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10 handbags and accessories that have shaped the market

A brief history of some of the exceptional bags and accessories that have passed through Christie’s, from our first handbag sale in 1978 through to the 2016 Hong Kong auction in which a Himalaya Birkin set a new world record

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  • The very first handbag sale — The Coco Chanel collection in 1978

Our first handbags auction took place in 1978 — a groundbreaking event that saw the fashion elite descend on Christie’s in London. Those who came to view the collection of fashion icon Coco Chanel included the Duchess of Argyll, Baroness Olimpia de Rothschild, Princess Farman Farmaian and the advisor to Marlene Dietrich. 

The cover of the catalogue from the 1978 sale
The cover of the catalogue from the 1978 sale

‘The Chanel sale was clearly the place to be,’ reported The Chicago Tribune. ‘Hundreds of expensively dressed people sloshed champagne and studied each other for signs of beautifulness as they elbowed through the old high-ceilinged sale rooms.’ Several items were sold to museums, including the first handbag ever to be sold by Christie’s, a navy blue flap bag, which was purchased by the Smithsonian Institution for $800.

If you like this story, you might be interested in... A shiny blue sapphire alligator classic medium double flap with silver hardware, Chanel, 2015. Offered in Paris Sacs & Accessoires on 9 November 2016 and sold for €18,750. 

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  • Elizabeth Taylor’s Louis Vuitton trunks

Louis Vuitton trunks have been in demand since the late 19th century, but no set has garnered global attention quite like the one that belonged to Elizabeth Taylor, and which came to auction in December 2011 in New York.

The set comprised four Alzer cases and a Boite Pharmacie, each with one of her iconic purple luggage tags reading, ‘MINE!’ Offered at an estimate of $3,000-5,000, the set achieved a whopping $110,500. 

If you like this, you might be interested in... A classic monogram Malle Courrier 110 with brass hardware, Louis Vuitton, 20th century. Offered in Paris Sacs & Accessoires on 9 November 2016 and sold for €20,000.

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  • A new era of handbag sales

A rouge H crocodile Kelly bag. Hermès. Sold for £31,700 on 12 September 2007

A rouge 'H' crocodile Kelly bag. Hermès. Sold for £31,700 on 12 September 2007

The auction From City Chic to Alpine Retreat in London in 2007 marked the beginning of a new era of handbag sales. This red Kelly sold for £31,700, setting a record in Europe and, along with many other handbags in the sale, signalling to the market that handbags had become serious, sought-after collectibles.

If you like this, you might be interested in... A shiny bordeaux niloticus crocodile sellier Kelly 32 with gold hardware. Offered in Paris Sacs & Accessoires on 9 November 2016 and sold for €31,250.

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  • Passe-Guide handbags by Hermès

Leather Forever is a travelling exhibition that celebrates Hermès’ relationship with leather as well as the know-how and craftsmanship of its artisans. These events attract collectors from around the world, chiefly because each exhibition is unique and produces a one-of-a-kind item, which instantly becomes sought-after by collectors. 

Video: Leather Forever exhibition

In May 2012, Christie’s sold four one-of-a-kind Passe-Guide handbags made during the Leather Forever exhibition in London. The four bags represented England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, with the ‘Irish Green’ crocodile Passe-Guide handbag valued the highest, and being sold for £79,250. 

If you like this, you might be interested in... A rare, shiny black alligator Hong Kong Edition Passe-Guide star bag with gold leafing & palladium hardware. One-of-a-kind, Hermès, 2014. Offered in Hong Kong Handbags & Accessories on 30 November 2016 at Christie’s in Hong Kong and sold for HK$500,000.

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  • A sterling-silver micro mini Kelly

Named for Princess Grace of Monaco, the Kelly has been one of the most desirable handbags in the world since the 1950s. The bag has been created in countless shapes, sizes, materials and colours and it is the rarest versions — particularly examples with a highly limited production run, or those that have been discontinued altogether — that remain the most sought-after by top collectors.

A rare, sterling-silver micro mini Kelly. Hermès, 1990s. Sold for HK$475,000 on 2 December 2015
A rare, sterling-silver micro mini Kelly. Hermès, 1990s. Sold for HK$475,000 on 2 December 2015

The sterling-silver Kelly was created in the 1990s and never reproduced. There were two versions — one with a leather strap and one with a silver strap — and both came in fitted velvet and satin presentation boxes. When this rarity came to auction at Christie’s in Hong Kong it soared through its high estimate of $26,000 before being hammered down for $61,577, showing that collectors will go the distance for particularly rare and special pieces.

If you like this, you might be interested in... A rouge H gulliver leather quelle idole with palladium hardware, ‘Kelly Doll’. Offered in Paris Sacs & Accessoires on 9 November 2016 and sold for €16,250. 

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  • Chanel bags for mother and daughter

Very often auction purchases are emotional. This very rare Chanel handbag was offered in Hong Kong and a client came to see it with a view to acquiring it for his wife. After seeing it and learning about its production (each enamel charm is created and sewn on to the bag by hand), he knew it was the piece for her. He bid competitively and won the handbag at a record price for Chanel.

After winning the piece, he asked Christie’s to source another one for his daughter. Not only did we find the piece, but we found it in a smaller size, which suited her perfectly.

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  • A Hermès rarity

With so many top designers and brands based in France, the Paris auctions are one of the best places to find special items. As a result, our salesroom becomes a magnet for global collectors and dealers looking for rarities on behalf of their clients.

This exceptional Hermès bag was created in 1992 for the famous window display at the Rue du Faubourg St Honoré boutique. Very likely one-of-a-kind, the entire bag is done in agneau, or lambskin leather, which is buttery-soft and usually reserved for the smallest accessories or the interiors of larger bags.

Although Hermès has produced metallic pieces in the past, almost all were created in chèvre — or goat leather — and only in one colour. The fact that this was carefully created from the softest of leathers and fashioned in three colours — gold, silver and bronze — makes it one of the rarest Hermès pieces on Earth.

If you like this, you might be interested in... A black calf box leather mini Kelly 20 with gold hardware & studs. Offered in Paris Sacs & Accessoires on 9 November 2016 and sold for €14,375.

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  • Record-breaker — the most expensive handbag in auction history

In a special 2016 auction to mark the 30th anniversary of Christie’s in Hong Kong, 30 outstanding lots were assembled, ranging from a record-breaking 15th-century Guan ‘Dragon’ jar to a Patek Philippe keyless lever watch. Among the lots was a diamond Himalaya Birkin, a rare masterpiece by Hermès.

Produced in 2008, this bag was handcrafted by a single maestro from the skins of white Himalaya niloticus crocodiles, painstakingly matched and expertly dyed to emulate the white peaks of the Himalayas. The bag’s hardware features 174 grams of solid gold and almost 10 carats of fine-quality diamonds. When it sold, the bag set a new world record at auction, realising HK$2,320,000 — equivalent to just over $300,000.

If you like this, you might be interested in... An exceptional shiny blue marine porosus crocodile diamond Birkin 35 with 18k white gold & diamond hardware, Hermès, 2007. Offered in Paris Sacs & Accessoires on 9 November 2016 and sold for €122,500. 

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  • A runway jacket by Jean Paul Gaultier

Items of clothing that appear at auction tend to come with the provenance of a famous owner or else have been worn on a historic occasion. One such example is this jacket, designed by Jean Paul Gaultier in 2004 for his first collection with Hermès, and famously worn on the runway by Linda Evangelista.

In the case of most crocodile products, only portions of the skin are used — damaged or abnormal sections are often cut out. Since this jacket required a particularly large surface area of skin, and only absolutely perfect skin could be used, production was extremely difficult. One of only 11 examples (another of which is in the Hermès museums and is exhibited globally), it was acquired by a leading Hong Kong collector. 

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  • McQueen’s Armadillo boots

Alexander McQueen’s Spring/Summer 2010 show was a turning point in his career. When asked about one of the highlights of his Plato’s Atlantis collection, the incredible Armadillo Boot, the British designer replied, ‘The world needs fantasy, not reality. We have enough reality today.’ McQueen designed the Armadillo, fashioned from wood and python leather, specifically for the runway, except for a few precious pairs which he gave to his friends. 

In total, only 21 pairs of arguably the most iconic shoes in fashion were ever made, including the pair worn by Lady Gaga in the music video for her single Bad Romance. The pop star loved them so much that she went on to buy three pairs, which were authentically reproduced after the designer’s death and offered in a special Christie’s auction in aid of UNICEF. They were offered at estimates of $10,000-15,000, and Lady Gaga paid $295,000 to secure all three pairs.