From watching family members swap purses, an idea germinated.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Handbag enthusiasts disappointed that Santa didn't drop off the latest Fendi baguette or Prada backpack have another option: Bag, Borrow or Steal.
The Internet company that Lloyd Lapidus co-founded with brother-in-law Greg Pippo offers access to more chic handbags than an army of fashionistas could sport in a single season.
Customers can swap bags as often as they like, all for a monthly membership fee. The idea for Bag, Borrow or Steal came from watching "bagaholic" family members. Lapidus says.
"They're always lending out or borrowing purses, whether it's a special occasion or a night on the town," he says.
Taking that idea and realizing that fashion accessories were among the top categories at some online auction Web sites, a light bulb went off.
Hundreds on hand
"That's when we realized this was a major opportunity -- an established category and a brand-new distribution model," Lapidus says.
From Baby Phat and Burberry to Nicky Hilton and Yves Saint Laurent, Bag, Borrow or Steal carries hundreds of handbags to rent at three monthly membership levels, plus $9.95 per selection to cover shipping, handling and insurance.
There's "Trendsetter," offering the latest from "new, emerging designers," for $19.95; "Princess," providing well-known designer bags, for $49.95; and "Diva," giving customers their pick of the priciest, top designer bags, for $99.95.
Customers can send a "steal-it" request and buy the must-have bag at a fraction of the cost, depending on its age and wear. And the company reserves the right to charge customers for bags that have been stained or damaged, though that has yet to be a problem.
"Generally the bags come back shipped more carefully than we sent them out," Lapidus says.
While most customers come from major urban centers, a growing number hail from rural areas.
"They might not have a Madison Avenue or Bal Harbour address," Lapidus says, referring to exclusive shopping districts in New York and Florida. "For them, the concept of using the service for value takes a second seat to convenience."
The company buys most bags at retail prices but plans partnerships with manufacturers in the future.
The Web site recently added "Stacey's Designer Spotlight," a weekly feature in which Stacey Lapidus, Lloyd's sister and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, introduces up-and-coming creators of clutches, purses and handbags.
Absent from the company's Web site, however, are bags priced in the four figures -- such luxury brands as Kieselstein-Cord, Judith Lieber and Louis Vuitton. But maybe not for long. "If your favorite designer isn't there today, that doesn't mean they won't be there next week, next month," Lapidus says.
Kim France, editor of Lucky magazine, says the appeal of handbags is almost universal among women, especially the style-conscious.
"A Louis Vuitton bag makes a woman feel better about herself. It dresses up an outfit," she says. "A bag never makes you feel fat, and I think that's why shoes are so popular. But bags really do confer instant style."
France says the challenge is to find the right bag for the right occasion, which is more about putting together a complete look and knowing that "no one bag can be everything."
"Women get crazy about bags," she says. "They get excited about whatever the style of the moment is and get a bag that costs a lot of money, instead of going for a really great bag."