviously, how far you are willing to stretch your bank account.

At first sight, third quarter earnings reports demonstrate that many, like Colavita and Pellizzari, are indeed willing to spend extra for a luxury Michael Kors item; the brand has more than doubled in size and has continued to enjoy annual profits of up to $1 billion  in the past two years. That said, experts believe that this year’s holiday sales figures – overshadowed by fears of European debt, continued high unemployment and shaky American investors – will  suffer from all time low consumer confidence ratings, especially on luxury items. According to the latest government economic indexes, low luxury consumer confidence (LCI) has already led to an  8.4 percent decline in the average money spent by affluent consumers on luxury goods in the third quarter, says consulting agency Unity Marketing.

As for myself, I return to the safety of my apartment satisfied with my bargain discovery and hoping to keep my own purse strings far away from tempting leather totes.

But I know that handbag passion is a strong, mysterious – and above all irrational – thing, the kind that makes women get up at 2 am on a Friday and hit the stores in sub zero weather. I hope not to be among them. I imagine I will be.