A Year in Brocante 10: Upscaling and Hacking



















“Upscaling” is the next step up from recycling.  It means taking something old or broken or molecularly challenged or unfashionable and re-inventing it as something new. ‘Upscalers’ would qualify as ‘guerillas’, ‘hackers’ or even ‘bombers’.


‘Hacking’ originally meant to extend or modifiy the capabilities of a device for a purpose for which it wasn’t originally intended.  There is good hacking and there is bad hacking. Bad hacking is the violation of internet security codes (which computer programmers think should be called ‘cracking’) by what the technology community defines as ‘Hats’, their motivation denoted by colour; black (criminal, espionage or world domination as in the Chinese military) white (computer security experts) and even grey (a mix of black and white) and blue (an individual used by legit firms hired to bug-test a system looking for exploits which can then be closed.) I knew a ‘blue hat’ in Cork, a guy more interested in music than book learning who was so brilliant a hacker that a major systems operator gave up trying to close him down or prosecute him and contracted him instead.  ‘Good’ hacking is now so popular it is known as a job creator, a movement of those with good ideas and creative skills. ‘Good’ hackers – or ‘guerillas’ take ordinary mass-produced stuff such as Ikea furniture and make it their own.


I haven’t a clue about technology, so couldn’t be a ‘hat’ but I am a hacker, an upscaler, a guerilla and a bomber.  I have even been known to add some extra pleats to an Issey Miyake coat, cut-outs and patches to Desigual skirts and tops and have risked the Conformity Police – and the real police – by yarn bombing a piece of public sculpture outside the Esplanade ‘Theatres on the Bay’ arts and entertainment centre in Singapore. (“Yarn bombing is defined as ‘Graffiti for Grannies’.)


For many years, my sisters and I – and then our daughters – have been big fans of Longchamp’s  ‘Le Pliage’ and are rarely without one of the French label’s nylon- canvas tote bags slung on its long leather handles over our shoulders. Inspired, the company says, by the Japanese art of Origami, “the simple yet absolutely ingenious Le Pliage bag has become a must-have accessory all over the world.”


What was great about the Lonchamp, beside the huge range of colours, roominess and its light, foldable convenience, was that it was a minority niche favourite and not widely enough known outside of Europe to warrant the mass-production of cheapo versions. In the past couple of years however, the Longchamp ‘Pliage’ or ‘Shopping’ bag has become ubiquitous, is highly desirable and highly prized as “the must-have accessory all over the world” and is everywhere…. “walking” as we say in Cork, or, as one adoring blog of dubious linguistic and literary abilities says “Carrying this sort of a handbag will unquestionably make your lifestyle filled with envying eyes”.



This upscaled bag is my latest bit of fun. The added covering qualifies it for inclusion in the ‘Year in Brocante’ category because it was bought – yards and yards of it – in a flea market here in France. It is cotton lace in creamy beige and white which may have been destined originally for making those short café style curtains beloved of the French. Because I added the lace to a lettin’on Longchamp bag (i.e. a fake) it also falls within several other categories!


The original Longchamp Pliage is less expensive in France than anywhere else in the world, but now that poor eejits believe that carrying this sort of a handbag will unquestionably make your lifestyle filled with envying eyes, it is being produced by the million in Asia for the Australian, North American and European markets.  When one can get a decent enough fake, lettin’on version for a tenner, why pay around a hundred for the original?  Well, the original lasts and lasts carrying heavy weights without complaining. Lettin’ons don’t last, the poor binding falls apart, the rubbery backing of the fabric sloughs off leaving a sad interior.  As nobody wants a sad interior – but I certainly want a bit of fun –  the lettin’on is brilliant as a canvas (gettit?) for creativity….well, if Tracey Emin can do it, so can I. (“Do you mean not make your bed Belle?”)


Just don’t give me the ‘Frenchjobsyaddayadda’ spiel; like everything else these days, not all of Longchamp’s merchandise is made in France but is produced mainly in Tunisia and China…as are the cheapo versions.  The fakes are sometimes so good that there are countless websites devoted to the perils of buying a Longchamp Pliage from any outlet but a dedicated Longchamp shop or concession, with frantic consumers getting their handles in a twist worrying if their double square of stitched nylon is the real Allie Daley. One sleuth advises using a magnifying glass to spot fakes!


I’ll still travel with my beloved leather-bound heavy duty canvas Longchamp wheeled trolley, briefcase and overnight bags as they’re stylish, low-key, well designed, tough and dependable (Himself even steals them for short business trips) but not loud or expensive enough to warrant notice on the airport carousel. The Pliage is another thing entirely. Now that they’re commonout, farewell leather-handled nylon canvas Longhamp totes and goodbye, we’re off to create the New Next Thing! In the meantime however, I’m having a bit of fun, personalizing my oldies, the worn ones, the tired, the poor lettin’ons, the huddled masses at the bottom of my wardrobe yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of my teeming store.

Isabel Healy

Isabel Healy

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