It happened 209 lots in. There I was at the Christie’s London Handbags & Accessories Auction this week with a paddle buried beneath my notepad and I felt my hand flinch. Having been persuaded to sign up for the bidding device by Christie’s head of sale, Rachel Koffsky, (“It’ll be exciting!” she said), I of course had no intention of using it. But I do love bags and I have always wanted a Fendi Baguette. And here were nine of them (from the collection of Jacquelyn Miller Matisse), each as ornate and brilliantly early-Noughties as the next - with no reserve! And I had a paddle.
First came a Yellow Beaded Metallic Gold Baguette, 2005, with an estimate of £800-£1,000 (!). My breath became a little short. As the next lots came up, I looked around the room to see who my competition might be. And with each passing - and surprisingly reasonable - bid, I could feel my hand searching out the paddle again. Then: the Multicolour Psychedelic Beaded and Matte Shiny Purple Baguette. Should I do it? Now’s the time. Do it. Am I going to do this? Can I do it? Argh…Could it be mine?
It turns out no. Because I chickened out. And while some of the Baguettes went for a steal at the £625-£1,000 mark, the sensible part of my brain reminded me that, regardless, I needed to pay rent next month. Put the paddle – aka a fast-track to draining my bank account – down. Others in the room, on the phone and bidding online, however, clearly felt bolder than me – or were seasoned at this sort of thing.
This year’s luxury auction totalled £2,928,000 with 100 per cent sell-through, meaning that every lot that went up was sold. There was Hermès, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Dior and the aforementioned Fendi, all on offer. A preview of the sale the day before was like walking into a dream bag wardrobe.
Notably, a couple of hardcore buyers, which included men and women, went home with more than one purchase (some, I counted more like five), and there were bidders across six continents from 42 countries with Qatar and Texas locations often left going head-to head.
But what exactly were they bidding on?
A rare Hermès Matte White Himalaya Niloticus Crocodile Birkin 30 with Palladium Hardware, 2019, which had an estimate of £60,000-£80,000 but sold for £125,000 in the end, prompting applause from the room. A smaller 2014 model went for £93,750. The bag is notoriously an auction winner: last year a slightly larger 2010 version with 18k white gold and diamond hardware went for £236,750 and broke the European record for a bag sold at auction.
Also Hermès. It boasts the lion’s share when it comes to auction lots owing to its long history of bag-making. “So you have models from the 1940s and 1950s whereas iconic bags today were designed in the 1990s or 2000s,” said Koffsky. The Hermès Shiny Orange H Porosus Crocodile Diamond Birkin with 18k White Gold and Diamond Hardware, 2005, came in to be the second most expensive bag sold at this sale achieving £112,500; while an Hermes Bleu Du Nord Swift Leather & Osier Mini Picnic Kelly 20 with Palladium Hardware, 2019, sold for £52,500.
Louis Vuitton, circa the early Noughties Marc Jacobs era and Virgil Abloh’s ongoing tenure. A limited-edition Superflat Jewellery Box by Takashi Murakami 2003 had an estimate of £1,500-£2,000, but ended up going for £11,000; while a set of two limited edition Denim Monogram Blame by Judy Blame and Speedy bags caused a surprising bidding war and went for £2,375. A recent Prism Keepall 50 by Virgil Abloh went for £6,875, having had an estimate of just £1,500-£2,000.
The Dior saddle. “When it was first released it was a trendy bag, then it died down and its value was quite low. Now that it has been re-released the value has come back up again,” said Koffsky. There were two in this sale – an olive green monogram canvas 2018 model that was quickly snapped up by a very excited younger customer for £2,375; and one from 2003, black silk and velvet with pompoms, which also rose swiftly beyond its estimate of £800-£1,000 to £2,750 (my hand might have flinched at that one too).
The Hermès So Black series from the Jean Paul Gaultier years (2003 to 2010) is one to look out for. The three bags in this sale went for £24,375, £32,500 and £56,250. “The phenomenon is really at a tipping point in how collectible it is,” said Koffsky. Earlier this year one broke records in Hong Kong when it sold for over £150,000.
Condition, demand, rarity and collectability are all factors. As well as what’s going on in the primary market, be that new releases (such as the Hermès Picnic), re-issues (Dior’s Saddle) or hype around designers (Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton) that suddenly put the spotlight on a style or brand. Undoubtedly, though, there are some (such as Hermès) that are always in demand among the secondary market. But other than that, there’s no specific criteria per se – it can come down to who is in the room that day; if Koffsky knows she has a client who wants the piece, or if she herself would buy it. Bags are personal investments, after all.
Images | CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD. 2019