‘I’m like a mini Sherlock Holmes’ — Meet the Hermès handbag authenticator
Concerned about the authenticity of your Hermès handbag? Of course you could consult Christie’s — or you could call in former banker Dimity Giles, who has turned her 30-year passion for Hermès into a business that separates craft from copy
In 2011 Dimity Giles, then recently retired from a long career as a diplomat and investment banker, turned her attention to a new project: handbag authentication. A lifelong devotee of Hermès, Giles had noticed a spike in the number of fakes on the secondary market. At bababebi, the independent Hermès-authentication business she founded, Giles draws upon her experience of more than 30 years of collecting to separate craft from copy — and has helped many victims of counterfeiting to recoup their money.
We spoke with Giles to find out more about how she got started as a handbag authenticator, what keeps her engaged, and what she’s learned over the years.
How did you get into this business, and what drew you to Hermès in particular?
Dimity Giles: ‘Long before I started bababebi, in 2011, I admired Hermès handbags and accessories for their quality and craftsmanship. If you buy a Hermès Kelly once, you can have it for many, many years, and the style is always beautiful and elegant.
‘Before I got into authentication, I was a diplomat and investment banker. I had a deep appreciation for intellectual property rights, and I noticed a rapidly increasing number of fakes in the secondary market. That was one of the things that moved me to start my business. So far, I’ve authenticated more than 10,000 bags.’
How did you develop your handbag expertise?
DG: ‘I started collecting Hermès many years ago. I was always drawn to the craftsmanship and structure of its bags, and the exceptional details. I loved to touch and polish my handbags, and as I began my business it was that careful observation which gave me an understanding of what makes a real Hermès product. I also took many photographs and compared them. It was a time-consuming exercise — becoming an expert in anything takes time — but I found it fascinating.
‘Over the years, I’ve spoken to Hermès craftsmen in New York, and have attended demonstrations organised by the house. But fundamentally, I’m self-taught — I think you can really only learn the craft of authentication yourself, through your own observation. Unless you personally understand what goes into making a handbag, you can’t be successful as an authenticator.’
What is the biggest difference in the marketplace today compared to when you first started?
DG: ‘The resale handbag market has absolutely exploded in the last seven years. The growth in the market has led to a phenomenal increase in the proliferation of counterfeits. These days they mostly come from Asia — China in particular.
‘Most counterfeiters these days are selling new bags, rather than what I would describe as vintage. The most frequently used outlet for selling counterfeits today? Instagram.’
What is the first thing you look at when authenticating a bag?
DG: ‘People are always trying to make better and better counterfeits — a lot of time and effort goes into copying Hermès. But I think something comes through in a real Hermès that is impossible to reproduce completely. To this day, I don’t think that a 100-per-cent copy has ever been made.
‘Looking at the front of the handbag, I usually have what I call a ‘blink reaction’. I would say that 90 per cent of the time this initial reaction is completely right, although obviously I look at everything you would need to look at in order to authenticate the bag. The details, of course, are especially important. Things like the engraving, the stamp, the zipper, the way the leather looks, the shape, and the stitching.’
‘I have a database comprising millions of photographs, and I’ve looked at thousands of handbags over the years. It’s the exhaustive comparison of detail, based on my experience, which enables me to make my decision.
‘If you didn’t know better, you might think that the wrong thing is important — but the thing you think is a sign of a fake is actually irrelevant. For example, you might believe that the engraving on your 2000 Kelly looks incorrect, if you’re comparing it to the engraving on a Kelly made today. But you’d be wrong.’
Is there one element that you find easiest to authenticate?
DG: ‘I have spent a lot of time becoming expert in the engraving on the metal hardware — the part that says Hermès Paris. There are many different engraving styles at Hermès, but this is one aspect that is particularly hard to fake, although some people try very hard. Having spent countless hours analysing the different engraving styles, I feel very confident that I can assess whether the engraving on a specific bag is correct, and whether it’s consistent with the age and type of bag in front of me.’
What’s the strangest or most ‘abnormal’ element you’ve seen on a bag that was actually authentic?
DG: ‘Hermès handbags are assembled in their entirety by one craftsman or woman. Craftspeople are human, and they sometimes make what I describe as human mistakes, which has nothing to do with the authenticity of the bag.
‘For example, the other day I noticed a different number of stitches on the handles of a bag I was authenticating. The bag was completely authentic, but that particular craftsman must have dropped a stitch on one of the handles. Small things can happen, but they’re actually not relevant as far as determining whether the bag as a whole is real. In this case, the bag was clearly authentic.’
Are there certain styles or colours that lend themselves to counterfeiting?
DG: ‘Where counterfeiting is concerned, it’s not about colour or style. It’s a question of desirability, of what the market is hot for at the moment. One bag that is very popular in today’s market is a black size 30 Birkin with gold hardware. I see many, many copies of this bag.
‘Beyond popularity, the price differential is also key. The Himalaya crocodile handbag, for example, can sell for a colossal amount in the resale market. This makes it particularly appealing for counterfeiters, because the amount of money that stands to be made is equally large. Of the Himalayas that have been sent to me, I’d say something like three out of every five are counterfeit.’
Have you assisted in the capture of any counterfeit manufacturers or resellers?
DG: ‘I was an expert witness in a court trial in Asia, where my client had bought four counterfeit handbags. My testimony helped my client win her case and recover her money. On another occasion, in Los Angeles, evidence I put together was used to obtain a warrant, and that in turn resulted in the discovery of a collection of stolen bags. I issue many opinions that enable my clients to retrieve their money from people who sold them counterfeits.’
What do you find most engaging about handbag authentication?
DG: ‘Each bag has its own particular characteristics. When it comes to me, it’s like a puzzle that needs to be solved — and I’m like a mini Sherlock Holmes. Intellectually, I find it fascinating to look for the truth in the bag. That’s what keeps me engaged.’