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Behind the scenes of one of the world' s leading auction houses

By Lara Grobosch


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Business |Interview

Image: Artcurial Monaco Auction Week 2022, Hermès and Luxury Bags auction, Hôtel Hermitage Monte-Carlo. Photo courtesy of Artcurial

For over a decade and a half, the French auction house Artcurial has hosted the finest luxury brands and was the first auctioneer to offer Hermès accessories. Every year, the fashion and luxury accessories department holds two prestigious auctions in Monaco dedicated to the French design house, as well as several thematic online auctions, achieving sales amounting to hundreds of thousands of euros.

FashionUnited spoke to Hermès and luxury bag specialist Alice Léger about her work at Artcurial, the unique position of Hermès and the highest-selling item of all time.

You work in the fashion and luxury accessories department of Artcurial. How did you get into the industry?

I went to a fashion school and did a Master in Fashion Management. I am passionate about fashion history and fashion sociology, so I thought about how I could combine my passion and my work, and the auction house was the key. I've been working at Artcurial for five years now.

What does your job involve?

I manage the Hermès auctions: it's four auctions a year, two online and two in Monaco. To organise an auction, I first have to search for a seller. I do a lot of estimates, authenticate the items and research them. I meet my seller and negotiate the price and the type of auction, either online or in Monaco, where we offer the piece. After the commercial part is done, I work with a photographer and a graphic designer to create a catalogue. Once the catalogue is ready, we organise the exhibition of the auction in Monaco. I also work with the buyers who might be interested in the bags that we offer for sale.

Image: Alice Léger, courtesy of Artcurial

You sell a wide range of luxury items at Artcurial. How do you select the items that will be included in the auction?

90 percent of my auctions are Hermès bags, because those are the most expensive and sought-after bags. The condition of the bag is very important. In Monaco, we only offer new bags or bags in excellent condition. The year of the bag is also essential: the newer the bag, the higher the price.

Where do the objects that are auctioned come from?

Most pieces come from private sellers. Artcurial is the first auction house to organise a Hermès auction, so we have many long-term clients. With our communication and advertisement, we are trying to attract new clients as well.

Image: Artcurial Monaco Auction Week 2022, Hermès and Luxury Bags Exhibition, Hôtel Hermitage Monte-Carlo. Photo courtesy of Artcurial

How do they ensure that all luxury items you sell are authentic?

This is a very important part of my work. I authenticate the pieces and also work with another expert to make sure that all the items are authentic. We don't want there to be any doubt about our bags.

Can you somehow predict what will sell best at auction?

On a large number of items we have an idea of the prices we will get but sometimes the bidding can be very surprising. In January, we presented a Dalmatian calfskin leather Birkin 30 bag, which was estimated to sell at 8,000 euros. In the end, we sold the bag for 45,000 euros. So sometimes it’s a nice big surprise.

Which brands are most popular with your clients?

Hermès has been the most popular brand for many years. After Hermès it's Chanel. Chanel has also gone up in price, so the second-hand price is very high now. Next I would say Louis Vuitton, but only the limited edition items and its collaborations, for example with Supreme. But it's a very different market for Louis Vuitton compared to Hermès. Hermès is something very special.

What makes the Hermès so special?

When you think about French luxury you think about Hermès. The quality is incomparable and the production of the bags is also very limited. You can't just go to the shop and buy them. It can take up to three years to get an Hermès bag, so for many people, Artcurial is the only way to get the bag immediately. It's also the only brand you can expect to pay more for at auction than in an Hermès store because the bags are so rare.

What is trending in the market to buy at the moment?

The Mini Kelly. It's so small that you can't even carry your phone in it. And the Birkin 25, which is also quite small. All the mini bags are very much in demand.

Why do you think that is?

We saw a lot of mini bags during Fashion Week like the Chiquito by Jacquemus for example. It's a trend at the moment, maybe in six months it will be the big ones instead.

You hold physical as well as online-only auctions. Have you noticed a shift in the clientele that the auction has attracted?

Our Monaco sales and our online sales are very different in the pieces we offer, so obviously the clientele is quite different. Of course, we find customers from one sale to another. In our online sales, we have pieces with estimates starting at 100 euros, whereas in Monaco the prices are much higher, rarely below 1,000 euros.

Our two types of sales complement each other perfectly: online sales allow us to reach a younger clientele, very accustomed to digital technology, while sales in Monaco are mainly aimed at international customers.

Image: Artcurial Monaco Auction Week 2022, Hermès and Luxury Bags auction, Hôtel Hermitage Monte-Carlo. Photo courtesy of Artcurial

What advice would you give to someone attending one of your auctions for the first time?

The auction is very, very fast. It takes about 30 seconds. So you have to be super quick if you want to buy an item. It is best to look carefully at the catalogue beforehand and to set a price limit.

What pieces should first-time buyers go for?

If you would like to have an Hermès bag, you must buy a Kelly or a Birkin. These are the two most sought-after bags. Size is extremely important. The smaller the better and for the colour, it depends. If you want to wear it, you can choose any colour you want, but if it's for investment, you have to pick a colour like green or pink, nothing too classic. If you choose a Kelly 28 or Birkin 30 in classic leather, for example, that's a good start.

Do most people buy an Hermès bag to carry it themselves or rather as an investment?

I would say it's fifty-fifty. Only Hermès bags can be considered an investment object. When you buy a Louis Vuitton or a Chanel, I think it's more of a personal thing.

What was the highest selling item at auction in the fashion & luxury accessories department?

Last summer we sold a bag for 115,000 euros. It was a limited edition Birkin So a Black 30 bag in black matte alligator. It was the most expensive bag we ever sold at Artcurial and we were very proud.

With 155 million euros in sales in the first half of 2022, it has been the best half-year period in Artcurial's history. What have been your highlights of 2022 so far?

Our auction in Monaco in January was the best auction to start with. Some great bids were once placed in the room. I told you about the Birkin that sold for 45,000 euros and we also sold a Kelly Crocodile for around 50,000 euros. We had a great Chanel vintage auction online too.

We were a little surprised by the high prices the items sold for, which were higher than estimated. I think Covid might be an explanation for that, because a lot of people just wanted to enjoy life and luxury again.

What upcoming sales or events are you looking forward to?

We are holding our own Fashion Week at Artcurial during Paris Fashion Week with an exhibition for our three upcoming sales: Charlie Le Mindu's wigs, Karl Lagerfeld's sketches and photographs, and a selection of the lots sold in our Chanel Vintage online sale. In November, we have our famous Hermès Vintage online sale and a Luxury Accessories sale. And finally, we have our Hermès & Luxury Bags sale in January in Monaco. There's a lot to look forward to.

Image: Artcurial Monaco Auction Week 2022, Hermès and Luxury Bags Exhibition, Hôtel Hermitage Monte-Carlo. Photo courtesy of Artcurial