A Chanel handbag is not just a status symbol – it’s a rite of passage. The iconic quilted bags are given on milestones birthdays or anniversaries, and often represent the first significant profit a person can make from resale on the vintage market — therefore allowing customers to capitalise on the rising cost of the brand’s bags. Perhaps that explains why this year, the luxury brand’s prices have tripled, with bags jumping in cost by 15 percent.
As the French fashion house recovers from the pandemic, their revenues have steadily grown from the 18 percent drop of 2020. In the last nine months, they’ve doubled digits. In response, this week, the brand adopted a policy that allows customers to only purchase one of each of its most popular handbag styles – the Classic Flap Bag and Coco Handle – per year. “Some of our products are particularly sought out by our clients. In order to satisfy them adequately, we can take appropriate actions at a local level,” said a spokesperson from Chanel.
It is a clear play: Chanel is taking back the power from the vintage market, which has cashed in on the rapidly rising value of its accessories. The Classic Flap Bag fetches up to £28,000 on Vestiaire Collective, the second-hand resale site backed by fashion conglomerate Kering, which owns Gucci, Saint Laurent and Bottega Veneta. A small Chanel Classic retails at £5,410 – and it’s not even guaranteed you can buy one by going straight into the store.
Vestiaire has become the go-to destination for limited edition items that often require a relationship with the brand for first dibs. According to the resale company, 60 percent of people who visit the app are looking for unique rare pieces they can’t find elsewhere.
The rationing of designer handbags isn’t exactly revolutionary either: Hermès famously had a waiting list for its Birkin bag – although that longer exists in the same capacity. Now, customers can only buy a Birkin bag after becoming loyal Hermès disciples, shopping the brand’s various other lines: clothing, furniture, equestrian, watches and jewellery. Entry level Birkin bags start at £7,030 and rise to almost £200,000 depending on their skin, from himalayan croc to snakeskin.
Hermès is cracking down on the loopholes in the system by creating a program where customer activities are logged and visible from all its stores. Your Hermès points will determine how quickly you can get your hands on a Birkin – a system that also takes the region’s spending habits. It’s easier to purchase a Birkin bag in Brussels than Dubai, for example. Even without its signature handbags, the brand is still very popular – the Guangzhou store in China brought in $2.7m on its reopening day. Meanwhile, on Vestiaire, the bags remain the golden tickets with limited edition pieces being snapped up within days of going up. This year, a rare Hermès Picnic Bag was sold for over £60,00 on the luxury resale site.
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The more rules and rationing are put in place, the greater the demand for the items involved. Luxury brands are getting creative to keep up with their presence. Gucci has opened a pop-up on Shoreditch’s Chance Street, which offers the general public the chance to shop limited edition pieces made specifically for selected stores. To mark the occasion, Gucci has collaborated with Hot Wheels by recreating 5,000 miniscule Seville by Gucci Cadillacs, which have already sold out.
Savile Row, on the other hand, has retained its clout by natural means. The quantity of bespoke suits each tailor makes is deliberately restricted due to its limited number of cutters and pattern makers. Equally, tailoring houses will refuse to make styles that don’t fit the house aesthetic. It is a strict and respected business model that is now so rare it feels rebellious.
Meanwhile, in other luxury markets, limited edition is the nature of the game. Lady Gaga has collaborated with Dom Pérignon to sell 110 jeroboams of Rosé Vintage 2005; only 420 Chelsea shirts were made to celebrate its Champions League win; and the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures has announced a limited edition NFT designed by the Haas brothers.
Although in the lucrative business of resale, it is the auction houses that are the real winners. Case in point: a matte white Diamond Himalaya Niloticus crocodile Birkin with 18k white gold and diamond hardware that went for $300,168 at Christie’s Hong Kong last year – setting the record for the most expensive handbag sold to date.
In December, Sotheby’s will be holding a special auction in Paris dedicated to Chanel handbags and accessories — a quick and smart move for the brokers that is no doubt partly linked to the premiere of Pablo Larraín’s Spencer, a film that Chanel has lent pieces to from the archive.
Add to that three Karl Lagerfeld memorabilia auctions taking place in the next few months. Clearly, Chanel mania is showing no sign of dying down…
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