Everything You Need To Know About Buying An Hermès Bag
As seen on vogue.co.uk
It would be impossible to ignore the importance and influence of Hermès bags on the history of luxury fashion. From Kylie Jenner regularly giving video tours of her enviable Hermès collection and Victoria Beckham reportedly owning over 100 Birkins, to the announcement that Hermès bags are a better investment than gold, these coveted design classics - particularly the Kelly and Birkin styles - are synonymous with modern exclusivity and luxury.
But while many bags sell for upwards of five figures, there are numerous ways to invest in an Hermès bag, starting from as little as £600. Here, Vogueexplores the best styles, prices, leathers, hardware and authenticated retailers to bring you the ultimate guide to buying Hermès bags.
Why are Hermès bags so special?
Hermès has been creating beautiful leather pieces, renowned for their exquisite craftsmanship, since 1837. First established by Thierry Hermès as a harness workshop in the Grands Boulevards quarter of Paris, the atelier quickly became dedicated to serving European noblemen - even Napoleon Bonaparte was a client - and in 1922, the first Hermès handbag was created.
Émile-Maurice was head of the firm and when his wife complained there were no bags on the market to her liking, he designed a line of bags himself. The Sac à Dépêches was introduced in 1935 - later to be renamed the Kelly bag after Grace Kelly, the Princess of Monaco, in 1977. The iconic saddle-bag style Hermès Constance was designed in 1969, and perhaps the most famous Hermès bag, the Birkin, was introduced in 1986 after a chance encounter on a flight with Jane Birkin, who after announcing she could not find a bag to suit her needs, compelled Hermès Chief Executive Jean-Louis Dumas to design her a soft, supple everyday bag. The rest is handbag history.
In restaurants in Monaco, and fine restaurants worldwide, [Hermès bags] get their own seat!' says Sharon Wolter-Ferguson, CEO and Founder of HEWI London. 'A number of more practical factors contribute to the enduring desirability of an Hermès bag. The craftsmanship, each stamped code represents which artisan created that particular bag, superior materials used and exclusivity - to buy one directly from an Hermès store is not always possible, with elusive sales staff and limited stock available, one usually leaves empty handed. This makes for an interesting resale market - they are the ultimate fashion investment.'
What is the most expensive Hermès bag ever sold?
The world record price for an Hermès bag was a very rare Crocodile Himalaya Birkin 30 with 18k white gold and diamond hardware, sold at auction for an eye-watering £208,175 in 2017 at Christie's in Hong Kong. According the Rachel Koffsky, Handbags & Accessories specialist at Christie's, it is unsurprising the bag reached such a high price. 'The reason that the piece was so special, and so valuable, is because of the delicate gradation of the exterior - it is called the Himalaya as it is said to resemble the snow-topped mountain range. This subtle hue is only achieved by the most expert craftsmen, in a process that takes years to master.'
Is an Hermès bag an investment?
The continued world-record breaking prices of the bags selling at auction prove that the secondary market is speeding up rather than slowing down. A study released by BagHunter in 2017 showed that the value of the Hermès Birkin has increased 500% in the last 35 years - an increase of 14% each year. Investing in a Birkin or Kelly bag is now historically safer investment than the stock market - while share regularly fluctuate depending on the economic climate, the Hermès bag has never lost its value, instead continuing to rise steadily year on year.
A carefully used Hermès bag can reach 80% to 120% of its original price at resale and compared to a new car or the majority of designer clothing and accessories - whose value decreases as soon as they leave the showroom - an Hermès bag increases in value overtime.
According to Sharon Wolter-Ferguson, CEO and Founder of HEWI London it is imperative an Hermès bag is kept in good condition if it's being bought as an investment. 'A few golden rules apply. Always store it in its original dust bag, stuffed with light paper to keep its shape, protect it from the elements and keep all original documentation from CITES to the store receipt,' she says. 'If the bag is less than perfect after years of loving use, it can go the Hermès spa where it will spend a few weeks being brought back to its best, having its hardware and leather restored and polished.'
Rachel Koffsky, Handbags & Accessories specialist at Christie's, agrees. 'A vintage Birkin or Kelly in great condition will maintain its value if you use it gently and take good care of it,' she says. 'It does pay to invest in your handbag collection as you would fine jewellery, art or antiques.'
How much is an Hermès bag?
Brand new Hermès bags, purchased directly from an Hermès store, vary considerably depending on the rarity of their leather and hardware, but general consensus states the price for a new Kelly bag starts at £6,000 and for a new Birkin starts at £7,000. However as many customers know, it can be very hard to get hold of an Hermès bag directly from the brand, so many look to second-hand dealers, where prices can start at as little as £2,000 for a Birkin to over £100,000 depending on its rarity and condition.
Buying a bag at a reputable auction house can bring about a bargain. According to Forbes.com the same 2006 style of tan Hermès Birkin bag worn by Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine had a starting bid of £2,700 at auction, but to buy a 2013 version of the bag in an Hermès store would have cost £8,500.
Which Hermès bag should you buy?
Experts suggest that when buying an Hermès Birkin or Kelly bag to be use regularly - but also as an investment - that neutral colours and popular sizes are key.
'When it comes to acquiring an Hermès Kelly or Birkin,' says HEWI's Walter-Ferguson, 'it really is a matter of personal taste. Classic colours are a safe trans-seasonal option and don't date and can pass down from generation to generation, and are always in high demand.'
'I would definitely recommend a 32cm Kelly bag in black box leather and golden hardware,' says Lalande, Hermes expert at second-hand luxury goods specialists Collector Square, who himself has personally collaborated with Hermès for over twenty years in search of ancient pieces for the house. 'Black and 32cm because it is the most timeless colour and size; box leather because it is among the most resistant leathers and no longer produced so rare.’
'Regarding a Birkin bag, I would recommend a 35cm Birkin bag - the most classic and convenient size - in Etoupe Togo leather with palladium hardware,' he adds. 'Etoupe is a very specific and iconic Hermès colour - between grey and taupe - and always goes with the palladium hardware. Togo leather gives a more flexible shape and feel to the Birkin bag.'
Sophie Hersan, Co-Founder of Vestiaire Collective, recommends forward-thinking styles as a good juxtaposition between traditional styling and modern wearability. 'I would suggest a classic Kelly 25cm or 28cm,' she says. 'Both designs are crossbody and very on-trend.'
An under-the-radar design that often gets overlooked is the Hermès Herbag design. Instantly recognisable as an Hermès style, and regularly referred to as 'The Kelly Bag's little sister', the Herbag - made from durable, modern canvas and trimmed in cowhide leather - is a great starting point for a classic Hermès bag and can be picked up for as little as £600 on the second-hand market. Senior Vice President of Moda Operandi, Jodi Kaplan, gets to the root of what purchasing a bag is really all about, following your heart: 'My personal advice is to buy what you love and what speaks to you best.'
Where do you buy an Hermès bag?
While Hermès have a huge variety of bags available to buy online, due to the rarity and difficulty many customers face in purchasing an Hermès Birkin or Kelly bag from store direct, many consumers look to second-hand luxury dealers and consignment stores that offer authenticated bags in excellent condition. 'Waiting lists' no longer exist at Hermès stores, and it's the limited availability of the bags that is just one of the aspects of why demand has risen so much in recent years.
Moda Operandi and Christie's are the destination for some of the most exclusive Hermès bags, and while they offer more affordable price points - Hermès bags can start at £1,000 at a Christie's auction - they also deal in the rarest and most expensive of Hermès bags. 'The fun at auction is the thrill of the hunt,' says Christie's Rachel Koffsky, 'For a first-time buyer looking to invest, I recommend that she do her research. Comb auction archives to find pieces which truly stand out to you.'
Christie's regularly breaks world records for their sales of Hermès bags and Moda Operandi - who work in association with Heritage Auctions - often list bags retailing over £100,000. 'Our customers tend to be attracted to exotic skins and novelty pieces, says Moda Operandi's Jodi Kaplan. 'Recently we've seen they have gravitated towards jewel-toned crocodile pieces, the Kelly picnic bag, as well as our perennial favorite, the matte alligator Birkin.'
Collector Square, The Real Real, HEWI London and Vestiaire Collectiveare some of the popular destinations for Hermès bags at more affordable price points, with each retailer guaranteeing in-house experts and authentication services. Bags are either listed by sellers - and authenticated upon purchase - or held at the website's HQ for the buyers to purchase from direct. Either way, each site assures that authenticity and luxury service is top of the agenda.
'We are of the strong belief that buyers of pre-owned items should enjoy the same standard of service one enjoys on Matchesfashion or Net-a-Porter, and should not be forced to keep or re-sell items they wish to return,' says Wolter-Ferguson of HEWI London.