A 10-year-old Hermès Himalaya Birkin with a diamond-encrusted white gold lock is expected to become the most expensive handbag ever sold at auction in Europe when it appears as Lot 175 of 220 handbags, which will go under the hammer at Christie’s in London on 12 June.
“Only three of these particular bags have ever come up for auction,” says Christie’s handbag specialist, Rachel Koffsky. “We don’t think there are many of them out there. I have my fingers crossed that we will break records with this bag.”
The bag is tipped to exceed its estimate of £100,000-£150,000, putting it in line to top the highest price paid for a handbag at auction in Europe, which stands at £155,000.
The vibrant market in investment bags is driven by demand for Hermès Birkin and Kelly bags, which account for about 90% of sales at auctions worldwide. The most desired pieces in a sale at Christie’s Hong Kong last month were two Hermès Birkin bags, which sold for £130,000 and £119,000, far in excess of their estimates.
The buzz around handbags as investment pieces has attracted art collectors, who in turn are diversifying the aesthetic of the sales beyond the traditional crocodile-skin trophies desired by ladies who lunch.
The London auction will include a white Hermès bag painted with the red Nasa logo and signed by the New York artist Tom Sachs, who explores the juxtaposition between luxury and reality in works such as Tiffany Glock, a boxed handgun made of cardboard painted to resemble Tiffany’s jewellery packaging, and Hermès Value Meal, a replica fast-food tray fashioned in Hermès’s distinctive H-stamped orange.
Koffsky describes the Nasa handbag, which has an estimate of £20,000-£30,000, as “a good-natured interpretation of consumerism … which shows how sophisticated our customers are. I can see this being bought by a serious art collector who will display it in a museum case.”
The pre-auction buzz among fashionistas centres around star pieces from recent Chanel catwalk shows, which are offered for a fraction of their retail price.
A Lucite No 5 perfume bottle handbag, which had instant waiting lists when it retailed for £5,800 less than four years ago, has a guide price of £2,000-£3,000. A Chanel robot evening clutch and another in the form of a matryoshka doll, complete with pearl-buttoned jacket, join a satchel sloganned with ‘Make Fashion Not War’ from a 2014 Paris fashion week show staged as a protest march. A 1970s gold metal Gucci clutch fastened with a trompe l’oeil belt buckle strap in the brand’s signature red and gold has an estimate of £500-£700, but the brand’s renaissance under designer Alessandro Michele may result in a higher selling price.
Hermés’s classic Birkins and Kellys remain the mainstay of the market, says Koffsky, because “the incomparable craftmanship means they look perfect 30 years down the line. The style is a classic that can’t be improved.”
The “It bag” was invented in the 1990s by designers such as Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs, but Koffsky believes the emergence of handbags as investments came after the financial crash of 2008, “when women looked at the bags they had been buying and started to really focus on the iconic models that held their value”.
The result was a doubling down on the blue-chip Birkin and Kelly models. The Kelly – the more formal and structured of the two, with a single top-handle strap where the Birkin has two softer straps that divide the front closure flap into three – has recently swapped places to become the more sought-after of the two, a switch Koffsky attributes to the popularity of the Kelly among fashion bloggers.
With auction prices mirroring the catwalk trend for mini-handbags, a 1992 ‘micro-mini’ Kelly bag, which at 15cm is small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, has clients “lining up around the block”, despite a guide price of £6,000-£8,000.
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