Fashion

The Tale of the £125k Bag

Paddle in hand, step inside the Christie’s London Handbags & Accessories auction

Jessica Bumpus | 22.11.2019

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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?

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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?

The Most Expensive Bag

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.

The Bestselling Brand

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.

The Rising Star: Brand

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 Rising Star: Design

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 Rising Star: Series

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.

What Makes an Auction-Worthy Bag?

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

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