Paola Kustra is the most glamorous "bag lady" you'll ever meet. Statuesque and beautiful, she looks like a model—and she often is on her blog, The Style Battalion, where she documents her outfits (and enviable travels) with a focus on her one true love: handbags.
It's a familiar passion—who among us hasn't drooled over a Chanel double flap or Celine trapeze bag—but hardly an accessible one. Kustra is here to change that.
The Buenos Aires, Argentina native came to the States more than 15 years ago for an IT consultant job with a major oil and gas company and eventually decided to do something productive with her addiction to designer purses. She launched Bag Romance in 2015 (albeit under a different name until a 2017 rebrand), a web-based, mail-order luxury bag rental service that temporarily loans nearly 100 high-end, highly coveted pieces all over the country for a fraction of retail price.
It's a similar concept to Rent the Runway. You could buy a Chloé shoulder bag for $1,850, or you could carry it (there are week and month-long options) for $155. Inventory is divided by designer (all the greats are accounted for: Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel, Dior, and the list goes on) and occasion, like wedding, vacation, or impress-the-mean-girls-at-your-upcoming-high-school-reunion (okay, maybe we added that one ourselves).
Over a glass (or four) of rosé, we talked with Kustra about what a fabulous bag can do for a woman's confidence, why anyone would ever carry a 10-centimeter "nano" bag, and how she wants to redefine our relationship with luxury.
On falling in love:
"I was crossing the street, 72nd in New York, and there was all this traffic. All of a sudden I see this bag on the opposite side, and I was like, Oh my God. It was kind of like when you see a guy and you just fall in love. I started staring at the bag. I later discovered it was a Louis Vuitton Speedy, and I started kind of chasing it all around New York, going to the store, asking for the price 10 times. I think the sales guy was like, 'not you again!' That's how I fell in love. That was my first crush. From there it kind of built up with different brands and different bags, and I was like, Okay, I need to do something about this love."
On making luxury bags accessible:
"That's part of the value proposition that we're offering, knowing that designer handbags are desired by so many but attainable by few. Our solution is a new commercial relationship, renting, which is possible nowadays because of the sharing economy. Our solution is allowing other people to love handbags and do something about it, to have a healthy relationship with handbags as opposed to being frustrated because you see all these amazing bags on social media that you cannot afford. Just rent it, love it for a few days, return it when you're ready, and be happy about it. You don't have to commit to a full-time relationship."
On popular rentals:
"YSL is the most popular designer we offer, and the most popular style is the wallet on a chain. People love that one because it's such a versatile bag; the patterns are easy to match with different outfits, night or day. Gucci is also super popular, and people love the Marmont. That one is super hot and always on rotation."
On her favorite designer:
"That's a hard one, because I love them all, but it would be Gucci. He's so out of the box; right now he's going super retro, but I'm waiting for his return. We need you back in the Marmont world!"
On her favorite bags right now:
The Le Chiquito from Jacquemus. It's such a cute piece; you can wear it on your wrist, you can fit credit cards—you can't fit a phone. Which is actually good, because then you're going to focus on your conversation with the other person you're with. It's super trendy, and you can use it as a crossbody. Chanel of course is another favorite because it's such a classic—whatever you wear it with is amazing. I also love YSL, that's super versatile. You can wear it with your jeans or you can wear it with a super dressy outfit.
On why anyone would carry a bag they can't actually fit their stuff in:
"As a woman, you always want to be fashionable. You want to show that you know about fashion, that you're in style and following the trends; that you know about the trends. To me, it's basic—you were born with this duty in life, you cannot give up on it, you have to own it and do your best. Make it cute, don't take your phone, just bring your cards and your keys and maybe take your phone in your pocket. The square, thick handle is so nice. The tiniest one you can do as a cross-body—you can only fit a finger. It's absurd, but it's so cute. You can rent it and wear it for a couple weeks; you experience the trend, love it, and ship it back, and you're happy with yourself. Our goal is to make women happy and have healthier relationships with luxury handbags."
On how she chooses inventory:
"I travel a lot—I have a very rich source in Europe, where they're always carrying the latest styles—and I input my own taste. It's kind of a mixture of all this information I'm getting; pictures, the latest trends, my own styling. I feel like I'm always speaking to a woman like me: super busy, needs something practical but at the same time wants to be stylish, and make it affordable. Working in a sustainable fashion company is very important today, and also from a customer perspective. People are more conscious; they want to do business with companies that are helping the environment and helping other organizations and non-profits. Those are things that we're planning for our company, too."
On the impact of a great bag:
"I feel like when you carry a designer handbag, you feel that you have style—you're stylish, you own it. I'm running this. I'm my own boss. That can translate into your mood and who you are and how you come across. It has that effect on your personality. You feel more accomplished."
On achieving work-life balance:
"I try to take a lot of walks. I like to take my mind away from the computer, and exercising really helps. I do yoga twice a week, and I go for walks almost every day, which helps me to reorganize my thoughts and plans and priorities. That's the way I'm doing it right now, and I'm very lucky because I feel like I'm achieving that balance. I once read an article about a CEO that needed to stop for an hour each day to go running because he knew that that was how he'd be most productive and really contribute the most to his team. That stuck with me."