A historic and unique collection of Hermès bags and accessories

No bag is as coveted at auction as the Hermès Birkin. “For handbag collectors, they are the ultimate status symbol,” says vintage fashion expert and specialist Pénélope Blanckaert. “They are more than fashion accessories, they are art.”

It takes up to 40 hours for a single expert craftsman to produce a Birkin bag. The point on which the brand’s reputation rests — the saddle — cannot be reproduced by a machine; it takes two needles passing simultaneously through the same seam to correctly produce a Birkin. If done correctly, the saddle stitch will never fray, whether on a saddle or a Birkin.

“Hermès is a house that celebrates craftsmanship and materials, in particular leather, as part of its history and heritage,” explains Blanckaert. “‘It’ bags are created every season, but Birkins are trend-proof – they will never go out of style.”

Along with its durability, part of the Birkin’s appeal is its timeless and versatile design. Since its creation in 1983 — the famous bag was born from a chance meeting between actress Jane Birkin and Jean-Louis Dumas, then artistic director of Hermès, on a Paris-London plane — the leather tote with zipper flapover has been a staple for fashion designers and A-list celebrities who do everything from grocery shopping to posing on the red carpet. Jennifer Lopez even used hers as a gym bag.

“Hermès has been synonymous with elegance across generations,” says Blanckaert. “The Birkin or the Kelly that belonged to your mother or grandmother still looks stylish today, as long as it’s in good condition.”

Those made with precious jewelry and materials, such as ostrich and crocodile, tend to fetch the highest prices at auction. “Light pinks, yellows and blues are also doing well,” adds Blanckaert, “as are strong colors, like Rouge Hermès, and special-order bags with bespoke color combinations and the highly desirable stamp of Horseshoe.”

In recent years, Hermès’ secondary market has matured from a niche collectible category to a major luxury market that attracts buyers from around the world. Christie’s, for example, now sees the participation of more than 50 countries in its sales of handbags and accessories, with single-owner auctions taking place this year in Paris and Milan for the first time.

“It’s the fastest growing sector of the fashion industry, as collectors are now more concerned with sustainability and acquiring long-term investment pieces,” says Blanckaert. “Buying at auction also offers collectors the opportunity to acquire discontinued pieces – and bypass Hermès’ notorious waiting lists.”

Which, of course, drives up auction prices. Last year, a Hermès Himalaya Diamond Kelly 28 became the most valuable handbag ever sold at auction when it fetched HK$4 million ($515,416) at Christie’s in Hong Kong.

This month, 257 Hermès lots, including 48 Birkins and 24 Kellys, are on offer in Inside the Orange Box: A Lifetime of Collecting (until June 23) – the largest and most diverse collection of handbags, accessories, household items, textiles, jewelry and watches that have never been auctioned.

“This encyclopedic catalog represents a lifetime of collecting by a passionate connoisseur of all things Hermès,” says Blanckaert. “It’s such a joyful collection, full of color, poetry and fantasy.”

As well as showcasing the most sought-after styles of the last few decades, the collection includes playful designs and objects that reveal a lesser-known side of the French house.

“People can be surprised by what they see,” Blanckaert says, pointing to a selection of pieces she’s never encountered before. “This collector had a real sense of humor. She took risks by acquiring unique editions and pieces not immediately recognizable as Hermès.

These include a whimsical selection of Sacs à Malices (which translates to “bags of tricks”), first introduced in the 1980s, and a range of quirky pieces from Petit H, the upcycling line created in 2010 by Pascale Mussard, which includes unique pieces or limited edition objects, designs and shapes made from existing Hermès materials.

Among the Sac à Malice bags on sale, Blanckaert is the most popular for the white leather model with an ice cream cone design and gold hardware (above). “Watching him just makes me smile,” she says. “But I also really like the limited edition model with the French flag, produced in 1989 to celebrate the bicentenary of the French Revolution.”

As for Petit H, Blanckaert admires the set of six games (above), the three storage boxes and an unusual Clémence bag in fringed white leather with black polka dots from 2010. says, ‘which shows the confidence and sensitivity of the collector towards all aspects of the creativity of Hermès.’

She also chooses the Shadow Birkin 40 in Evercalf denim and black leather from 2010 (below), customized by Petit H in collaboration with the collector.

“Hermès was the first luxury brand to invest in the circular economy, so Petit H was very avant-garde at the time,” she explains. “Petit H creations are bolder and less typically Hermès in style and structure.”

Other highlights include a limited-edition Barénia and Wicker Picnic Farming bag and a Osier Picnic Kelly 35 (below), first seen in 2011 as part of Jean Paul Gaultier’s Spring/Summer collection.

“The delicate nature of wicker, or wicker, means that it is only used by the most skilled craftsmen,” says Blanckaert. “As the first in this collection, the Picnic Kelly continues to be highly sought after.”

Also of note is the 2013 limited edition Barenia Ghillies Birkin 35 leather and canvas, with decorative trim inspired by the “broguing” of Scottish men’s dress shoes. Blanckaert is also drawn to the limited edition Quelle Idole bag in H Gulliver leather for its “charming smile”, and the Retourné Kelly (2016) in custom togo leather in bamboo, malachite and ultra violet for “its magical color combination”.

In addition to the 145 handbags on sale, there is a diverse range of Hermès accessories, including bracelets, belts, wallets and Grigri Rodeo charms (below), coveted by collectors since their launch.

Other lots up for auction include an important collection of Hermès silk scarves, including editions from acclaimed collaborations like Hermès x Comme des Garçons and Hermès x Colette J’Aime Mon Carré.

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“With many sets of silk scarves valued at €1,000 or less, they offer new enthusiasts access to the brand,” says Blanckaert. “You can tie them around your neck or around the handle of your bag like this collector did. Or, if you’re looking for your first bag, opt for an Evelyne TPM bag in a rare and limited color and material.

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