PARIS — Art market tanking? Better invest in a Birkin.
Hermès handbags are consolidating their reputation as sound investments during the coronavirus pandemic, with the results of an online sale of vintage Hermès fashion and accessories this week coming in 60 percent above forecasts.
The Artcurial auction of more than 150 lots, held between May 29 and June 4, netted 242,000 euros versus an initial estimate of 150,000 euros, said Alice Léger, the specialist in charge of the auction house’s Hermès Vintage department.
Among the star lots was a 1986 Birkin bag in beige Veau Doblis suede with gold-plated hardware, which sold for just under 30,000 euros, versus an initial estimate of 5,000-7,000 euros.
“Hermès vintage sales always do very well, but this time, I have to say, the result was beyond our expectations,” said Léger, noting the sale contained mainly 35-cm and 40-cm handbags, which in recent times have been eclipsed by the craze for mini-bags.
That’s in line with reports that secondary market prices for Birkin bags have gone up during the coronavirus crisis, cementing their status as a safe haven investment.
By contrast, art sales worldwide fell 97 percent at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips during May, normally high season on the art market, according to financial broker-dealer Pi-eX, which tracks the fine art market.
Online platform Rally Road, which securitizes and splits high-value assets into shares, earlier this year added Birkin handbags to its roster of investment opportunities, which include luxury collectibles, wines and whiskeys, rare cars, vintage Rolex watches and sports memorabilia.
Rally Road vice president of operations Fitz Tepper claimed Birkin bags, as an asset, outperformed the S&P 500 and gold on an annualized basis between 1980 and 2015.
Artcurial will be looking for confirmation of the trend when it holds its Hermès summer collection sale at the Hôtel Hermitage in Monaco on July 19.
“It might be a post-confinement effect of people wanting to buy something for instant gratification after the lockdown, so we’ll have to see if it lasts,” said Léger.
“This time, I don’t think people were buying for investment purposes. I think it was mostly people buying for themselves. In my Monaco sales, on the other hand, we sell pieces in colors that are harder to find in Hermès stores or in exotic skins like ostrich leather, for example, which are even more difficult to find, and that tends to draw investors and collectors,” she added.
While the all-time auction record belongs to a 2014 white Himalaya crocodile diamond Birkin sold at Christie’s in Hong Kong in 2017 for $379,261, other models also represent a solid investment, the expert said.
“I think the Himalaya, even if it still fetches phenomenal prices, is becoming a little outmoded. There is also the So Black in black leather with black hardware. We have one coming up for auction in January. That’s fairly timeless,” she said.
Other hot styles include the mini versions of the Kelly Picnic bag made of wicker and leather. A rare red version sold for $60,000 at Sotheby’s last December. “They are really trending right now and can reach incredible prices compared to the price in store,” noted Léger.
“It’s pretty incredible, because these bags are as likely to be worn by 70- or 80-year-olds as by people in their twenties. It’s really multigenerational, and I do think that seeing celebrities wearing them enhances the image of Hermès as a brand that’s still relevant with younger generations,” she said.
And she explained that when Offset gifts his wife Cardi B with brightly colored versions of the Birkin bag — as he did for Mother’s Day last month — that’s a double flex in collectors’ terms.
“Wearing a fluorescent yellow Birkin shows that you managed to buy a bag that’s hard to get, because you can get a black Birkin bag at Hermès, provided you’re willing to wait two or three years. Obtaining a fluorescent yellow Birkin bag at Hermès for a first purchase is almost impossible,” said Léger.
For those without celebrity clout, savvy investments can still pay off. Léger noted that Hermès bags cost 30 percent more in Asia on average, and can therefore be resold there for a quick profit. And sometimes, it pays to play the long game.
Over the last two years, the Constance has emerged as a strong third pillar behind the more well-known Birkin and Kelly models. “Five years ago, a Constance wasn’t worth much at auction and now, it fetches very good prices,” Léger said.