In the world of true handbag coveters such as the fashion elite, private collectors and even museums, Christie’s has been making waves since 1978; when they held their first ever handbag auction on Coco Chanel. Christie’s private handbag auctions carry the scarcest of Hermès bags and it’s the place where editors and collectors come together to snatch up that one of a kind piece. These events attract clients from all corners of the world and in 2016, a very limited Himalaya Birkin- aka the Holy Grail among Hermès bags- was sold for a record amount during a Hong Kong auction. Christie’s handbag specialists often go on a literal treasure hunt and scavenge the world for these one-off pieces - ‘did someone say dream job?’ So imagine our excitement when we were presented with the opportunity to interview Rachel Koffsky, their London based Handbags Specialist. She also offers expert advise on the best and worst ways to store your handbags right here on Christie's official website. Looking to thin out or more importantly expand your bag collection? Here’s a peek behind the curtains of this legendary auction house.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Absolutely, I am a Specialist of Handbags & Accessories at Christie’s in London. As an expert in designer accessories from brands such as Hermès, Chanel and Louis Vuitton, I advise my clients on their collections, curate the handbag auctions in Europe, and authenticate, appraise and catalogue the pieces that come in to Christie’s. In addition to my professional life as a Handbag Specialist, I can frequently be found in museums and galleries, running through London parks, as well as red wine and octopus tasting along the European coastline.
You have a background in art history; how did you transition into becoming a Handbag & Accessories Specialist at Christies?
My educational background in Art History is perhaps surprisingly one of my biggest assets as a Handbag specialist. My critical, art-historical tactile skills are frequently applied to date and authenticate pieces, accurately identify Hermès colours and materials, and provide thorough condition reports. Additionally, I love the history of design and how the accessories that we carry as women (and men!) are informed by our societal roles at the time of their invention. Handbags are some of our most intimate possessions, and they say much more about us than might appear at first glance.
You come across the most exquisite luxury handbags on a daily basis; what are you always on the lookout for when selecting products for an upcoming auction?
I am so spoiled! I get the opportunity to see the most beautiful and rare pieces in the world. Like any other market, the handbag category is ruled by supply and demand. Most vintage pieces, as you would expect, are crafted of black calf leather. While black calf leather is timeless, elegant and durable, it is the extreme rarities that truly drive collectors wild. Precious materials, such as lizard, ostrich and crocodile - especially in vibrant hues, like pink or green are much more unusual and carry a higher premium on the secondary market. And of course – the item’s condition! Pieces that are 20 years old that look like new are the sorts of gems that drive collectors mad.
Have you found your Holy Grail bag and how does it complement your personal style?
I must be honest; my favourite bag in the world is the Hermès Constance. I love that a woman designed it over 50 years ago, and the iconic design has changed very little in the time since. It is elegant and chic but functional with a shoulder strap, and easily transitions from day to night. In a word, it’s perfect!
What are classically the most desirable pieces at an auction and how do you discover these?
The most desirable pieces at auction are the vintage pieces in unusual and exotic materials, rare colours and exceptional condition. I travel across Europe, meeting with clients and discussing the market for their pieces. When the time is right, we put the special gem in a sale and let the handbag collectors around the world vie for a chance to add it to their collection!
In recent years, have you seen a rise in demand for luxury handbags in the resale industry and what do you attribute that to?
Absolutely, many more consumers are becoming comfortable with the secondary market, whether that is purchasing at auction, a vintage boutique or even on an e-commerce resale site. Celebrities have also championed vintage collecting, bringing what was once a niche category into the mainstream. Additionally, conversations about sustainability have begun to emphasise the importance of thoughtfully investing in pieces, whether they are preowned or new.
What advise would you give others who wish to follow a similar type of career path?
Say yes to everything! Internships are a great way to get experience. Show your love for vintage handbags and accessories on social media – it is a great way to connect with others who share your passion, whether it is networking or just making a new friend who will accompany you to vintage fairs.
Do you have a favourite accessory that you just can’t part with and what is its story?
In addition to handbags, one of my favourite accessories is the Hermès scarf. I always have one tucked in my pocket or handbag. It is the perfect way to dress up a white button down with jeans, to wrap around your neck if it’s a bit chilly, or use as a last-minute headband on a less than ideal hair day. Since Hermès began creating scarves in 1937, over 2000 have been produced. It is said that one is sold every 25 seconds!
You’ve recently had the chance to try out the services of The Restory and revive your Chanel bag, why is restoration important to you?
Condition is one of the most important indicators of value for handbags. It can affect the value of the product substantially. In addition to storing handbags and accessories properly, regular spa services and overall maintenance will ensure that your pieces are looking their best- whether it is because you want to wear your piece, resell it now or possibly later. If there is a condition issue to one of your pieces, it is best to have it fixed as soon as possible so that damage does not become permanent! And of course, the most important thing in my opinion is to enjoy your collection. Handbags are an extension of our personality, so show it off!