Unstoppable in his creativity, the ghost handbag designer got his start creating Michael Jackson’s jackets and gloves, then he created the world’s most expensive perfume, and now his $35k bags are popular among celebrity and royal women
$65k (£48k) handbags, have you ever heard of such of thing? Well, it is a thing and HRH Arfaq’s ghost handbags are some of the most sought-after handbags amongst royalty and celebrities. Custom made down to the very last detail, and taking 12-14 weeks to create, it takes longer to do a special commission on building a Rolls Royce. But, the Ghost handbags are one-of-a-kind, tailored to the woman who wants the most unique of evening bags.
Started by HRH Arfaq, the creative architect has always had wheels of design ingenuity spinning in his head. From an early age he knew he wanted to create but he didn’t come wealth, he had to build himself up to get to where he is today. His story thus far is filled with incredible breakthrough and incredibly low points. He has known what it is to want, and his beginning roots are of humble ones. From Batley in Yorkshire, UK Arfaq worked hard in his early years, but it’s when he saw Michel’s Jackson’s 1983 Billie Jean music video he knew he had to design for the famous global pop singer, and his persistence to do this became a reality.
These $34k handbags you say
Standing in Arfaq’s showroom the designer is dressed in skinny black pants cut above the ankle, black sequined loafers, a black t-shirt with colorful print, and a light sweater. His energy is calm, not what many might think about him. With low lighting he motions for me to sit down as pleasantries are exchanged. After a few moments, Arfaq goes into detail about his bespoke handbags that by the end of the chat, it’s clear that his bags aren’t of pretentiousness but works of art and a creative labor of love for Arfaq to express his creativity.
Each handbag comes in a presentation case when a woman receives her bag. Done in a gun metal finish or rose gold or pink gold, it’s large and is used to protect and charge the bag. “No moisture or dust ever gets into the case because alligator and crocodile skins fade in the sunlight, and the moisture is kept to a point of perfection,” shares Arfaq. “Interior wise they’re all lined with the Bentley leather, hand lined and hand stitched. We have a platform down here which has all these incredible wheels, which turn and makes industrial wheel sounds. The only reason this exists is a sort of theater when you open.”
Everything is custom made from the skins on the outside of the bag, to the interior finishing, and the lit-up constellation lighting at the interior base. A teflon finish covers the bags so that raindrops don’t damage them. The most feminine and strong of women are his muse like model Kendall Jenner.
As the bags have not been on the market for long, women can purchase by invitation only, but Arfaq plans to transition to by appointment, and he is working on the second generation. “In the next generation, we’ve built in a palm reader so when your hand connects, a laser goes through and will read the veins in your hand. As soon as you have it and hold it, it will open according to one’s fingerprint palm reader. It also has contactless payment on the bottom and on the front, thus avoiding you putting cards inside the bag. It will have GPS tracking which is standard and it can be globally tracked.” This new generation will also have a mini refrigerator inside for women to put medicine or lipstick into, a touch Arfaq added for women in hot, humid, and arid countries.
From 1983 Arfaq knew he wanted to design for Michael Jackson so he worked hard to save and made his dream happen. By 1994 he got a forty-five-minute audience with the renowned singer through Bob Jones, vice president of the production company in Chicago. It was then that Jackson decided to buy every design Arfaq created, estimated to be worth over $340k+. Themed the “Fashion or Art” collection to which Jackson called: “pure genius.”
From that moment on Arfaq and Jackson worked together on various collections, cementing a flourishing creative, business, and personal relationship that lasted right up until Jackson’s death in 2009. “To be Michael Jackson’s designer was a dream come true, working with him closely in a creative field was a breathtaking journey. He was a visionary and pushed me hard to excel in my field,” remembers Arfaq.
The designer created over thirty-nine outfits and jewelry for the singer, which brought in a one-hundred percent sales record, the most any other MJJ Productions designer created for the singer. The jacket “Black Rain” was named after the it’s dazzling design and the effects it creates. It is an ultra-light-weight jacket, decorated with four specially commissioned military creations, which were all handmade and bespoke to the singer. Sewn with velvet gold wire and fine threads, the crests are exquisite in design. The finishing touches included 9ct gold button fastening.
Arfaq’s design creations can be seen in Jackson’s “HIStory World Tour,” the Brit Awards, and the Guinness Book of World Records for the world’s first crystal jacket, the world’s first air-conditioned jacket, the world’s first perfumed jacket, the world’s first adjustable shoes, and the world’ most expensive cufflinks. His last project for Jackson was in September 2001, which sold for over one million dollars. “He meant everything and was my dearest friend and first ever client,” says Arfaq.
V1 was named by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2000 as the most expensive perfume in history. Its notes are rose, jasmine, neroli, spice, amber and wood. Arfaq and his team of perfumers, one being Arthur Burnham who passed away in 2007 are the only ones who know the formula. They dug deep into antiquity, to Roman, Greek, Egyptian, and Babylonian history as a guide to use spices like quinces, saffron, and myrrh to tell a fragrance story. “Many of these spices were discovered in Tutankhamen’s tomb after it was opened 2,000 years later,” muses Arfaq.
A work of artisan craft, the bottle is created by Ateliers Dinand in Paris, and made of 1kg of pure platinum 18ct gold and ruby crystal. It’s finished with a 2.6 carat diamond encrusted wreath. S.C. Gordon Ltd, Rolls-Royce and Bentley were commissioned to create the case, as well as the Connolly hide interior.
Located in London’s Mayfair, Arfaq’s showroom is named “Maison de IF.” “I didn’t want to use my name at that time and I called it ‘If,’ meaning this idea of: if I had enough money to buy that handbag, if I could see you smile once more, etc. One lady said in the showroom, ‘if I didn’t buy this handbag, I’d buy that instead,’ so you get the point of the name.”
The ghost handbags are really something that must be seen to believed, but even deeper, seen to get why they cost so much. In a world where many are in need so may ask, why spend $65k on such an indulgence? Arfaq seems to get this, that’s why he has set up the business to give back. “In about two years my company’s plan is to have one-hundred percent of my royalties go to charity. The company will still receive income but one-hundred percent of my earnings for the Ghost handbag will go to charity,” he says. When meeting him it’s palpable that he doesn’t do what he does for money. His life is full but not ostentatious, as he can be seen grabbing McDonald’s and doing ordinary things. And while he does drive a Ferrari and yes, it is a luxury, it’s more so simply his dream car. Quiet in nature creating $65k handbags, he’s quite low key living between London and Yorkshire.
Arfaq does what he does because he loves it and he can’t seem to turn off his wheels of ingenuity. The man is a serial creator and he’s very personable, hence all the details he has thought of for women and what they need in a handbag, striving to make it happen. He simply couldn’t do anything else with his time except this passion to create things with extreme personal touches. “I can create virtually anything that I think of and make it come to life,” he muses from behind his dark glasses. “When I sit with accountants they’ll advise that I remove this or that detail, but I always say, ‘no I want it.’ I’ve realized to separate myself from the creative concentrate and let the business run works really well. I wish I understood how normal things work but I really don’t.”