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Beyond the Baguette

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Nineteen ninety-nine was the year of the handbag: As fashion's ficklest fans devoured Fendi baguettes, even snatching up every last copycat crumb, all the other designers decided to get a handle on the new accessories market. Last year's status-sack moment will reach far into spring 2000 as blue-chip couture houses, Seventh Avenue seedlings, and even seventies starlets all stitch up their own gotta-have-it bags.

Buzz bags, the brainchild of Jane Burley and Alicia Fox, might seem better suited to the Volvo set, with hot-pink tennis-racket covers and floral tissue holders ($24-$295 at Barneys and Henri Bendel), but the chintz wallpaper-type patterns (Fox is an interior designer by day) are being hoarded by Prada's urban army, which, you'll recall, took up the L.L. Bean tote last spring.

Patch NYC's kitschy bags have already earned a cult following among the likes of Madonna and Winona -- as well as the inevitable Old Navy knockoff. Designers John Ross and Don Carney are helped by the nimble fingers of Ross's mother and Carney's aunt, who sew the cute sequin-and-felt appliqués onto their vintage-inspired totes ($200-
$265 at Calypso and Barneys).

British bag guru Anya Hindmarch opened her first Stateside boutique two weeks ago (29 East 60th Street), showcasing innovative designs like photographs reproduced on leather totes and feathered clutches ($300-$1,100). A favorite of London's "It" girls, the bags are already on their way into the hands of this city's fashion flock.

After the runway's recent tribute to her Love Story-style ponchos and tweeds, Ali McGraw is banking on her own fashion moment with a line of gold-and-silver-embroidered bags ($750-$1,200, available at Bergdorf Goodman). Inspired by her journeys to India, McGraw teamed up with Badgley Mischka's embroiderer to create her hippie-chic pouches.

Gala girls can now find their trophy bags at Cynthia Rowley's boutique, where the gadabout designer has just introduced her first line of oh-so-precious purses. The colorful collection ($150-$300) includes a patchwork leather "Gaucho" shoulder bag and a striped "Pixie Stix" clutch big enough to stow away a pashmina.

Former MTV assistant Dana Feldman has just launched Bella B., a line of handbags (6) with Catskills mah-jongg-player names like Shupee and Contessa ($150-$450, available at Barneys and Blue Bag in March). The whimsical collection includes an Astroturf valise with a garden-hose strap and a puffy silk-taffeta evening purse.

The quilted "Lady Dior" bag has already been crowned a house classic by the fashion bon ton (Princess Diana carried one); now Dior's head designer, John Galliano, has his own brand-new bag. The haute handbag ($1,150 at Bergdorf Goodman) takes the arts-and-crafts craze to delirious heights with real pressed flowers and peta-friendly faux crocodile skin.


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