An honest review of the Celine Medium Cabas Phantom tote

You, dear readers, seem to love my honest reviews, so I'm pledging to do more of them in 2021—at least one a month. You appear to be particularly curious about luxury items, so first up is my biggest splurge of 2020, my Celine Cabas Phantom tote. As I noted when I first featured it here, I'm generally not a bag person (I'm more of a shoe person), but I'd been in need of a new work tote and was eyeing this one for quite a while. And by quite a while, I mean dragging Sean to every Celine boutique we came across so I could try it on and debate getting the medium size or the small. (I got the medium, obviously, but more on that later.) I finally decided to take the plunge last year in Paris; while that's out of the question for the moment, I wanted to share my experience anyway with the hope that, god willing, we can travel again soon. So here's how I bought my Celine Phantom tote in Paris, why I went with the medium, and how I really feel about it. 

How to buy a Celine bag in Paris

You can walk into any Celine boutique in the world and buy one today or even shop online and have it delivered to you. Being the frugal shopper that I am, I knew that most luxury brands are slightly cheaper when purchased in their native country, especially when you factor in a VAT refund; a favorable exchange rate can sweeten the deal even further. Knowing that we had a trip to Paris planned for my birthday—and that the bag I wanted was 1500 Euros in the EU (minus VAT refund) versus $1950 in the US—I hatched a plan. Now, don't fly to Europe just to buy a bag—that's crazy, not to mention environmentally irresponsible and, at the moment, not even possible. BUT if you are planning a trip and have a luxury item on your wishlist, do your research because you may be able to treat yourself to the ultimate souvenir. 

There are several Celine boutiques in Paris, but I chose to buy mine at the flagship on 53 Avenue Montaigne, which is the famed street where many of the couture houses have their ateliers. I went to that location because I was worried that some of the smaller stores, like Rue de Grenelle (which was much closer to our hotel), wouldn't have the exact bag I wanted. I also could have bought it at Le Bon Marché, but I wanted the full boutique experience. My salesperson was perfectly hospitable and not at all snobby (he spoke to me in English after I greeted him in French, c'est la vie); then again, I clearly knew exactly what bag I wanted, and I'm sure he had to deal with a lot of looky-loos, so there's that. He brought me a glass of Perrier while he went to fetch my bag from the stockroom; I admired it for a few moments, then bought it. The entire thing probably took 20 minutes. If you want the VAT refund (which, duh, you do—it's an extra 12% savings), you need to bring your passport so they can register the purchase with Global Blue, which is the service that handles the paperwork. The woman who rang me up was very forthcoming and helpful about explaining how to drop off my receipt at the airport; this was a stark contrast to my experience at Hermès a few years earlier, when I had to specifically ask for the VAT refund, then my salesperson claimed to not understand and had to go get someone else to help me (insert eye roll). So, five stars for my experience at Celine Avenue Montaigne. 

They gave me a ginormous shopping bag, and my tote was nestled safely inside a thick satin dustbag inside that. The store is just a block off Champs Élysées, so if you want to have a Funny Face moment (or a Carrie Bradshaw, or Emily in Paris, or whatever moment), you can promenade along with your purchase. I also recommend hitting the bar at the Four Seasons George V for a celebratory cocktail. 

When you register your purchase with Global Blue, you receive updates on everything via email, including a daily reminder to submit your receipt before you leave the country. (I had a slight freakout about this, because we returned to the US via London, but because Brexit had not yet happened, I could still do it at Heathrow, although that's probably no longer the case. Long story short, make sure you leave the EU via airport.) The Global Blue office was easy to find at the airport, and there was no line when we were there, but it was also the beginning of the pandemic, so make sure you leave enough time in case there is a line. I gave the agent my receipt (I think she looked at my passport too), she stamped it and kept it, and I was off. I received my Global Blue refund exactly 7 days later, and all in all, I paid $1391.31 (that's $1,566.46 minus the $175.15 refund), or about $725 less than what I would have paid in the US after tax. NOTE: If you spend more than $800 per person per household while abroad, you need to declare it in US Customs, and you need to pay tax (don't worry, it's minimal and you're still saving a ton of money). Don't break the law, because if you get caught, you could be fined and then you won't be saving any money at all! 

Medium Cabas Phantom tote vs. Small Cabas Phantom tote

This was the hardest part of the decision and the one that took the longest. I have been wary of carrying too big of a bag after a masseuse figured out it was the source of my shoulder pain years ago (you can read all about my revelation here); after years of small-to-medium bags, the small seemed big enough to me. That said, I wanted something that would fit my work laptop (a 15" Macbook Pro) and the small was just too tight of a squeeze. The small is 11" wide x 12" tall and 7" deep; the medium is 11" wide x 14" tall and 8" deep, but when you untie the belt, the top opening is about 20" wide. Also, you wouldn't think so, but two inches of height and one inch of depth do make a difference! Even with a computer inside, you can cinch the medium a bit for security and there's still plenty of room for your makeup bag, wallet, phone, and everything else you need. 

This is the small—too small on me!

I am also on the taller side (5' 7") and for whatever reason, the medium tote looked more in proportion to my body; my very petite coworker has the small and it's perfect for her, but she said she was overwhelmed by the medium. So definitely take your height and proportions into account. The best way to do this, of course, is to go into the store and hold the bag in front of a mirror (in one boutique, they actually let me put my laptop inside to check the size), but if that's not possible, I recommend making a paper cutout and holding that up. It really puts things in perspective!

And a note on color: I knew early on that taupe was the shade for me. It goes with everything—black, white, gray, brown, navy, and any color, not that I tend to wear much—and if you're undecided, I think it's the smartest one to go with. 

My honest opinion

Perhaps the greatest irony is that after months of research and saving money—and traveling halfway around the world to buy it—I basically carried this bag for a week, then the shutdown happened and I really haven't needed it since. It has more or less been sitting on a chair for the last nine months. But as Edith Piaf famously said, non, je ne regrette rien. I love this bag. It is quietly luxurious, which is my favorite kind of luxury. The leather is buttery soft and still smells good; the stitching is perfect; and I love how timeless the design is. Carrying it makes me feel like a fancy lady—not in a "look at me and my expensive bag" way, but in a "I worked hard to buy this for myself" way. It makes me feel abundant and reminds me of my blessings, including my amazing birthday trip. 

I know that we'll go back to the office (hopefully later this year) and travel and do things that would require me to carry a bag this large again, but in the meantime, I'm trying to find reasons to break it out, whether running errands or even just in an outfit shoot for this very blog. Then again, I had the patience to wait several years to buy this bag; I can wait a few more months until I need to use it every day. 

Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments below, or if there's anything in particular on which you'd like my honest opinion. Thanks for reading! 


Carrie @ Curly Crafty Mom said...

You are too cute with this fancy bag! Love all of the photos of the experience and the stop for the cocktail. Yes, I do hope we can travel again soon!


mummabstylish said...

What a yummy bag - I love it. Thanks for sharing on my #chicandstylish #linkup Jacqui x

Mica said...

It is a beautiful bag and I really enjoyed this post, being more of a bag person than a shoe person, haha! :) I think you picked a great size and colour for you although I do wish you'd had more opportunity to wear it - hopefully this year! The exchange rate wasn't the best when we were in the UK in 2019 so I didn't make any big purchases - I did spend a bit of time browsing in the Louis Vuitton store in the airport but even after the VAT refund the savings weren't big enough for me to justify splurging at the time.

Hope that you are having a great weekend! :)

Away From Blue

Lovely said...

That's a beautiful bag! Looks perfect for you! I love the color and size of the tote bag!

Shelbee on the Edge said...

It is a stunning bag, Cheryl! And I really love the way you went about saving some money on the purchase. I love your Paris photos, too! So fun! Thanks for sharing your story, your honest review, and linking with me!


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Randy S said...

Hi! Thank you for this review! I am going to purchase the Medium - even though I'm 5'3- because I need a school tote that will accommodate a small laptop- I'm a PhD student!!! It looks fabulous on you!!!! How durable has it proved to be?

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The Celine Medium Cabas Phantom tote is a timeless and elegant bag with high-quality materials, a spacious interior, and a minimalistic aesthetic. Its durable construction ensures longevity and appeals to those who appreciate understated elegance. The tote comes in various colors and is functionally sized, offering comfortable straps for shoulder or hand carrying and interior pockets for organization. It's an ideal work companion, suitable for travel, and can hold essentials without compromising style. The tote's day-to-night transition is seamless, and it seamlessly complements various outfits. The subtle Celine branding adds to its allure without being ostentatious. The bag is easy to clean and maintain, and its resale value is good. However, the price may be a significant investment, and the minimalistic design may not align with everyone's personal style preferences. Despite its luxury, the tote remains relevant despite changing fashion trends. It has achieved an iconic status in the fashion world and is a sustainable choice. Overall, the Celine Medium Cabas Phantom tote exudes overall elegance and class, making it a valuable choice for potential buyers looking for a luxurious and versatile bag.