Selling Sunset’s fourth season might as well have been called We Need to Talk About Christine, because that’s pretty much all that the Netflix series’ cast did. The luxury real estate agents of the Oppenheim Group discussed Christine Quinn’s pregnancy (and new baby) in tandem with fixating on all of her various feuds, both in and out of the office. All of which was, you know, fine. But there was one Christine Quinn plot point that went shockingly under-discussed: the bedazzled miniature folding chair she wore as a purse.
The chair purse made its appearance in the early minutes of the season premiere. Quinn, nine months pregnant, sporting a Cruella-esque peak-shoulder jacket and looking like a yassified fertility idol, wore it to meet with her boss, Jason Oppenheim, at a listing. After he suggested that the sparkling, six-inch chair dangling off her shoulder was not in fact a purse, Quinn insisted that it was. “It’s a chair purse,” she said, before clarifying, “You don’t hold anything, it’s a fashion statement.”
Exit chair purse from Selling Sunset, but not from my mind, which was wracked with questions. What are its origins? Can a fashion artifact be considered a purse if it’s not supposed to hold anything? And if it’s not a purse, what is it?
So, I consulted some fashion experts to get to the bottom of it all, and they came to a unanimous conclusion: Quinn’s eye-catching accessory is not a purse. “I’d probably call this jewelry or wearable art rather than a purse,” fashion historian Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell wrote Jezebel in an email, “but it’s certainly a humorous commentary on what constitutes a purse.”
Melissa Marra-Alvarez and Elizabeth Way, co-curators of the Fashion Institute of Technology’s new exhibit on the history of accessories in Western fashion, concurred. “There are certainly handbags that are not functional, but even the smallest, most fussy handbag—you can put something in it,” said Way.
The non-purse item in question is called a Crystal Chair Bag. It retails for $895, and is the result of a collaboration between Area and Myreality, the latter brand founded by Harry Nuriev and Tyler Billinger. The couple is perhaps best known as the owners of the design firm Crosby Studios, which crafts furniture and interiors—so the fact that the purse is, of all items in the world, a chair, isn’t coming from left field. It’s covered with glass crystals and includes a detachable chain, which means that the Chair Bag can transform into a Chair Clutch. (Also part of the collab are single chair earrings, cafe-style rather than folding this time. Starting price: $380.)
“We were like, ‘Want to do the biggest fuck-you to the mini bag?’” Billinger told the magazine. “The chair is a bag that is an accessory. You can put a coin in it, but [otherwise] there is nothing going in there, which is what we are obsessed with.” Just where you can put that coin isn’t clear in any of the images I’ve seen of the item, which appears to be free of enclosures. (I reached out to Area and Myreality for comment, but it looks like they’re doing their part to keep the mystery alive.)
But it’s not fashion history’s only example of an accessory that’s pointedly impractical: Chrisman-Campbell noted similarly improbable adornments of yesteryear, like the Renaissance-era zibellino, “a lifelike fur pelt that was decorated with real jewels,” and reticules, early 19th century purses that were so tiny they were mockingly called “ridicules.”
And the chair bag’s appearance on Selling Sunset isn’t even its first turn in the spotlight. This spring, a tweet featuring its listing on Nordstrom’s website went viral, inspiring jokes and fake reviews galore. (“The chair bag is perfect because it literally carries nothing but itself and that’s the kind of bag I’m looking for,” read one, “the kind that doesn’t carry anything and isn’t actually a bag at all.”)
Despite not really being a purse, the chair bag is pretty much the perfect accessory for Quinn, who’s one of reality TV’s most effective villains. It’s a bauble that’s a magnet for scorn, and exists purely as a fashion statement and status symbol. “It’s this ironic symbol of luxury,” said Marra-Alvarez. “You’re this woman and you’re going out, and you don’t need to carry any personal effects on you. Just something that’s really pretty and showy and sparkly.”
Personally, I appreciate the chair bag’s honesty. On a planet filled with need, a $900 decorative miniature chair masquerading as a bag feels like an affront. But are more mundane $900 bags better? At some price point that falls well before the thousand dollar mark, it becomes clear that whatever value a handbag holds doesn’t lie purely in its utility. The chair bag is a pointed departure from the more gussied-up varieties of consumerism, the ones that go on about trees planted and donations made in order to make us feel better about buying things that we still don’t actually need. The chair bag isn’t pretending to be anything more than a useless luxury item, and in doing so, it incriminates all the useless luxury items that so many of us own, but that more insidiously masquerade as functional purses and timepieces and footwear. It’s a folding chair, on a chain. That is all.