Aerodynamic handbag launches Chanel into next millennium

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IT WAS NOT so much of a fashion show yesterday at Chanel in Paris, but a bag show. The sloppy tweed suits and cloche hats made some of the models look like bag ladies; but the big talking point of the show was the New Chanel Bag.

It is not quilted, and it does not have a gold chain. Instead, it is a hard brute of an object that resembles an aeroplane headrest. According to Karl Lagerfeld, the bag is aerodynamic and designed to take the house into the next millennium. Its name? The 2005. It looks so odd that it might take customers longer than that to get used to it: "It's totally new age," he said. "I have never seen anything like it."

The inspiration for the bag was the female torso, turned upside down, although for the pear-shaped Briton, it looks like the area between waist and bottom. The right way up, it has two breasts and a small waist. Like some sort of Nasa spacecraft, it has been cloaked in strict secrecy for the past year. It is supposed to be "body friendly", featherlight and made to hug any part of the body. According to the designer himself, "you could use it as a pillow on an aeroplane".

The battle for the lucrative bag market is fierce now that Louis Vuitton has a slick new designer providing a collection of pearlised blue and peach handbags and wrist bags, and Hermes has the avant garde, hipper- than-hip designer, Martin Margiela, to pump up sales of the Kelly bag.

Two other leatherware companies, Celine and Loewe, join the fray this weekend with brand new American designers to give their bag sales a boost. Michael Kors shows his collection for Celine today, and Narciso Rodriguez presents the first clothing collection for Loewe on Sunday.

The handbag has become more of a status symbol than it ever was in the Eighties; there are women who will join waiting lists for the sake of a pounds 5,500 crocodile handbag by Dior.

The 2005 will take some getting used to. But the superbag will certainly give Chanel's sales a new lease of life, while the clothes for autumn/winter '98/'99 look a tad dowdy. There is a shop in Paris called Didier Ludot that specialises in vintage Chanel, and this collection would not have looked out of place there. The cloche hats gave the tweedy suits and oversized iridescent pearls worn around the neck a tired and dated look.

Meanwhile, the people who specialise in counterfeit goods will be running up their own versions of the 2005 to be available at a market stall near you soon.