But fashion will never make the handbag obsolete, says James Sherwood
When the editor of Harpers Bazaar, Liz Tilberis, inadvertently left her tote bag in her car, Karl Lagerfeld looked her up and down and declared, "No bag? How modern!" In London, the reaction would be, "No bag? Been mugged?" On every street in Britain, women stagger about with bulging handbags. It may be modern not to carry a bag, but women still need somewhere to put make-up, mobile, keys, ciggies and diary.

In July,'s Vogue we were told to "Go Logo! The brand name has undergone a renaissance." But in the August issue we learn that Lagerfeld has had enough of Chanel's gold double C and banished both bags and buttons. Confused?

Like so many Savonarolas, fashion designers have been ditching the glitz from handbag design. "Even the discreet Prada black triangle is easy to copy," says Evening Standard fashion writer Angela Buttolph. "So there's no point spending pounds 1,000 on a bag most people think you bought for $5 in New York's Canal Street market." John Galliano may have just released a bag collection for Christian Dior dripping with gold, jade beads and pink tassels (from pounds 1,125), but we all know that only high-class hookers carry status bags these days.

Even those who can afford silly little orange, satin, Kelly bags don't buy them. The serious money is with the Fendi straw Catherine Deneuve bag (around pounds 800); smart, with a combination-locked compartment for your diamonds. Most women buy a handbag per year and may spend around pounds 200, but they want their money's worth.

In its infinite wisdom, fashion has deemed the clutch bag essential this autumn. Delightful as Donna Karan's pounds 395 velvet clutch may be, only Joan Crawford circa 1940 could carry it off. "The clutch is the closest thing to no bag at all," says Buttolph. "Turn it to one side and it vanishes. Now, I wish I could edit my life to a Psion organiser, lipstick and wafer- thin diary, but I can't."

The no-frills shoulder bag is the people's choice - be it Bill Amberg unstructured ombre suede for pounds 185, chocolate jersey Dollargrand with leather straps for pounds 80 or, hold your breath, Prada's black, nylon, school satchel for pounds 395. London store Browns says, "The men's Prada accessories are extremely popular with women because they are functional and more classic than the women's fashion pieces."

The funky, practical choice for working women - though not city types - is the straw tote bag. Ralph Lauren does them with plaited leather handles for around pounds 90. Alternatively, nip into any House of Fraser and get one for pounds 8.50.

Tilberis's final tip is to carry your tote to work but conceal a clutch in there for lunch appointments. "You don't want to bring your cellular to a restaurant, after all." Perish the thought!