By Judy Carmack Bross
HERMÈS, 2018. A LIMITED EDITION GOLD TOGO & AMBRE SWIFT LEATHER OFFICIER BIRKIN 30 WITH PALLADIUM HARDWARE.
Price Realized: USD $21,250. Photo courtesy of Christie’s Images.
“We’ve discovered that Chicago art collectors have a growing appetite for luxury goods as well and the handbag category is a natural complement! If you’re living with beautiful art and design in your home, it only makes sense that you would seek to carry a beautifully designed bag. These bags are wearable works of art!”—Cathy Busch, Senior Vice President and Head of Christie’s Midwest.
Effervescent Caitlin Donovan, Head Specialist in Christie’s Handbag and Accessories Department within its Luxury Division in New York returns to Chicago and Lake Forest March 11th to speak at the Lake Forest Shop and meet with Chicago clients. Included in the talk will surely be secrets of the Christie’s New York online handbag sale at the end of 2018 that reached almost $2 million in sales, with a shiny Crocodile Sellier Diamond Kelly 32 from the 2008 limited edition being the top lot of the sale, bringing in $87,500. A London sale of luxury handbags, including Hermès, Chanel and Louis Vuitton and accessories in December also broke previous records. Caitlin is preparing a June auction.
HERMÈS, 2008. AN EXCEPTIONAL, SHINY BRAISE POROSUS CROCODILE SELLIER DIAMOND KELLY 32 WITH 18K WHITE GOLD & DIAMOND HARDWARE.
Price Realized: $87,500. Photo courtesy of Christie’s Images.
An expert on handbag values – which brands hold their value and why, top prices on the secondary market, demand, what to look for in first purchases, and more–Caitlin represents the first and only female-centric collecting category, and the newest department, at the auction house. Whether its iconic photos of Grace Kelly with the Hermès bag named in her honor or the Architectural Digest cover story giving peeks into a Kardashian closet with a display area which could rival a designer’s atelier in display, these extraordinary handbags are both significant investments and personal artistic statements.
Grace Kelly and the Hermès Kelly.
HERMÈS, 2017. A LIMITED EDITION GOLD EPSOM, CAPUCINE CHÈVRE & ROUGE H SOMBRERO LEATHER KELLYGRAPHIE LETTRE H SELLIER KELLY 28 WITH PALLADIUM HARDWARE.
Price Realized: GBP 22,500. Photo Courtesy of Christie’s Images.
HERMÈS, 2018. A MYKONOS OSTRICH BIRKIN 30 WITH PALLADIUM HARDWARE.
Price Realized: USD $47,500. Photo courtesy of Christie’s Images.
HERMÈS, 2018. A ROSE POUPRE CHÈVRE LEATHER SELLIER MINI KELLY 20 II WITH PALLADIUM HARDWARE.
Price Realized: USD $21,250. Photo courtesy by Christie’s Images.
A native New Yorker and daughter of parents who are both designers, she has always admired beautiful craftsmanship. As an equestrian she loved the leather and hardware of Hermès which was founded in 1837.
“Friends assume I have hundreds of purses, but I actually have just a handful. Because I am around beautiful handbags all day I don’t have a yen to build a big collection, but I have a vintage Kelly bag and a small Birkin. I follow my advice to customers: invest in classical pieces.”
We asked Caitlin to share her a bit of her expertise:
What makes handbags wearable works of art?
“Men traditionally have had their cars and watches, women their beautiful Hermès and Chanel bags. The hardware, craftsmanship and colors are magnificent. Every season there are limited editions that are very coveted by top, top customers. They actually do better in the secondary market.
Tell us about the Secondary Market.
“Right before the recession, women were investing in expensive handbags and they continued to hold their value throughout that time. Even then, the secondary sales market wasn’t hurt.”
“Right now about 80 percent of the pieces sold at auction are by Hermès, and they bring the higher prices at auction. From start to finish each is made by just one craftsman: hand stitched, polished and painted, with metal finishes such as gold, platinum and palladium used for the hardware, and the signature locks and keys.”
“The 2018 Kelly which has the word Hermès in color blocking is an example of what is very coveted by top customers.”
How do you build a collection?
“The most important thing is to go with what you love and consider it a work of art. An artist whose paintings might be selling today at $700,000 could go off the rails and his prices plummet. I would advice people to look to the classics because they are well made and don’t lose their value. Stay away from neon and flowers even if they might be the fashion of the day.”
In addition to Hermès and Chanel, are there handbag designers to watch?
“Stalvey bags are based on the classic principles of fine hardware and great design but are a little younger and more modern with lots of bright colors. They are spectacular!”
Speaking of color, if you are collecting are their shades to choose?
HERMÈS, 2000. AN ORANGE H GULLIVER LEATHER QUELLE IDOLE WITH PALLADIUM HARDWARE.
Price Realized: $22,500. Photo courtesy of Christie’s Images.
“Of course there are always classic colors, but all of Hermès colors function as neutral—be they red or orange or not a basic black—they can be carried all four seasons.”
Is a certain size of purse most in vogue right now?
CHANEL, FALL/WINTER 2017. A RUNWAY BLACK LUCITE & CRYSTAL ROCKET SHIP EVENING BAG.
Price Realized: $21,250. Photo courtesy of Christie’s Images.
“When I started out several years ago, I think my bag was the length of my torso. Bigger is better was definitely the thought. The shift has now gone to what is smaller and the major houses are decreasing the size by several centimeters. The Asia market particularly wants smaller bags. I think sometimes there is such a thing as too small!”
As to preserving this work of art: are there ways to care for them or store them that you recommend?
Educating clients on how to care and store their handbags is something I do my best to incorporate whenever possible. While quality and craftsmanship are synonymous with collectible handbags, maintaining and prolonging their lifespan takes attention. Yes, these pieces are “wearable works of art”, but they are also functional handbags, and handbags are meant to be worn and loved. A client can achieve the longest lifetime of one of these collector’s pieces by making sure they are stored properly and protected from the elements when being used (liquid is a handbag’s worst enemy), and stored and stuffed in a manner that best keeps their natural shape.
Is there a fashion icon whom you feel really completes the feeling of carrying a work of art when she carries or carried her handbag?
“While there are many fashion icons that utilize accessories as fashion statements – in identifying one I would have to pay homage to the source, Grace Kelly. Having fallen in love with the Hermes loaned ‘Hautes A Cos’ on the set of Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, she was famously photographed carrying the Kelly Bag, covering her then secret baby bump, on the cover of Life Magazine. The first version of an accessory going viral, the bag (as much as the photo) took the world by storm. Shortly thereafter the French leather goods brand renamed the bag the “Kelly Bag”, to this day, one of the most coveted and collectible leather fashion accessories in the world.”
What words do you use to describe a truly beautiful handbag?
“There are many different types of truly beautiful handbags, but those that have the ability to move even a seasoned handbag specialist like myself I often describe as ‘unique, exceptional, iconic, and a wearable work of art.’ ”
We asked Ellen Stirling, one of Chicago’s most fashionable and owner of the Lake Forest Shop to tell us about this fashion statement.
“The role of a handbag is the balance of beauty with practicality. As an accessory it should compliment & finish one’s look while stand on its own through shape, texture, detail, & color.
Today’s bags range from truly easy tote looks – Not including LL Bean! – to truly beautiful one of a kind. Vintage to contemporary! Our fashionistas love all looks for their busy lives!”
As Caitlin points out:
“Unless you are wearing a jacket with very big pockets, the need for a handbag is universal. Celebrities are definitely more in the media with their wearable art, but there is the right handbag for all.”
Individuals who wish to schedule an appointment with Caitlin – with an interest to consign a bag to an upcoming auction or with an interest to buy — should contact Shalenie Sanker at email@example.com or call 312-787-2765.
The Lake Forest Shop event with Christie’s takes place March 12th beginning at 1:30 pm and is open to the public.