Cleaning handbags: Perfection vs best achievable results - a case study

The $64,000 question

In a previous blog post, we addressed whether or not a handbag, purse, wallet, backpack, briefcase or item of luggage can be restored to perfection.

To explain the perfection versus best achievable results dilemma, we started with an analogy.

A patient visits her doctor with one or more heath-related complaints. The doctor carefully reviews the patient's medical history, examines the patient and identifies the symptoms. Next, the doctor diagnoses the problem(s) and prescribes a course of action designed to alleviate the patient's ailments.

Will the patient recover? Completely? Partially?


Can the doctor guarantee that the patient will recover? Completely? Partially?

Of course, not.

That's why you're required to sign a release from legal liability every time you visit a doctor or hospital.

We'll, it's no different (in concept) when it comes to cleaning and/or restoring handbags, purses, wallets, backpacks, briefcases and items of luggage.

If you accept the premise that a handbag cleaning specialist cannot guarantee that your accessory can be cleaned and/or restored to perfection, what results can you reasonably expect when it comes to cleaning and/or restoring a handbag or other accessory?

The perfection one would find in a brand new, identically-styled handbag currently on display in a boutique or department store?

Or the best technologically achievable result based on the skills of the handbag cleaning specialist, the processes employed and time available to get the job done?

Most reasonable clients would agree that perfection is rarely attainable and that they're looking for the best technologically achievable result.

A case study in feigned ignorance

On a rare occasion, a client will feign ignorance of the fact that perfection is rarely attainable and use that feigned ignorance to support their demand for monetary compensation.

To illustrate the point, let's examine an actual case of feigned ignorance.

To start, we'll introduce you to the primary character in this drama, Ms. Feign (a name we'll use to protect the guilty) of Scottsdale, Arizona.

Ms. Feign brought in a Gucci GG fabric handbag with red dye transfer from a red garment (probably red jeans) for cleaning. We cleaned the handbag inside and out by removing all the red dye transfer, removing all the ink stains and soil on the lining, disinfecting the lining and reconditioning the leather.

In other words, we transformed the handbag from unwearable to wearable condition.

Shelle Turf of Scottsdale GG fabric/leather trimmed handbag with red dye transfer

Apparently, Ms. Feign was pleased with the result.

So much so that she returned two weeks later with a 6 year old Louis Vuitton Batignolles Horizontal Tote -- brown monogrammed PVC coated canvas with natural cowhide leather (aka vachetta) handles and trim. 

The defects

We examined the handbag in her presence and identified a number of defects:

  • The exterior brown monogrammed PVC coated canvas had a half inch "cut" on one side
  • The natural cowhide leather was a dark shade of brown.
  • The natural cowhide leather handles were oil stained
  • The natural cowhide leather trim along the entire opening of the handbag was oil stained
  • The natural cowhide leather trim along the entire opening of the handbag exhibited small indentations or  cracks
  • Every piece of metal hardware was scratched
  • The piping on every corner was scuffed and almost worn right through
  • The lining was ink stained in numerous places
  • The interior of the handbag had a musty smell.

Armed with the results of the examination, we informed her that we'd do our best.

More specifically, we informed her that, when it comes to cleaning and/or restoring any handbag or accessory, perfection is unobtainable and that the goal of any handbag cleaning specialist is to deliver the best technologically achievable results.

To reinforce the point, we showed her before and after pictures of other Louis Vuitton brown monogrammed handbags that we had cleaned as well as other completed Louis Vuitton brown monogrammed handbags that were waiting for pick up by other clients.

By so doing, we believed that pictures and examples would enable any reasonable client or prospective client to develop a good understanding of the results that could reasonably be expected.

After providing her with a price quote, she decided to proceed with the cleaning.

The cleaning

During the course of the cleaning process, we:

  • Removed the musty smell that had permeated the handbag.
  • Hand cleaned the exterior brown monogrammed PVC coated canvas, removing a light film of dirt that had accumulated over the years.
  • Hand cleaned the natural cowhide leather handles, extracting as much of the accumulated oils as possible.
  • Hand cleaned the natural cowhide leather trim, extracting as much of the accumulated oils as possible.
  • Hand cleaned the interior lining, eliminating all the small ink marks and significantly reducing the intensity of the larger ink stains.
  • Re-cleaned the interior with a virucide, killing 99.9% of all bacteria and germs.

The results of the transformation can be seen in the following BEFORE and AFTER photographs:

The Shelle Turf Louis Vuitton brown monogrammed PVC coated canvas tote cleaned and restored by RAVE FabriCARE in Scottsdale, Arizona

For even more BEFORE and AFTER photographs on the transformation of this handbag, please view our slide show below:

To view this slide show on a full screen, hit the X button with the arrow tips.

The pick up

When she arrived to pick up the handbag, Ms. Feign feigned rage at the "condition of the handbag".

Apparently, she was upset that we weren't able to miraculously transform her abused Louis Vuitton handbag to showroom new condition.

We informed her that we had fully discussed the results that could be reasonably expected from the cleaning process prior to accepting the handbag for cleaning.

We also reminded her that we'd shown her before and after photographs of other Louis Vuitton brown monogrammed handbags we had cleaned as well as actual examples of completed Louis Vuitton brown monogrammed handbags so that she would gain a full understanding of the results that could be reasonably expected.

What Ms Feign didn't know at this point (and what you ought to know as you read this) is that we take multiple "before" and "after" photographs of every handbag, purse, wallet, backpack, briefcase and piece of luggage we accept for cleaning and/or restoration.

The claim

After feigning rage, she claimed that we had ruined her handbag. The words used to describe the condition of her handbag after cleaning included "horrible", "crappy", "awful", "bad" and "wrecked".

After concluding her rant, she refused to pay for the services rendered and left our facility without her handbag.

The demand

Ms Feign returned to our facility on two further occasions (cell phone video camera rolling on both occasions).

On the second occasion, she brought her daughter as a "witness"; on the third occasion she brought her husband as a "witness".

On both the second and third occasions, she stated that she would not pay for the cleaning and demanded the return of her handbag. When she realized that we weren't going to waive the cleaning fee despite her screaming rants, she demanded a check for $900 as compensation for "ruining" her handbag in addition to the return of her handbag at no cost.

And the basis for the demand for $900?

According to Ms Feign, the Louis Vuitton store in Scottsdale had provided her with a "verbal quote of $900" to replace all the natural cowhide leather (handles and trim) on the handbag.

Apparently, Ms Feign had obtained the quote from the Louis Vuitton store in Scottsdale prior to bringing in her handbag for cleaning.

And how do we know that she obtained the quote prior to dropping off the handbag?

Because we contacted the Louis Vuitton store and found out that Louis Vuitton never provides repair quotes unless the handbag is physically examined by an in-store repair specialist.

Given the fact that the handbag had been in the sole possession of RAVE FabriCARE from the moment it was dropped off for cleaning, it's impossible for Ms Feign to have obtained a price quote subsequent to the cleaning.  

The revenge

Here's what we didn't realize when Ms Feign first brought in the Louis Vuitton handbag for cleaning and what became obvious as this drama played out...

Ms Feign had no intention whatsoever of ever paying for the service -- irrespective of the results.

She knew, from the moment she left out facility after dropping off her handbag, that unless we delivered absolute perfection -- an impossible standard given the age and condition of the handbag when she dropped it off -- she'd claim that her handbag was "ruined", decline to pay for the service and attempt to collect the $900 she needed to replace all the natural cowhide.

When it became obvious that part one of her strategy -- intimidation through screaming -- had failed, Ms Feign implemented part two of her strategy -- revenge through action.

Within a few hours of leaving our facility on the third occasion, she:

  • Posted negative reviews of our company on six different online review sites under 2 names (Shelle Turf and Shelle T) and under three pseudonyms ("karma-is-the-name-of-the-game", "kellykarma" and "fight to the finish").
  • Filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.
  • Contacted her "friend" at Channel 12 News to "do a segment" on our company.
  • Sent a letter to the Attorney General of the State of Arizona (Office of Consumer Affairs) requesting an "investigation" of our company.
  • Sent anonymous letters to the managers of numerous high-end department stores and boutiques that use our services on a regular basis and that refer their clients to us.
  • Sent threatening and extortive emails to our website contact address using her own email address and another family member's email address.
  • Attempted to spam our blog with negative comments.

Within a week of leaving our facility, she had:

  • Filed a lawsuit against us in Maricopa County Small Claims Court requesting "damages" in the amount of  $1,030 -- the alleged cost of replacing all the natural cowhide leather handles and trim ($900) plus "expenses" ($130).
  • Filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission in Washington D.C. requesting an "investigation" of our company.

The conclusion

As regards the letters sent to the store managers, Ms Feign attached an handwritten note to each letter stating "Here's info on Rave Fabricare Cleaners that you refer clients too. You may want to find a new place to refer them to, as this is posted all over the internet!"

How do we know that Ms Feign wrote those letters?

Because the handwriting on the notes was identical to the handwriting on her Small Claims Court filing (how stupid can one get?).

Needless to say, her "friend" at Channel 12 News declined the invitation (or, most likely, didn't even exist), the Arizona State Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission filed her complaints in the circular file, and the department store and boutique store managers forwarded their letters to us -- all but one with handwritten comments speculating on the mental (in)capacity of the anonymous writer.

As regards the Small Claims Court lawsuit, the star witnesses were the "before restoration" photographs and the actual Louis Vuitton handbag that Ms Feign claimed had been "ruined". After hearing Ms Feign's story, the judge awarded her $0.00 (zero dollars), and, in so doing, sent her a clear message: Don't waste our time.

In addition, the Court refused a request to order the return of the handbag to her without payment for the service rendered.

Subsequent to the case, Ms Feign abandoned her handbag.

About 2 years later, we received a few emails from her asking when she could pick up her handbag.

Imagine that!

We frequently use the handbag to illustrate the perfection vs best achievable results dilemma.

When you bring in your Louis Vuitton handbag for evaluation, ask to see the "Shelle Turf" handbag. It's a great example of the best achievable results.