NEW YORK — Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton. Many women would covet a handbag by one of these iconic fashion houses.
The still red-hot status handbag market, driven by celebrity trendsetters such as Katie Holmes and Victoria Beckham, has not escaped the notice of some big auction houses. They say it’s a new and growing category that is attracting a global clientele of sellers and buyers.
“For the last five years there’s been an incredible growth and interest from the average consumer in that type of piece,” said Matt Rubinger of Heritage Auctions.
Dallas-based Heritage has embraced the market since its first dedicated handbag auction in 2010. At its holiday sale a year later, a red crocodile skin Hermes Birkin bag set a world auction record when it sold for $203,150. A blue crocodile version at the same auction sold for $113,525, and a shiny red crocodile Birkin fetched $95,600. All three shattered the previous record of $82,100 for a black crocodile Birkin sold at Christie’s London in 2009. Christie’s had a London auction in November with many bags by Hermes, Chanel and Vuitton.
This past January, Heritage expanded to include weekly online sales that start at $1 and have no reserve and estimates. Generally, pieces sell from $500 to $2,500.
There is the occasional bargain: Recently, a rare Louis Vuitton top-handle bag in navy-blue Lucite brought $325 during a Heritage weekly sale, and a vintage Carlos Falchi clutch sold for as little as $69.
“It’s often the more modern versions, the brightest colors and rare leathers that sell for the highest prices,” said Christie’s fashion specialist Clare Borthwick.
These bags are relatively new pieces, most designed in the last 20 years, although some date back to 1950.
So, what’s all the fuss?
It comes down to quality and craftsmanship, with Hermes positioned at the top as the ultimate must-have status symbol with its tailored and sophisticated Birkin and Kelly silhouettes. (The bags are named after French actress Jane Birkin and the late Grace Kelly.) They are fine leather, limited-edition, hand-crafted pieces that “take hours and hours and hours” to make, said Rubinger.
Other classic and coveted bags are the Vuitton duffel-style Keepall and its smaller-sized cousin, the Speedy, and the Chanel classic flap bag, with its signature chain strap.
The waiting list for a new Hermes bag can be considerable, leading many people to discover auctions, added Carole Gordon of Bonhams. Auctions are also often home to unusual pieces, she said. It’s also a place where styles no longer available in the retail market can be discovered.
While many people may think it’s crass to spend five or six digits on a bag, the auction houses said they hold value.
“Hermes bags appreciate the moment you buy them,” said Rubinger. Compare that “to someone who spent $200 on a bag in the primarily market that isn’t worth anything as soon as they buy it — with no secondary market for it.”
Heritage Auctions: www.ha.com; Christie’s: www.christies.com; Bonhams: www.bonhams.com