It is a strange sort of love, that professed by a woman for a prized handbag. Because however much pride she may have in the beauty of the item, however much fearful dependency she might feel when pricked by the knowledge that "her life" is held in its depths, and regardless of actual cost, the treatment dealt to the bag in question is often neglect bordering on cruelty.
Pens are left uncapped to bleed ink, cold bottles of water sit damply against silk lining, supple leather parches in the sun and dye from a hundred different outfits leeches from fabric onto and into leather. Until one day she declares it no longer fit for purpose. But it is too "loved" to be jettisoned completely, so it sits in the wardrobe, a silent reproach for a catalogue of casual disregard.
In the two months since they opened their boutique, Lovin My Bags, in Jumeirah, Dubai, this is a pattern with which Jai Tolani and Dhiraj Munjwani have become familiar. It is, after all, the backstory to most of the leather goods that have been brought into their chic little store so far. Jai points towards a white Louis Vuitton Mahima bag on display. "That sat in a cupboard for two years," he says. "Look at it now. It took us three weeks and cost around Dh1,500 to restore but the bag cost about Dh10,000 so it is worth it."
Today it bears the label "Groomed and Ready for Lovin." A once battered Fendi sits next to it, along from a classic Chanel clutch and a limited edition Gucci.
The concept behind Lovin My Bags is simple - a leather cleaning and restoration service with designer handbags as its primary, though not exclusive, focus. It is a Handbag Spa and every aspect of the marketing appeals to this notion. This is where bags come to be cleansed, moisturised, pampered and protected - to have years taken off their appearance and put back on their lifespan.
Customers bring in their bags (or shoes or wallets or belts), the damage is assessed and the repair done. In most cases the item will be returned to the client but some are sold as "Preloved" bags. The limited edition Gucci is one such bag. It is no longer on the market but bought new it would have cost around Dh14,000. "Preloved," the asking price is Dh5,500.
For friends Jai, 30, and Dhiraj, 26, Lovin My Bags it is simply a smart business opportunity. For their customers it is a godsend. At least that is what the entrepreneurs hope. It has been more than a year since they acquired the brand franchise to the Middle East. Neither had experience working with luxury brands - Jai worked for Mubadala before joining forces with Dhiraj who worked in his family's IT business - but both were born and raised in Dubai. They understand the importance of luxury in the UAE, they say, and they know the customers to whom they expect to appeal.
Jai says, "A lot of women have a fetish for handbags but more and more people are becoming aware of the value of the luxury they buy. There is not such a disposable approach to it as there was maybe a few years ago. "Whether you can afford to spend tens of thousands of dollars on an Hermès over and over or whether you have saved up to buy one special bag, the attitude now is that women want to care for that purchase."
Jai and Dhiraj may be relatively new to the business, with a year of training behind them, but the products and techniques they and their team of five cleaners and restorers use are drawn from the 35 years of experience of the American brand's founders, Barbara and Gary Crouthamel. Over the decades they have tailored their products to meet particular designer needs. Louis Vuitton, for example, uses Vachetta leather - naturally pink in tone it is untreated and therefore susceptible to stains and sun damage which causes an orange patina that ultimately discolours to dark brown. The Crouthamels have created a special Vachetta leather cleanser. Similarly, among the many bespoke products in the Dubai store is a cleaning agent designed to combat the dye transfer from abayas and a protective oil for handles, prone to damage and staining in the heat and humidity. The store also offers a protection service costing between Dh180 and Dh240 for new bags.
In time they hope to expand across the region. There is a big market, they say, in Saudi, Qatar, India and Kuwait. "Women love bags," Jai reasons. "All we want to do is show them how they can love them better."
Lovin My Bags, Palm Strip Mall, Jumeirah Road, 04 386 6081. Saturday to Thursday 10am - 10pm, Friday 4pm - 10pm