A rare, matte black niloticus crocodile So Black Birkin 30 with black hardware, Hermès, 2010. Sold for HKD 1,375,000 in the Handbags & Accessories sale at Christie’s in Hong Kong

‘My highlight of 2018’ — Hermès ‘So Black’ Birkin bag

In Hong Kong in May this rare niloticus crocodile Birkin realised $HK1,375,000 — more than three times its low estimate. Why? It’s all about that black hardware, reveals specialist Winsy Tsang

‘The Hermès So Black collection is my favourite,’ says Winsy Tsang, Christie’s Head of Sales for Handbags and Accessories in Hong Kong. ‘It’s urban and it’s edgy, and it looks so cool.’

Created by Hermès creative director Jean Paul Gaultier, the So Black collection was one of the last the maverick designer made before leaving the luxury brand in 2010 to concentrate on his own haute couture fashion house.

‘He did something incredibly simple,’ says Tsang. ‘He took the classic Hermès Birkin and Kelly bag and changed the hardware from standard palladium or gold to a black PVD coating. It may sound like a small change, but it was a huge thing for the market.’

‘The  market is so much stronger now than when the bag was released in 2010. So Black bags go for double what they once fetched’ — Winsy Tsang

A byword for tradition, Hermès had raised eyebrows with its decision to appoint the French enfant terrible  in 2003, but this marriage of opposites proved to be a shrewd move, bringing a touch of iconoclasm and sexuality to the brand.

In May, a very rare matte black niloticus crocodile So Black Birkin bag sold for HK$1,375,000 (around US$175,000) in the Handbags & Accessories sale at Christie’s in Hong Kong — more than three times its low estimate. 

The reason it caused such excitement, says Tsang, is because of a design fault. ‘Hermès stopped production of the bags because the hardware started to chip,’ she explains. ‘As a result there are very few examples of the So Black Birkin out there.’

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Tsang has seen the demand for this collection rise considerably over the past year. ‘It has such wide appeal,’ she says, ‘and the buyer base is right across the world.’

Yet back in 2010, the bags got a lukewarm reception. ‘The market is so much stronger now than it was then,’ adds the specialist, ‘and bags from the So Black range go for double what they once fetched.’

Part of this is down to Jean Paul Gaultier’s notoriety, and part of it is due to the rarity of the collection. So how many So Black Birkin bags remain? ‘It’s the question everybody wants to know the answer to,’ Tsang smiles. ‘The answer is unknown. What sets the So Black collection apart is that Hermès will never make it again — it’s a one-off, and as such it’s the kind of object that makes auctions so exciting.’