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Bagged: holdalls to die for

Hester Lacey on why a pounds 109 nylon shopper is a must-have for Sloan es
THE Prada shop in London's super-elegant Sloane Street seems an unlikely place for unseemly scuffles, with its tastefully subtle yellow walls, thick, peachy carpet and soothing background music. Inside, all is tranquil, but apparently its parent store in Milan has played host to less than ladylike scenes.

Prada clothes are the hippest thing out at the moment, but the real must- have among fashion-able women who lunch is a Prada handbag. Models and fashion editors have apparently crossed swords in-store when stocks run low - particularly of essentials like nylon shoppers.

Nylon shoppers? Yup. The cool receptacle where the cognoscenti stow their bits and pieces is, at the moment, a nylon shopper. But not just any old nylon shopper - the ones that bear the Prada logo cost pounds 109.

As well as the shopper style, nylon bags at Prada come in many guises; black with tiny black patent daisies; off-white with pink knots and pink suede drawstrings. Expect to pay between pounds 200 and pounds 500 for the more elaborate versions. Each bag comes with a cute pale blue envelope tucked into an inside pocket, holding a plastic Prada Authenticity Certificate Card, which can be brandished if anyone misses the triangular logo and accuses you of bag-buying at Salisburys.

They are hard to track down: the only stockists in London, apart from the Prada shop itself, which opened in February, are Joseph and Browns. Even Harrods and Harvey Nichols don't have them.

So how has an elusive nylon shopping bag managed, with one swipe, to knock Chanel's quilted and chained efforts squarely off their pedestal? "Selling nylon and people going mad over it is quite strange," agrees a PR lady at Joseph. "It started with the shopper, which is the cheapest and most accessible - they are tough, lightweight, even better than leather. The first people to have them were the fashion editors and models, who carried all their stuff in them - they hold loads, and they're very hardwearing, but with kudos - and they became an institution."

But aren't designer labels an Eighties concept? Not Prada. The Prada label is, apparently, very Nineties. "They're very modern-looking, very understated, and they really capture the moment," says Tamara Yeardye, a fashion assistant at Vogue. "They're streets ahead of everyone else."

Elizabeth Walker, executive fashion and beauty editor at Marie Claire, is another fan. "It's not just a handbag, but a style - minimalistic, with an Italian twist. Prada bags are beautifully made. And while Chanel and Hermes and Vuitton are priced out of reach, these are not beyond the realms of possibility. When there was only the one shop in Milan, it was really very fresh, minimal, new. They were clever as well - they encouraged fashion editors to go in, they gave us discount cards and letters. It was our first port of call after booking our favourite restaurant in Milan for lunch."

Prada's rarity, she feels, is part of the appeal. "If they are distributed too widely, they'll be like Chanel bags - you'll be thinking, 'Golly, all the Japanese tourists have got one of these.' "

Cosmopolitan fashion director Elaine Deed's enthusiasm is more guarded. "Chanel was the bag for the Eighties, Prada is the Nineties - Prada has eclipsed Chanel as a status symbol. But I wouldn't use Prada to accessorise a shoot in Cosmopolitan, because the bag would probably cost more than all the clothes put together. Models and fashion editors are the only ones I see carrying Prada."

Is it worth buying any old shopper and hoping for the best? "To look at, maybe there wouldn't be much difference - it's the name and rarity value that put the price up. Before I had children, I might have considered Prada for myself - but it's the cost of the school fees, isn't it?"

So, with much fanfare, the celebrated shopper bag turned up in the office. And we were somewhat underwhelmed. Minimalist is certainly the word, especially for pounds 109. It's a bag you would have to be careful to carry with the logo facing outwards. But, as Tamara Yeardye says: "There are some very good copies around." A similar effort from Salisburys would set you back pounds 5.99.