Everything You Need To Know About Handbags

Everything You Need To Know About Handbags

One of the questions we’re asked most frequently at SL is which designer bags make the best investments. We thought it was time to get a definitive answer, so we turned to Christie’s Handbags & Accessories Specialist Rachel Koffsky for her insider knowledge – from what makes a bestseller to why Hermès will always have the trump card…

The first iconic handbag in history was the Sac à Dépêches… Known today by its new name, The Hermès Kelly. In 1923, Émile-Maurice Hermès, grandson of the brand’s founder, designed a small handbag for his wife to carry in the car. In 1935, his son-in-law Robert Dumas created the Sac à Dépêches. At the time, this construction was a departure from convention – ladies’ handbags were quite small and envelope-shaped. The larger, roomier bag was much more practical. On the set of the 1954 Hitchcock film, To Catch a Thief, movie star Grace Kelly received a Sac from costume designer Edith Head – two years later, the newl- crowned Princess Grace of Monaco used the same bag to shield her baby bump from the paparazzi. In one of the first instances of viral marketing, the Sac became synonymous with the Princess, and in 1977 the bag was officially renamed the Kelly bag.
The Birkin bag was the first handbag in recent history to achieve cult status… Jane Birkin was equally known for her artistic and film oeuvre as for her bohemian style, in particular her proclivity to carry straw totes. In summer 1983, Birkin was travelling from Paris to London on an Air France flight when, in the process of shoving her straw tote into the hold, the content dumped unceremoniously on the floor. The seatmate who came to her rescue was, fortuitously, Hermès executive Jean-Louis Dumas. The pair sketched the prototype for a practical travel bag, based on the Hermès Haut À Courroies travel bag that Birkin’s ex-paramour Serge Gainsbourg used to travel. In 1987, the bag was released to the public, and has steadily maintained iconic status ever since.
The popularity of a handbag is a determined by a delicate balance of practicality, quality and style… To be iconic it must be the perfect combination of all three. Fashion changes season to season, but the most legendary handbags last decades thanks to that holy trinity.

No bag in recent memory has given me heart palpitations quite like the new Hermès mini Picnic Kelly… On the Resort 2019 runway, at first glance it was cheeky and whimsical, but after some careful inspection, it was revealed to be the product of master workmanship in osier, or wicker. The delicate material is transformed into a petite iteration of the iconic Kelly bag – as far as out-there designer bags go, this one is up there.

Gucci’s recent renaissance has been largely due to the success of its handbags... Alessandro Michele has reinvigorated the brand with his references to the Gucci archives and the colour schemes, motifs and iconography of the handbags has become an integral part of the ready-to-wear, shoes and accessories as well. It’s a prime example of how bags can determine the future of a label.

In my opinion, the most iconic bag of all time is the Chanel 2.55… So called due to its February 1955 birthday and designed by Coco Chanel for the woman on the go. Freed from the impracticality of the handbag, a shoulder bag represented the post-war woman emerging into the workforce. This feminist spirit is embodied still today in the Chanel Flap Bag.

The backpack is the most over-hyped bag ever… Unless you are camping, it is all function and no form.

Karl Lagerfeld has the best track record for creating iconic bags… His runway creations are legendary. The Métiers d'Art collections in particular, a celebration of the artisans which contribute to the house of Chanel, feature the most intricate and creative bags. The Matryoshkas, Paris-Bombay, Paris-Moscou and Paris-Shanghai are some of the most collectible Chanel bags on the market. Each season, Karl reinvents the wheel with his seemingly untappable sources of genius and artistic inspiration.

Everyone always asks if Chanel bags are really worth the price tag... It is a question which each collector needs to answer for herself, no matter the bag or the price tag, depending on budget, how much you will wear it, and for how long. A Black Caviar Flap Bag with Gold Hardware is an iconic, classic bag which you could pass on to your children. In my opinion, £4,500 is not too much to spend on a family heirloom, if that is something that is in your price range.

I always smile when I see a Louis Vuitton Noe go by… In 1932, the Noe bag was designed to hold five bottles of champagne – I love the idea that an accessory could be created for this purpose.

My most exciting Christie’s bag sale was for an Hermès Exceptional White Himalaya Birkin… It was in November 2017 at a Hong Kong auction. We had recently set the world record price for most valuable handbag in the world at $379,000, and as the top lot came on the block – this rare Birkin with 18k white gold and diamond hardware – a hush came over the crowd. Steadily and slowly, the bidding climbed. Finally, the hammer came down at $383,000; another world record broken.

Despite this, certain rogue bags have received cult status over the years... Bags such as the Fendi Baguette, first designed in 1997, and the Dior Saddle Bag, designed by John Galliano in 1999, were not only created by artistic geniuses but were both popularised by celebrities in the late 1990s and early 2000s – coverage by TV sensation Sex and the City and socialites like Paris Hilton really propelled their statuses. The popularity did wane during and after the recession, but in today’s fashion climate creative directors and designers are looking closely to their brand’s archives, particularly these best sellers, for direct inspiration on the runway. The resurgence of 90s and 00s trends has meant a return to these once It-bags making them now new-classics.

Hermès handbags are held in the highest esteem because of their craftmanship… Made by expert craftsman in the Pantin atelier, the Birkin and Kelly are stitched using the double-needle saddle stitch, the same technique used on Hermès saddles. This stitch cannot be replicated by machine. For this reason, Hermès handbags are much more durable than the vast majority of handbags on the market.
If you want to spend under £1,000 on a classic designer bag, there are a surprising number of options… Gucci, Fendi, and Chloé all have wearable and practical leather designs under that illustrious number at full price. For something a bit more unique, scour the sales at department stores for discontinued seasonal iterations, or hunt in vintage boutiques for an Epi Louis Vuitton tote.

The ultimate designer bag? I dare you to find an occasion which would not suit a Hermès Shiny Black Crocodile Kelly 28 with gold hardware. Perfection.

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