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A Crocodile's Bumpy Road From Farm to Handbag

A growing business provides the exotic skins wealthy buyers love
A Crocodile's Bumpy Road From Farm to Handbag
Photograph by Mark Baker/Reuters

These days, women of every economic stripe can be seen carrying pricey leather handbags. Not so with totes made of crocodile, one of the most difficult luxury materials to obtain, especially in the pristine condition wealthy fashionistas expect. As demand from the world’s elite surges for the skins, luxury goods companies such as LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Kering, the owner of Gucci, are making acquisitions to secure a supply of the beasts, whose habits make even collecting their eggs a matter of life and death. Keeping crocodiles from scratching or biting each other as you raise them from hatchling to arm candy is another major challenge.

“Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Gucci are trying to elevate the level of perceived exclusivity of their brands, and exotic-skin products really help,” says Mario Ortelli, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein. Such skins make up almost 10 percent of the total revenue for luxury brands’ handbag sales, at least double their share a few years ago, he estimates. The incentive for luxury goods companies, many of which are wrestling with sluggish demand for their most widely available products, is clear: Crocodile handbags can cost more than 10 times similar leather ones.