business. It was founded by a Polish refugee
in 1932, and current owner Chris Moore (no
relation to Ronald) explains, “My father started
off there as a shoeshine guy, but eventually he
and I acquired the business in 1993.” Artbag
specializes in invisibly repairing almost any
handbag, from simple cleaning (starting at
USD 95) to relining (from USD 200).
Chris Moore estimates that his business
has grown at least 20 percent to 30 percent
in the past decade, driven by boutiques that
outsource purse overhauls to his team. He’s
tight-lipped about the brands, but has ample
expertise with Birkins and Chanels. He says
Artbag’s most common assignment is zipper
replacement: “Ladies overstuff their bags and
cause the zipper to do things it wasn’t intended
The toughest job is replacing a lining,
especially on that prized Birkin, which requires
deconstructing the bag to access and remove
the fabric, then piecing it back together and
painstakingly matching every single stitch.
Also common are burn marks from candles.
When Moore received a Van Cleef & Arpels
evening bag, its silk crispy and charred, his
team duplicated the shape with a similar
fabric before remounting it on the original
frame. There is little he can’t salvage. His
answer to a green Givenchy handbag that sat
in a puddle for hours: refinishing it entirely,
covering the watermarks with a slightly
darker custom stain.
Across the Atlantic, in the tony town of
Harrogate in England, Judy Bass runs The
Handbag Spa. The leather goods veteran
takes in repairs on site and via a net work of
more than 100 dry cleaners across the U. K.
Bass began her business three years ago, teaming up with her 22-year-old daughter, Freya,
a recent fashion graduate. “That first holiday
season, we had 10 bags and we wondered, how
on earth are we going to cope?” Bass says.
“Now, we have up to 500 handbags at any one
time.” A cleaning costs GBP 60 (around
USD 79) and takes t wo weeks, while GBP 190
(USD 250) will buy a six-week full restoration.
Much of The Handbag Spa’s business
involves repairing brands like Mulberry,
Chanel and Louis Vuitton; the widely lauded
results rely on a secret process. “ We have a
bespoke cleaning system, handed down to us
from a cleaning expert who died shortly after-
wards,” Bass says. Ink removal is a common
request, as is repairing scuffed corners. But a
recently received Chanel bag was somewhat
more unusual: It arrived with the explana-
tion that a mouse had died in it. “There was
certainly an aroma that hinted it had been dead
quite a long time,” Bass recalls. Nonetheless,
she was able to return it to the owner as-new.
Luxury shoes are receiving extra attention,
too. Ladies who scuff pricey stilettos needn’t
risk a botched repair, thanks to the whimsically
named Minuit Moins 7—a French phrase for
the moment when Cinderella loses her slipper.
The original Paris location was co-founded
by Christian Louboutin in 2009; a satellite
location soon followed in London. In the past
t wo years, trade has increased from 500 to
nearly 900 repairs per month, and MM7 now
focuses entirely on Louboutins. Replacing the
signature red sole like new is GBP 90 (USD 118).
MM7 offers other repairs, as well; if a bow has
fallen off, the team will try to source the same
fabric, or a close likeness, to restore the shoe.
Louboutin also developed a special red rubber
sole just for MM7 to use in its repairs. The
cobbler’s usual turnaround is t wo to four
weeks, and it also accepts shoes by mail, for
those who find themselves far from London
or Paris with a damaged Louboutin heel.
The increasing interest in such services
comes down to a confluence of factors. The
recession made frugality chic, while the boom
in vintage and second-hand goods, especially
luxury handbags at auction, encouraged more
people to consider such repairs for their own
pieces or to refurbish a new-to-them purchase.
Some high-profile brands have adjusted their
in-house policies—such as one that recently
restricted a popular refinishing service to
bags less than 5 years old—helping independent repair ateliers gain traction directly with
consumers. Meanwhile, best-selling books
have emphasized the value of buying less but
buying better, and the rise of 3-D printing
promises on-demand creation of almost any
spare part needed for a quality repair.
Ronald Moore, though, happily retains
an analogue approach, operating solely by
landline, with no email, cellphone or website.
Fielding calls and deliveries with aplomb, he
regularly declines work from clients. “I don’t
want them to throw money away. People get
annoyed when I tell them what they don’t
want to hear, but certain fabrics just don’t look
right” when repaired, he says, noting that cottons and silks are particularly hard to reweave
well. “There’s nothing I can’t get above 50
percent repaired, but that’s not where I want
to be. I want to be closer to 100 percent.” ■
Mark Ellwood, born in the U.K. and now based in New
York, writes for Departures , The Financial Times’ How to
Spend It and T: The New York Times Style Magazine.
“Some high-profile brands have adjusted their in-house policies—such as one that
recently restricted a popular
refinishing service to bags
less than 5 years old—helping
independent repair ateliers
gain traction directly
with consumers. ”
An Artbag artisan
focuses on his craft.
The workshop can
replace or shorten
piping, and restore