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RETAILERS BAG THEIR BRANDS STORES' DECORATOR SACKS BECOME PORTABLE ART POSTERS WITH HANDLES.

Byline: Candice Choi Staff Writer

The shopping bag, if properly designed, can take on a life of its own to become a billboard weaving its way through malls, parking lots and into people's homes and lives.

``It's sturdy, it's pink, and it's feminine,'' said Valley Village resident Brianne Bajo, explaining why she likes to carry her lunch to work in a sleek Victoria's Secret bag.

Bajo keeps a colorful collection of her favorite bags by the refrigerator, including bags from Banana Republic, Hollister and Guess.

For retailers, transforming shopping bags into a powerful marketing tool means focusing not just on durability, but also on an eye-catching, coveted design.

``It can increase the visibility of the brand, especially when the consumer is carrying the bag around the mall for hours at a time,'' said Debi Cours, marketing professor and director of the MBA program at California State University, Northridge.

And if the shopping bag is a commercial canvas, then Bloomingdale's is a Picasso, a Michelangelo and a Kandinsky all rolled into one.

The swanky department store - known for its iconic Big Brown Bag - even teamed up with designer Marc Jacobs this holiday season to create a splashy bag with giant smiling lips all over it.

Abercrombie & Fitch's bags, often picturing scantily-clad models, come with directions on how to transform them into posters. The idea came after executives heard college kids were taping up the bags on dorm room walls.

``The aspirational retailers understand the importance of a shopping bag: the quality of the paper, the construction - in our case, the great- looking models,'' said Tom Lennox, spokesman for Abercrombie.

Flimsy plastic bags may save retailers some money, but they'll ultimately end up hurting the company's image, said Sharon Zukin, a sociology professor at Brooklyn College in New York and author of ``Point of Purchase: How Shopping Changed American Culture.''

``They're basically mobile advertisements,'' she said. ``Shopping bags are the ideal containers for a mobile society.''

Coming to that same conclusion, executives at DSW Shoes redesigned a plain white shopping bag two years ago to reflect the brand. The bag now bears DSW's trademark black and white stripes.

As part of the redesign, even the construction of the bag got a makeover - from paper to strong plastic with a cardboard bottom, said Mike Levison, vice president of marketing.

Some bags are so iconic they don't even need to bear the retailer's name - especially Bloomingdale's Big Brown Bag, which first hit the streets in 1973 and has hardly changed since.

Not just women collect bags for future use.

Men save strong plastic bags from Circuit City and Nike to tote around personal items, too, Zukin said. To avoid alienating men with glossy pink bags, Zukin said certain retailers are careful to stick with classic, simple designs.

That doesn't prevent some women from coveting the more colorful bags out there.

``I'll use a nice, shiny bag to bring stuff over when I want to impress my sister-in-law,'' said Cathy Herpich, a Simi Valley resident.

To keep things fresh, most retailers update bag designs almost as often as the seasons change, rolling out special designs during the holidays or back-to-school season. Abercrombie updates its bags four times every year to mirror what's happening in the store. At Bloomingdale's, framed special-edition bags even deck the hallways of the company's corporate offices. Victoria's Secret, which launched a holiday bag of pink and foil stripes last month, will introduce a bag with a tweaked color palette and sturdier corners in February.

``It's brand elevating,'' Tervo said.

Some bags even function as status symbols. In her book ``Point of Purchase,'' Zukin tells of a man who buys a bracelet for his girlfriend at Tiffany's and finally feels at ease walking around the store with the light blue bag in his hand.

``He felt like he belonged once he had the bag. It's an all-access card that gives you the right to belong,'' Zukin said.

Candice Choi, (818) 713-3634

candice.choi(at)dailynews.com

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3 photos

Photo:

(1 -- 2 -- color) Customers carry their purchases in sleek bags that give the Bebe store some free advertising, above, at the Westfield Shoppingtown Topanga mall. Below, Vanessa Guitterrez of Woodland Hills talks about her shopping bag preferences.

(3) It's pretty and also easy to carry. Cathy Herpich of Simi Valley holds up a shopping bag while making her rounds at a mall.

Evan Yee/Staff Photographer
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 8, 2004
Words:735
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