How Designers Craft China's Investment-worthy Handbags

    As shoppers increasingly pay “investment-grade" prices for luxury handbags, the pressure is on brands to create a design that can stand the test of time.
    Photo: Shutterstock
    Tamsin SmithAuthor
      Published   in Retail

    How do you craft a classic? As shoppers increasingly pay “investment-grade" prices for luxury handbags, the pressure is on brands to create a design that can stand the test of time.

    After all, a robust resale market for a fashion house’s vintage bags can ensure demand for current ones, as buyers see their pricey purchase as less of a risky splurge.

    According to one study, the right women’s handbag is a better investment than stocks or gold (although many are not collectible at all). Chinese buyers are picking up on these opportunities particularly well.

    Winsy Tsang, Head of Handbags & Accessories at Christie’s Asia, told Jing Daily, “A couple of decades ago, the handbag market in China was extremely new, and buyers would just follow [style] trends but not really know very much about things like the craftsmanship or how to appreciate leathers. Now, buyers are more experienced.”

    With insights from auction house specialists, art-market experts and collectors, here are the companies crafting the most investment-worthy handbags for Chinese buyers, and how they are doing it.

    The Celine Classic Box. Photo: VCG
    The Celine Classic Box. Photo: VCG

    The Celine Classic Box#

    In January of this year, LVMH announced the big news that Hedi Slimane would take over as creative director of the French luxury brand, sending collectors into a frenzy.

    “Everyone’s snatching up Celine bags because they’re afraid of what Hedi is going to do to the classics,” says China Fashion Collective Co-founder, Claire Lin. “I’m scouring for a lizard one with Himalayan print now.”

    A teaser for Hedi Slimane’s first Celine collection made its way on social media recently, but the entire collection will launch at the brand’s September 28 show. According to Celine CEO Severine Merle who spoke to WWD, “judging by the high level of advance inquiries, [Slimane] has laid the foundation for a future iconic classic.”

    The Hermès Kelly. Photo: Hermès
    The Hermès Kelly. Photo: Hermès

    The Hermès Kelly#

    “I think collectibles are always pieces that come from a classic style, like the Kelly, but with rare materials and color combinations,” says Lin about the Hermès classic. “Those are the pieces you love and wear proudly season after season.”

    Hermès introduced the prototype for the Kelly bag in 1892, but it helps to an influencer—especially the old-fashioned Hollywood starlet kind. Thanks to its namesake—Hollywood star-turned-Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco—the piece still persists as one of the brand’s best-sellers. Although Grace Kelly was first pictured wearing the bag in 1956, it was not officially named after her until 1977.

    Today, certain Hermès Kelly bags are available for upwards of 1,800, but the red and white Hermès Kelly bag, which sold last year for 22,812 in a private Christie's Asia sale, is now the top target for bag connoisseurs. “The red and white Kelly was custom-made,” explains Tsang. “It’s very unlikely another identical one would ever be created, and only a real VIP would be able to request a similar one. This, combined with its bright, appealing colors makes it a very strong investment piece.”

    Li Bingbing Clutch. Courtesy photo
    Li Bingbing Clutch. Courtesy photo

    The Lana Marks Cleopatra Clutch#

    The Lana Marks Cleopatra Clutch is another highly collectible piece, thanks to its limited quantity and its popularity with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Inspired by Elizabeth Taylor’s role in the 1963 film Cleopatra, the purse has been a regular on red carpets over the years.

    Every year, designer Lana Marks produces just one Cleopatra clutch for retail. One of the most expensive Cleopatra clutches ever created is currently owned by star Chinese actress and singer Li Bingbing. The 400,000 bag was specially made for Li with alligator leather and 1,600 white diamonds that spell out the superstar's name.

    Li carried it at the 2012 Oscars, an event that has hosted many Cleopatra Clutches over the years via stars like Helen Mirren, Oprah Winfrey, and Jennifer Aniston.

    The Hermès Birkin. Courtesy photo
    The Hermès Birkin. Courtesy photo

    The Hermès Birkin#

    In 1984, Jean-Louis Dumas created the first Birkin for actress Jane Birkin, and the iconic bag was born. They’ve since become a symbol of prestige to fashionistas everywhere (Victoria Beckham famously owns over 100 Birkin handbags) but they’re also becoming quite valuable. According to a study by Baghunter that compared types of investments over a 35-year period, a Hermès Birkin is now officially a safer investment than stocks or gold. Over the time period, gold had an average annual return of 1.9 percent, while the Birkin’s value has risen by a yearly average of 14.2 percent—and not once fluctuating downwards.

    In Hong Kong in 2017, a Hermès white crocodile Himalaya Birkin with diamond hardware became the most expensive handbag in auction history when it sold for 379,261 at Christie’s. According to Tsang, exclusivity matters most when choosing a Birkin, “Although it hasn’t been confirmed, experts are almost certain that the brand won’t produce anymore Himalaya Birkins, which makes it an extremely valuable collectible.”

    That’s because, after PETA released a video in 2015 showing the conditions of crocodile farms supplying skins to Hermès, Jane Birkin asked the brand to stop using her name on crocodile versions of the bag due to ethical concerns. These concerns have caused existing bags to soar in value, Tsang explained. “Materials like lizard, crocodile, and beluga whale always do well now, because of the limited production quantity. It’s likely that, eventually, no one will be using those materials.”

    Tsang says if you’re looking for a Himalaya Birkin without the diamond bling, you can probably source one for 100,000, but the waiting list is around 7-10 years. For a slightly more accessible alternative, the Birkin Ostrich handbag will set you back around 20,000 and is currently available at the online second-hand marketplace

    Chanel 2.55. Courtesy photo
    Chanel 2.55. Courtesy photo

    The Chanel 2.55#

    Launched in 1955 for just 220, the Chanel 2.55 is now sold for between 3,500 and 6,000, depending on condition and color and material rarity. Chanel’s personal touch in craftsmanship helped: Inspired by the caretaker's keys at the orphanage where Coco Chanel spent her childhood, the iconic bag’s chains are just one of the details that give this bag a fascinating sense of history.

    The JustCollecting Rare Handbag Index, which tracks investment-level bags, found that the Chanel 2.55 spiked 230 percent in value between 2004 and 2016, according to a report by the Financial Times and could be nabbed for a tidy 1,000 as recently as the late 90’s.

    But a bag’s “health” can make a big difference. Handbag expert and collector Annieth Woollery states in a report from the online dealer Love Antiques that when purchasing a vintage 2.55, the condition is key to collectability. "Scuffs on the leather material can diminish the value of the bag by more than 70 percent," she says.

    The Chanel Boy. Courtesy photo
    The Chanel Boy. Courtesy photo

    The Chanel Boy#

    “The Chanel Boy was an instant classic,” Lin tells Jing Daily. “They try out new styles every season but not many have stayed like the Boy. All my Chinese friends love it.”

    Released in 2012 for 2600, the small Boy is already being sold for up to 5,000 today on the second-hand market. Following its release, the Boy Bag quickly joined the ranks of Chanel classics due to its blending of timeless sophistication with a bold, more masculine style.

    Although newer than its 2.55 counterpart, the condition and the exclusivity of the Chanel Boy, like the 2.55, are keys for would-be investors. The Boy bag most commonly comes in lambskin and calfskin leather, but limited edition or one-of-a-kind pieces boost investment potential.

    The Louis Vuitton Speedy. Courtesy photo
    The Louis Vuitton Speedy. Courtesy photo

    The Louis Vuitton Speedy#

    For many Chinese buyers, the LV Speedy is a perfect example of the flashy, label-covered bags they adore. The handbag, with its iconic monogram print, was the very first handbag the fashion house ever created and it has held its value.

    A new bag costs 900, but certain pieces can fetch more than 2000 when sold second hand to buyers. According to Lin, however, notes that fakes in Asia dog the luxury handbag industry and, “For Chinese [buyers], the LV monogram has become synonymous with too many negative things,” says Lin. But the design house is taking the right steps, she notes. “What Nicholas Ghesquire tried to do with new styles is important,” she adds. “He knows the [LV] brand image desperately needs an injection of new blood.”

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