One of the things that I really enjoy about our “little” Hermès community is all of the friends and acquaintances I’ve made over the years. In-person I may be generally reticent until I’m comfortable with people, but behind a screen or a phone I’m a bit more daring (one time during law school in the 90s, after reading an article about the artist Tom Sachs, I called him on the phone to ask him questions about his work. “How did you get my number?” he asked. “Um…it was listed?”)
Another amazing person I have had the courage to reach out to is the amazing, kind, and talented Rachel Koffsky, International Senior Handbags Specialist at Christie’s auction house. In my mind, Ms. Koffsky has one of the very best jobs: traveling all over the world curating auctions, meeting and advising clients, lecturing and teaching about handbags, auctioneering, and getting to spend time, as she describes it, with connoisseurs who share her passion for handbags and luxury collections. A few months ago, I was able to visit her in action while Christie’s had a stunning luxury show on display; I had the best time chatting with her while looking at the incredible variety of pieces: not only an astounding array of Hermès bags, but a jaw-dropping selection of luxury jewelry; watches; one-off pieces such as an NFT, some Supreme options, and a sneaker collection; and furniture and decor, including works by my favorite artist, Louis Comfort Tiffany. The opportunity to be able to explore this selection with an incredibly knowledgeable and accomplished expert who shares my passion for these pieces was unforgettable. Since then, we have discussed finding ways to work together, so when she got in touch with me last week about an exciting upcoming Hermès auction, I knew I had to let you all in on it.
This April 27 in Paris, Christie’s is presenting a unique auction, titled Most Collectible Bags: An Important European Collection. Curated and presented by Ms. Koffsky, this auction, consisting of 69 lots and with scenography imagined by Italian couturier Giambattista Valli, is particularly unique: for the first time, one entire bag selection comes from a sole collector. The breadth and depth of the objects forming this sale is truly wondrous: to start with, it includes most of the bags I wrote about in my most recent article, “The 6 Hardest Bags to Get from Hermès” – including a Kelly Doll, 2 Birkin Faubourgs, 3 Kelly Picnics and 6 Mini Kellys – and includes some pieces that are even beyond what anyone can ask for, such as a St.-Louis Crystal Disco Ball, an Alligator-and-Maple scarf box, and a Diamond Birkin.
Recently, we had a fun conversation about Ms. Koffsky’s job, the work of Christie’s luxury departments, and this auction in particular, which is truly the stuff of collectors’ dreams.
TNP: You have the most amazing job in the world! How did you get started in handbags?
RK: I’ve always loved handbags. My earliest memories include looking at my grandmother’s Chanel bags: I’ve always viewed them as very precious and special. When I was in college, I would call Hermès up and ask if they had any Constances. But I studied art history and math in school; I expected to wind up with a more traditional art department job, even though I’ve always been passionate about handbags. Fortunately, I’ve been with Christie’s since 2014, going everywhere here from Hong Kong to Germany to London, which is a very exciting way to meet people everywhere who love luxury and share my passion.
TNP: Can you give me an overview of what your job includes?
RK: I work with clients, advising them on what pieces to buy or sell, and when is the best time to do either. Sometimes it’s not the best time to sell something, if it might be worth more to hold onto it for now. My clients are always honing their entire collections; the things they love and enjoy may no longer be important, or tastes change, or they want to make room for other things.
TNP: What is the process for obtaining pieces for an auction?
RK: People reach out to us in any number of ways: they call or email us, or sometimes they reach out to us on Instagram, and then we will meet in person or they will send photos. Christie’s is a resource for the public; anyone can come in and look or inquire any day that we are open. The best part about this is that whether someone comes in as a buyer or seller, often they will end up as both: collecting is not a one-time activity, and clients are constantly making room for new pieces in their collections, or their tastes change.
TNP: What are the next steps in the process of putting together an auction?
RK: The entire process takes six months: we have two sales in New York per year, in late May/early June and again around the holidays, so we have six months to put it all together. Each auction takes months of work, getting together all the people from photographers to exhibition designers. This includes everything from obtaining the pieces, creating estimates and valuations, cataloging the pieces, taking photographs, traveling and promotion, giving lectures, raising awareness about the auction, finding buyers, and putting together the actual event.
TNP: The catalog for this auction is truly unique and phenomenal. What struck you about it when looking at this collection for the first time?
RK: I remember looking at images of this collection and being blown away by the quality. Each piece on it’s own is extremely desirable, but put all together – I was blown away. The pieces were truly the best of the best in the collecting world.
TNP: What is so unique about this collection?
RK: This is the very first time we have had a single consignor handbag sale. We have never had a standalone collection of one person’s handbags before. Of course, we have had many significant collections for sale – Christie’s started out selling personal private collections, and have had some significant auctions of private collections, including those of Coco Chanel, Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn – but this is the first time we have had one auction from one owner’s handbags. In addition, this is the first handbag auction we have had in Paris since 2017; we had been having these auctions in London, but since this is a celebration of the Hermès brand, it was naturally better to have the sale in Paris.
TNP: There are so many unique pieces in this sale; how was each item valued?
RK: You have to find the closest comparable piece that was sold recently. That includes condition, age, and quality. After you find comparable pieces, you make the valuation.
TNP: Was there anything in this collection that you had never seen before?
RK: I’ve never seen the disco ball before; it’s a really whimsical, fun piece, and it’s truly a masterpiece. Their St.-Louis crystal is phenomenal. The Twins bag was a really fun, unusual piece to take out the the box. It’s a masterwork of construction to be able to take it apart and have two bags. There are real surprises for longtime lovers of Hermès here.
TNP: You know I’ve gotta ask: do you have a favorite piece in this collection?
RK: It’s hard to choose, but I love the Rose Tyrien Ostrich Kelly. I love the 25cm Kelly, I love this shade of pink. It’s a lovely bag with, or course, the horseshoe stamp, and the permabrass hardware is really a nice, soft touch. Do you have a favorite?
TNP: I agree it’s a tough choice, but I’d have to say the Rose Pourpre Constance. Rose Pourpre is a color you very rarely see in exotic, so it’s a bit different. And even better, it’s got gold hardware.
RK: We both love pinks!
TNP: Do you have a hard time saying goodbye to some of these pieces after the auction?
RK: It’s months of work, and my goal is to always achieve the best possible result for each of these pieces, so when the sale is over, more than anything it is really a great sense of accomplishment!
Most Collectible Bags: An Important European Collection, is currently on Christie’s website. The auction will take place live in Paris on April 27 at 9 Avenue Matignon at 2:00 pm, live auction 21180. Viewing times are listed on the Christie’s website and run during the week prior to the auction.