The Color of Money (In the Bank)

Nothing escapes the all seeing eye (and lens) of Bill Cunningham, and he appreciates it all, from the highest of the high to the lowest of the low. Though I actually happen to think he REALLY appreciates those who not only exhibit a great deal of personal style, but find a creative way to get around the staggering high prices of fashion (it’s very much in keeping with his practical and economical aesthetic).

The Color of Money (In the Bank) photographed by Bill Cunningham

To wit, many years ago, he began to ask me about my clothes and accessories, which were admittedly, a combination of vintage finds, and ultra-high end pieces (high and low, there you go). He seemed to particularly love it when I told him something was scored for a ridiculously low price. The result was an 18 picture column, “On the Street: The Color of Money (In the Bank)”, which ran in The New York Times Sunday Styles section, February 11, 2000.

Just about now, all the BIG FALL issues are coming out, hawking clothes and accessories with astronomical price tags, (in many cases the prices are so heart failure evoking, they are not even listed but instead, the copy reads, “price upon request”). Leave it to the ultra-modern and with it Bill to put the spotlight on a great looking bag made of a durable,  EDA material, popularly priced at $120

Great Bag Co. Model M bag

His Sunday column “It Bag” featured Robert Verdi’s ‘Model M’ bag for the Great Bag Co. (Robert wanted to use this name for his company rather than his own, because whenever he sees someone carrying a fabulous bag, he exclaims: “That’s a great bag”!) The lightweight, stylish, stress crack resistant bag (which is easy to clean and will never slouch), is a one- piece molded handbag (an injected mold product, like Hunter boots). It’s made of a proprietary polymer called Fashion Flex and weighs only 1.4 lbs. It was approximately one year in the making (“the strap was the biggest challenge” Robert told me) and was formally introduced at a launch party held at the Bridgehampton home of Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch last summer.

Closeup of Model M’s buckle

Bill likened the bag’s handsome shape to that of the iconic Hermes Kelly and Birkin, but Robert sees it as a “finely crafted generic Italian leather handbag”. An avowed and longtime collector of ‘major’ handbags (he claims when he dies, there will be an amazing auction of his swoon worthy collection), he was inspired by all the details he personally loves: locks, padlocks, skeleton keys (“which are not being used anymore”). More importantly, he wanted to create an affordable “forever chic” bag that “people depend upon”, such as the L.L. Bean boating tote (always imitated, never duplicated).

He considers Model M (named after his mother Maria, who has always inspired him), a “fresh, modern version of that idea”. And he proudly hails it as “futuristic”, not only in its look, but since it is a single unit, (goes from “pellet to product”), and doesn’t require assembly (which reduces the cost of manufacturing), it is the “future of accessories”. It is currently available in 7 vivid colors (emerald, onyx, tourmaline, citrine, diamond, topaz, and aquamarine), but 5 more are planned for this fall (oxblood, brick red, chocolate brown, olive green, navy), and two more for holiday (matte gold and silver). When I asked Robert if he had a follow-up model planned, he told me he is concurrently working on a small cross body, a messenger, and a clutch.

Robert Verdi monogram gift bag

By the way, I was not in the least bit surprised that the always inventive and creative Robert (he started out as a successful designer of hand crafted silver jewelry, is currently selling sunglasses on HSN, and is working on a watch collection) has finally gotten into handbags. In 2013, in celebration of his 15 year anniversary in the fashion business, he designed a striking gift bag filled with a sweatshirt with his likeness, and gave them out during New York Fashion Week in September of that year. He took 300 black cardboard boxes and he had them printed with his interlocking initials, RV, in white.

It looked exactly like the iconic Louis Vuitton monogram which is probably not a coincidence since Robert is an admitted Louis Vuitton aficionado and it’s a brand he’s always collected and been associated with. It was as he put it, a “whimsical, amusing concept” for him; one which perfectly reflected his sense of style and his sense of humor. I still use this bag today as it is compact yet roomy, lightweight, goes with everything and is highly distinctive (it’s doubtful I will find too many others carrying it). And it’s a cheeky take on a luxurious standby.

– Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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