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HQ 962022

June 6, 2001

CLA-2 RR:CR:TE 962022 SS


TARIFF NOS.: 4202.21.6000

Ann Vietello, Import/Export Manager
Etienne Aigner, Inc.
47 Brunswick Avenue
Edison, NJ 08818-3111

RE: Request for Reconsideration of Port Ruling Letter C88827; Handbag With Outer Surface of Leather; Subheading 4202.21.6000, HTSUSA; Not Handbag With Outer Surface of Sheeting of Plastic; Not Subheading 4202.22.1500, HTSUSA; General Rule of Interpretation 3(b); Essential Character

Dear Ms. Vietello:

This is in response to your letter dated July 7, 1998, on behalf of your company, Etienne Aigner, Inc., requesting reconsideration of Port Ruling Letter (PD) C88827, dated June 29, 1998, regarding classification under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States Annotated (HTSUSA) of a women’s handbag. A physical sample of the handbag was provided with the request for reconsideration.

This letter is to inform you that after review of the ruling, it has been determined that the classification in PD C88827 of the handbag in subheading 4202.22.1500, HTSUSA, is incorrect. As such, PD C88827 is revoked pursuant to the analysis which follows below.

Pursuant to section 625(c), Tariff Act of 1930, as amended (19 U.S.C. 1625(c)), notice of the proposed revocation of PD C88827 was published in the Customs Bulletin, on December 6, 2000, Volume 34, Number 49. As explained in a notice published on February 1, 2001, in Volume 35, Number 8, of the Customs Bulletin, the period within which to submit comments on this proposal was extended to March 23, 2001. One comment was received.


The sample submitted with your request, identified by the group name “Manhattan,” is a handbag measuring approximately 9-1/2 inches in width by 8-1/2 inches in height. With regard to the thickness of the handbag, we note that while empty it is approximately 3 inches thick. However, the article has two 2-1/2 inch gussets which allow the handbag to expand significantly. A metal bar-type design with the name "HERITAGE" stamped in the metal is attached to the adjustable shoulder strap on each side of the handbag. The bag has a full length and full width front flap with a magnetic metal snap fastener.

When the handbag is opened, there is a mirror, measuring 2 inches by 3 inches, at the top of the underside of the flap. The interior of the handbag has three separate full-sized compartments. The interior of the first compartment has an additional small pocket, two elastic loops for pens or pencils and a detachable key ring. There is also a flat pocket on the front of the first compartment. The second compartment has a zippered pocket against the rear wall. The third compartment features slots for three credit cards, two loops for pens or pencils and a pocket that extends the length of the compartment. The lining is made of a textile material.

The exterior of the handbag is made of matching genuine and imitation leather. The back panel and the front of the full length and full width front flap consist of 100 percent cowhide leather. The imitation leather is made of fabric backed cellular plastic sheeting that has been embossed to simulate leather. The bottom, gussets, shoulder strap, front panel and underside of the front flap are made of imitation leather.

In PD C88827, Customs determined that the exterior was mainly covered with plastic sheeting and classified the article under heading 4202.22.1500, HTSUSA, as a handbag with an outer surface of sheeting of plastic.


Whether the handbag is classifiable as a handbag with an outer surface of leather under subheading 4202.21.6000, HTSUSA, or as a handbag with an outer surface of sheeting of plastic under subheading 4202.22.1500, HTSUSA?


Classification under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States Annotated (HTSUSA) is made in accordance with the General Rules of Interpretation (GRI). GRI 1 provides that the classification of goods shall be determined according to the terms of the headings of the tariff schedule and any relative Section or Chapter Notes. In the event that the goods cannot be classified solely on the basis of GRI 1, and if the headings and legal notes do not otherwise require, the remaining GRI may then be applied. GRI 6 requires that the classification of goods in the subheadings of headings shall be determined according to the terms of those subheadings, and any related subheading notes and, mutatis mutandis, to the other GRIs. The Explanatory Notes (EN) to the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System, which represent the official interpretation of the Harmonized System at the international level, facilitate classification under the HTSUSA by offering guidance in understanding the scope of the headings and GRI.

Heading 4202, HTSUSA, specifically provides for handbags of leather and handbags of sheeting of plastic. The sole issue in this case is whether the merchandise is classified under subheading 4202.22.1500, HTSUSA, as a handbag with an outer surface of sheeting of plastic, or under subheading 4202.21.6000, HTSUSA, as a handbag with an outer surface of leather.

The outer surface of the handbag at issue is composed of both leather and plastic sheeting. GRI 2(b), HTSUSA, states that the classification of goods consisting of more than one material shall be according to the principles of GRI 3. Under GRI 3(b) if goods are comprised of more than one material the goods are classifiable according to the material that imparts the essential character of the items. The Explanatory Notes for GRI 3(b) state in pertinent part as follows:

(VIII) The factor which determines essential character will vary as between different kinds of goods. It may, for example, be determined by the nature of the material or component, its bulk, quantity, weight or value, or by the role of a constituent material in relation to the use of the goods.

Accordingly, we must determine whether the leather or plastic sheeting imparts the essential character to the outer surface of the handbag.

A determination of essential character of the outer surface of luggage and related products cannot be based solely on a physical measurement of the component materials of the outer surface. See Headquarters Ruling Letter (HQ) 081375, dated October 3, 1998,

HQ 081374, dated August 8, 1988, HQ 081373, dated October 17, 1988, HQ 082332, dated February 21, 1989, HQ 084241, dated July 28, 1989, HQ 081224, dated September 26, 1989; HQ 955515, dated May 5, 1994, and HQ 958475, dated May 9, 1996. However, Customs has repeatedly stated that such a measurement is of paramount importance in determining the make-up of the exterior surface. See HQ 083175, HQ 081374, HQ 081373, HQ 082332,

HQ 084241, and HQ 958475 (cited above). Customs also stated that when viewing luggage and related products, the materials of the outer surface produce a visual impact which in many instances leaves little or no doubt as to what material gives the outer surfaces their essential character. See HQ 081375, HQ 081373, HQ 081374,

HQ 082332, and HQ 958475 (cited above).

HQ 955515 (cited above), involved the classification of a tote bag made of both a clear plastic vinyl material and leather material. The leather material formed, in a multi-colored patchwork pattern, the bottom portion of the tote bag while the upper portion of the bag was made of the clear plastic. The surface area was approximately 60 percent plastic and 40 percent leather. However, Customs stated that the fact that one or the other material comprised a greater percentage of the surface area was not necessarily controlling. Customs noted that while the plastic material provided the structure and utility, the leather material provided structure and aesthetic appeal. Thus, Customs found that neither the plastic material nor the leather material had been established as being sufficiently predominating to base a finding that either one imparted essential character to the entire outer surface.

A close examination of the instant handbag reveals that the plastic sheeting portion predominates by surface area over that covered by the leather. However, applying the rationale of HQ 955515 to the instant case, we find that the fact that the plastic material comprises a greater percentage of the surface area not to be controlling. The leather material comprises a significant percentage of the outer surface area of the instant handbag and provides structure and aesthetic appeal. Furthermore, the role of the plastic material in the instant handbag is distinguishable from the role of the clear plastic material in the tote bag in HQ 955515. In HQ 955515, the leather and plastic materials were of equal importance. The tote bag was more than a leather tote bag; it was a leather tote bag that also had a clear plastic section which allowed the contents of the bag to be visible. A purchaser selected that tote bag both for its leather and plastic components. The purchaser of the instant handbag, however, does not select this particular handbag because of the plastic. The purchaser selects the instant handbag because it is the leather material which imparts the primary visible appeal and saleability to the bag. Although the outer surface area covered by plastic may exceed that covered by leather, the leather material is more visible. When viewing the handbag in the closed position, leather comprises the entire front and back of the purse while the plastic material only covers the sides, bottom and hidden gussets. Clearly, the two materials are not of equal importance and the leather material plays a primary role. Thus, the leather material is sufficiently predominating to base a finding that it imparts essential character to the entire outer surface.

In HQ 081224, dated September 26, 1989, Customs classified a portfolio made of leather and textile material. The portfolio had textile embellishments providing a “brocade” effect on both sides. Although the leather material predominated by surface area, Customs found that the essential character of the portfolio was imparted by the textile material. Customs explained that the textile panels distinguished the portfolio from other leather portfolios and were intended to attract customers. Customs stated that greater weight must be accorded to the visual and tactile characteristics of the textile fabric given the fact that the textile portions were intended to attract customers and provided a selling point. Similarly, although the leather does not predominate by surface area on the instant handbag, it is the outstanding feature that is intended to attract customers and provides the primary selling point. Thus, Customs finds that the essential character of the instant handbag is imparted by the leather material. See also HQ 084241, dated September 26, 1989 (essential character of evening bag covered with textile material and plastic beads was imparted by plastic beads because they were most clearly designed to appeal to the consumer).

In HQ 081375, dated October 3, 1988, Customs found that the essential character of handbags made of plastic or cotton with leather trim was supplied by the textile material or the plastic material. The impression given by the outer surfaces was predominantly textile or plastic. Although the leather provided esthetic and functional qualities to the handbags, Customs stated that the presence of the leather was subsidiary to the presence of the textile or plastic which constituted the major portion of the handbags. See also HQ 081374 and HQ 081373 (cited above). In the instant case, the leather portion is more than mere trim; the handbag’s entire front and back portions are made of leather. The presence of the plastic sheeting is subsidiary to the presence of the leather. Furthermore, the visual impact is that of leather. Since the impression given by the outer surface is that of a leather article, Customs finds that the essential character is imparted by the leather material.


The subject merchandise is classifiable under subheading 4202.21.6000, HTSUSA, which provides for handbags with an outer surface of leather. The applicable general column one rate of duty is 10 percent ad valorem.

PD C88827 dated June 29, 1998, is hereby revoked. In accordance with 19 U.S.C. 1625(c), this ruling will become effective 60 days after its publication in the Customs Bulletin.


John Durant, Director
Commercial Rulings Division

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