If you’re forever bookmarking Birkins and screenshotting Kellys, read on. Vogue brings you the lowdown on how and where to buy an Hermès bag – and how to care for your investment piece – with advice from experts.
Some of us spent lockdown poring over investment purchases. According to Lyst, demand for Hermès bags as a whole has spiked 430%. So even though handbag usage was at an all time low, more shoppers than ever were browsing some serious trophy pieces.
It’s common for consumers to fantasise about a Birkin or a Kelly bag, owing to the cultural resonance of both Hermès shapes. But the maison’s Herbag – a canvas and leather purse affectionately referred to as the Kelly’s “younger sister” – is a more feasible entry-level option, especially for first-time buyers, given its starting resale price of around £500.
Embarking upon the search for an Hermès bag can be daunting – and it’s not something that should be rushed. Research is essential. “Make sure that you have done your homework,” says Rachel Koffsky, VP, international senior specialist for the handbags and accessories department at Christie’s. “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
If you are planning to part with the undeniably eye-watering sum for a true fashion classic that will maintain its value, read Vogue’s guide to buying an Hermès bag first.
What makes Hermès bags so special?
Hermès bags are a labour of love. “The Hermès Bag is the best example of a heritage piece as it contains an emotional value, and this is why it is so loved,” says Sophie Hersan, co-founder of Vestiaire Collective. “These bags are treated with care and have durability, as people attach emotional value to the story behind how they obtained their Hermès bag.”
The maison started life as a Paris harness workshop, established by Thierry Hermès in 1837. Its specialism shifted in the succeeding years and its very first handbag was unveiled in 1922. The Kelly’s predecessor, The Sac à Dépêches, was introduced by Hermès’s head of firm Émile-Maurice in 1935, who wanted to create a bag that met his wife’s needs. Renamed the Kelly in 1977 after Grace Kelly, the Hollywood starlet who became Princess Grace of Monaco, it has since become a fashion classic. The Constance arrived in 1969, and the Birkin several years later in 1986.
Where can I buy an Hermès bag?
“I highly recommend purchasing a vintage piece from a reputable source,” notes Koffsky, who deals with Hermès pieces on a regular basis. Auction houses are a good place to start for those seeking rarer models, with the likes of Vestiaire Collective, 1stDibs, Hardly Ever Worn It and Collector Square all major players in the luxury resale market.
“We encourage questions – our team of experts can help you find your favourite colour, size, leather and style,” explains HEWI’s CEO, Tatiana Wolter-Ferguson. “We welcome private appointments with our personal shopping team and can share videos to ensure our clients are confident with their purchase.”
When buying a brand new Hermès style, it’s best to reach out directly to stores and boutiques, who will assist your search. Be patient – you might wait months or years for the right style to become available.
What is the difference between a Kelly and a Birkin bag?
As mentioned, the Kelly bag was renamed after Grace Kelly. She catapulted the style to fame when she was photographed with it – after being introduced to it on the set of Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief – for an outing in 1956.
The Hermès Birkin shares its name with another icon, Jane Birkin. The actor revealed in 2012 how she found herself seated next to Jean-Louis Dumas, CEO of Hermès at the time, on an Air France flight from Paris to London in the ’80s. After spilling the contents of her bag on the plane floor, he reportedly remarked, “You should have one with pockets”, to which she replied: “The day Hermès makes one with pockets I will have that.” Dumas reportedly said, “But I am Hermès, and I will put pockets in for you.” Birkin duly sketched a prototype on a sick bag – drawing a style that nodded to both the Kelly and her partner Serge Gainsbourg’s suitcase – and lent her name in exchange for an early model of the bag in 1984.
The two bags have different hardware closures, and the Birkin has two handles compared to the Kelly’s one (the latter also has a strap, allowing it to be worn as a cross-body). Both are made using the most exquisite Hermès craftsmanship.
“It’s quite simple, a Birkin is a better everyday bag as it’s less structured in its design, giving it a more casual look, while the Kelly has a more classic presence and is a great option for special occasions,” suggests Tony Freund, editorial director of 1stDibs.
How long is the waiting list for a Birkin bag?
The million dollar question. The reality is, waiting lists at Hermès stores no longer exist. Demand for both styles outstrips supply, meaning that stock varies from store to store. Boutiques have their own style offering, with infrequent deliveries and little notice as to which colourways or finishes will be available to purchase at any given moment. For this reason, customers who want a brand new bag should enquire in store, and seek advice from Hermès sales experts.
Alternatively, why not explore vintage options from a resale site? Your perfect bag may already be out there, waiting for you.
What is the most expensive Hermès bag ever sold?
In 2016, a 2008 Birkin made from white Himalaya crocodile with 18-karat white gold and diamond hardware was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong’s 30th anniversary auction for £208,175. The following year, a similar Birkin from 2014 sold for a jaw-dropping £293,000.
Freund reports the most expensive Birkin sold on 1stDibs was listed at $225,000, and the most expensive Kelly fetched $134,000. Sara Bennani, head of bags at Collector Square, says that the platform once sold a Birkin in geranium crocodile for €49,500, while the most expensive piece currently listed on Vestiaire Collective is a Birkin 35 crocodile bag with silver accents, with a price tag of £148,685.
During Koffsky’s decade at Christie’s, she mentions that one of her “absolute favourite handbags of all time” was the Hermès Metallic Bronze Birkin 25, created in 2005. Twelve years later, in 2017, she had the “privilege” to auction one in Paris, which was expected to sell for between €8,000 and €10,000. In the end, it sold for €100,000. “The excitement of auction cannot be overstated, each sale is like the premiere of a show,” she says. “When top collectors have their eye set on an extreme rarity, there can be no limit to the bidding.”
Is an Hermès bag an investment?
“The handbag market is more similar to other markets than you might expect – it is all a matter of supply and demand,” says Koffsky. “Pieces that are hard to come by are considered rare and valuable. This is why the Hermès Birkin and Kelly in limited edition or discontinued [colours or leathers], and pristine vintage condition capture the attention of collectors.”
As with any investment – be it a work of art or a classic car – condition is everything. Keeping your Hermès bag pristine means it will retain its value for years to come. “Condition is one of the most important indicators of value,” Koffsky continues. (See below for advice on keeping your Hermès in tip-top condition.)
Which Hermès bag should I buy?
“Curating a handbag collection is very much like curating an art collection,” says Koffsky. Whether you’re an Hermès newcomer or an avid collector, the bag you choose should be based on your personal taste. Classic colours like black, gold, etoupe (taupe) and ivory are consistent bestsellers, and smaller Kellys and Birkins are currently making a comeback (Hersan notes the popularity of the Birkin 25, in particular).
How much is an Hermès bag?
The price will depend on the leathers, exotic skins, hardware and colourways. A product being pre-loved doesn’t make it any less desirable – in fact, where Hermès pieces are concerned, the opposite is true. It’s in a seller’s interests to keep their bag in mint condition, so even though the prices are still high, you can rest assured that vintage Hermès styles will retain their value.
Birkins can start from £7,000 for the most basic, smallest size, or £9,500 for the larger, but prices can rapidly escalate from there. A “never worn” vintage Kelly bag carries a similarly hefty price tag – a Belgian seller is currently offering a pristine camel leather Kelly 32 bag for £8,950 on Vestiaire.
How do you look after an Hermès bag?
• “You want to store it at room temperature and away from direct sunlight. If you have the original box, store it inside. If not, the dust bag will do as well. You want to keep the bag covered at all times when it’s not in use. Never store it hanging by the handles or the strap. Don’t store it empty, stuff it with some plain tissue paper, air pockets or a bubble wrap, but be sure not to overstuff it. This will help maintain the shape.” Tony Freund, editorial director at 1st Dibs
• “Make sure that when you use your valuable pieces, you treat them carefully. When putting bags away, it is important that they are emptied out and stuffed with something soft, such as a small pillow, bubble wrap or tissue paper. If the piece came with a dust bag and box, store the bag in its original packaging. Otherwise, a soft pillow case will do.” Rachel Koffsky, VP, international senior specialist for the handbags and accessories department at Christie’s
• “Keep it away from the heat and rain. Store it with padding to avoid deformation. And of course, when it comes to repair or restoration, always address the brand workshops so that your bag remains authentic.” Sara Bennani, head of bags department at Collector Square
Read Next: 15 Things to Know About Keeping Your Designer Handbags Looking Good for Years
Originally published on Vogue.co.uk
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