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Is it worth it?: D&G go OTT, frankly

Something makes this bag cost pounds 495. But what is it?
Single girls, don't despair! This spring, the only thing you want hanging on your arm is a designer bag. All the big names are out in force this season with The Bag top on the list of accessories. Calvin Klein, Miu Miu et al sell versions from pounds 245 upwards. But Dolce e Gabbana have taken the biscuit with a Norah Batty-style handbag at pounds 495.

A basic clasp-topped handbag, it is equipped with open compartments on each side, presumably for your pension book and shopping list. Is this a post-modern fashion statement? Or a designer rip-off? My money is on the latter. It may be described by Carol Lister, accessories buyer at Harvey Nichols, as "a fashion-forward but classic bag that will keep for many years, an investment buy", but it looks to me more like Bhs circa 1979. Yes, Dolce e Gabbana has taken the finest Italian leather and workmanship and created what looks like a cheap plastic handbag. Now, that's talent.

"This bag has a retro influence and the leather looks like Seventies raincoat material," rhapsodises Carol. "It isn't made from the run-of- the-mill leathers you find in the majority of collections. They won't have the same beauty and luminescence of colour." Luminescence? In a shade of buttermilk? "These bags are special," Carol continues, "because of the unusual finish. There is no tradition in this type of leather-making and Dolce e Gabbana has made innovative use of new leathers. This is a new, hard-wearing leather that won't scratch easily. The colours are never going to date.

Not satisfied by such twaddle, I took the bag to Linda Bee, a consultant on a forthcoming book called A Century Of Bags (published in September) and to handbag dealer Leslie Verrinder. I also brought along a Queen Mum- style plastic bag from D H Evans worth pounds 32. "It's difficult to tell the difference at first until you see the D&G lining," said Linda. "But if you'd said you'd bought it from Bhs I would have believed you, because the colour doesn't look expensive."

"You can tell a better-quality machine made the designer bag," says Leslie, "because the piping is much thinner and the stitches are smaller. It's taken time and skill to put it together, but it's not as nicely done as it could have been at that price. This could be the best leather in the world, but if it doesn't look nice, who cares?" On inspecting the bag more closely, Leslie looks aghast. "The inside zip is nylon and where's the mirror?" he says. "Where's the purse for change? You should expect those extras for pounds 500. Also, the metal frame doesn't close under the clasp which it should do for that price. And, I reckon there's a year's life in that lining fabric."

If your idea of sartorial elegance is a plastic handbag, pick up an original at a junk shop or car-boot sale, not at Harvey Nicks for half a grand.