In the 17th Century, small bags known as sweet purses were exquisitely crafted in unusual shapes such as frogs, while the fashionable technique of filigree was used to create elegant purses which were often exchanged as gifts between aristocrats. The ‘reticule’ – which emerged in the 19th Century and is considered the forerunner of the modern handbag – had a flat surface, so offered the perfect opportunity for artistic expression. “There is a surface to be decorated so women would decorate them with patterns and flowers,” says Savi.
It is clearly an astronomical amount to spend on a handbag but, it appears, money well spent. “After the recession in 2008 customer spending was way down. However some bags, like the Hermès Birkin, continued to hold their value so collectors began to invest this amount of money,” explains Koffsky. “Collectors’ taste has changed and now they’re looking at handbags as something that’s an asset rather than just a fashion item.” Indeed, according to a recent report by Art Market Research, Birkins have increased in value even more than Banksys.
Desire for these classic designs is being fuelled “by a sense that the fashion world is looking to the past to inform the designs of the present,” says Koffsky. Dior’s Saddlebag, which first debuted in 1999, has been brought back under Maria Grazia Chiuri, and Alessandro Michele at Gucci is heavily inspired by the Gucci archive. “The handbag that your mum had in the 1970s, all of a sudden you see it on the runway and the price for that vintage piece skyrockets,” says Koffsky.
But despite their value these bags are not going to be gathering dust in a vault somewhere. “Some collectors will buy really special bags and display them like art in walk-in closets with carousels,” says Koffsky. But, she adds, “the majority of collectors I work with, if not all, buy handbags because of love and passion and they make smart investment decisions based on what they love and what they’re going to use”.