The global luxury handbag market had a value of $59 billion in 2019, according to a study by Research and Markets. But escalating economic and environmental concerns have slowly forced luxury consumers to rethink the way they shop, purchasing a bag that is considered a long-term investment or opting for a vintage designer piece. The latter represents a growing trend, explaining the burgeoning number of online luxury resale marketplace platforms today. To help you narrow down your choices, here are five vintage designer bags that are investment-worthy and sure to stand the test of time.
An Hermes Kelly in black box leather is one of the most coveted vintage designer bags to own today. Not only does the bag hold much of its commercial value over time, the history behind the Kelly makes it all the more desirable too. The Hermes Kelly (known then as the Sac à Dépêches) was actually created in the 1930s by Robert Dumas (married to Jacqueline Hermes) before he became CEO of the company in 1951. In 1956, American actress and Monegasque princess Grace Kelly used her brown Hermes bag to hide her pregnant belly from the paparazzi, the image of which was printed in publications worldwide and the bag became famous overnight. The belted, trapezoid-shaped Hermes bag was subsequently renamed the Kelly in 1977.
It takes anywhere between 20 to 24 hours for a craftsman to put together a Kelly, with 680 hand stitches from 36 leather pieces. Box calf leather remains the premium choice for a vintage leather Kelly because of its firmness, allowing the bag to keep its structure. This leather also patinas beautifully over time. Although box calf is a smoother, more scratch-prone leather compared to textured ones like togo and taurillon clemence, those scratches or “battle scars” are what give the bag its added character. And because of Hermes’ limited distribution strategy when it comes to their iconic pieces like the Kelly, it can be easier to procure a vintage one than a new piece.
Chanel Classic Flap Bag
Coco Chanel debuted the ancestor of the rectangular Classic Flap bag in February 1955 hence its moniker, the 2.55. But it was the late Karl Lagerfeld who updated the quilted flap bag’s look in the 80s by using the intertwined Cs as the turn lock in place of the original rectangular Mademoiselle. The all-chain strap was also transformed into the woven leather and chain one which has since become the Chanel Classic Flap bag’s characteristic code. Back in the 90s, a medium Classic Flap in lambskin leather and gold hardware would’ve set you back $900. Today, that same bag which gets reimagined each season with different colours and materials, will cost you $5,200 or more – a huge 500% increase! Those who’ve kept their bags (or the bags of their mothers) from the 90s would’ve already turned a handsome profit if they chose to resell them today. If you manage to find a vintage piece in excellent condition and at a price lower than retail today, count yourself lucky, because this bag is definitely a keeper.
Silvia Venturini Fendi, then-accessories creative director of Fendi, launched the baguette in the autumn of 1997. The design came about through playing with the brand’s logo which then resulted in the Baguette’s signature buckle. After figuring out where to place the buckle, she began sketching what would become the first known “IT” bag, the Fendi baguette. Named after the French bread because of how it was carried – under the arm like a baguette – this soft-structured rectangular flap bag gained cult status when a purple sequinned version made an appearance on Sex And The City, on style heroine Carrie Bradshaw’s arm. It may be simple in its structure, but the baguette has had over 1,000 iterations – in classic monogram canvas, fur, leather, embroidery, appliqués, feathers, and paillettes.
In the spring of 2019, the baguette was brought back (but did it really ever go away?) in different sizes and with detachable straps of different lengths. Venturini Fendi called it “change, but [with a] bit of nostalgia.” But the real treasure is finding a vintage piece with ornate embroidery or beadwork in excellent condition. These would not have been assembled by today’s “large scale” standards but by small teams of artisans which resulted in those legendary mile-long waiting lists.
The Lady Dior bag was originally created in 1994. A box-structured leather bag with gold-plated jewellery-like charms that spell out D-I-O-R, the lightly padded body was topstitched with the brand’s signature cannage quilting, a nod to the cane-woven (cannage in French) Napoleon III chairs once found in Christian Dior’s salon. In 1995, Princess Diana was gifted the bag by the First Lady of France, Bernadette Chirac, during her visit to Paris for the Cézanne exhibition. The bag went on to become one of Diana’s favourite accessories, and she was photographed with it on many occasions. In 1996, Dior renamed the bag Lady Dior in Diana’s honour.
The bag remains one of the brand’s iconic accessories, constantly reimagined in different sizes and colours season after season. It has also been modified to include a detachable shoulder strap to address the “hands- free” needs of today’s wearer. And while many celebrities have since become the face of Lady Dior, from Carla Bruni to Marion Cotillard, the bag will always remain strongly associated with Princess Diana. A vintage Lady Dior in black leather with gold hardware is a classic, versatile piece that would go with almost anything in your wardrobe, and for any time of the day or night.
Louis Vuitton Monogram Canvas Speedy
First launched in 1930 and called the Express, the Speedy was inspired by the era’s rapid transport. The bag is characterised by a bulky but loosely structured “doctor’s bag”-shaped zippered body made from the brand’s classic monogram-coated canvas, and fastened with two rolled vachetta leather handles which develop a rich patina over time. A smaller one was introduced at the request of actress Audrey Hepburn in the late 50s, and the bag became later known as the Speedy 25. This bag remains a popular choice for a first Louis Vuitton purchase.
The Speedy has seen several versions throughout the decades, from the more conservative damier- checked canvas with ebene-coated leather handles, to a modified and colourful iteration, as reinterpreted by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami which saw the classic brown monogram transformed by a psychedelic colour palette of pinks, greens, blues, and yellows on white or black coated canvas. The classic monogram canvas Speedy remains the most sought-after version becoming the “entry level” poster bag of choice in the world of luxury designer bags.
Top tips for buying a vintage designer bag
- If you plan to scour for vintage designer bags online, always make sure to do extensive research. Find out the credibility of the websites selling these bags by checking out internet forums dedicated to bag communities. Go through the seller’s feedback from other buyers, as they are proven to be very helpful. Check if the websites have an “authenticity or money back guarantee” policy. Find out what the current market value of the vintage bag you want is from other sites as reference.
- When you find the bag you want, make sure that the seller is very transparent in detailing the bag’s condition. Ask for detailed photos. Overall exterior condition of the bag: Are there scratches or cracks to the leather? Was the bag refurbished, are there any parts replaced and if so, was it sent back to the brand for repair? Is the hardware tarnished? Are the zippers/ locks currently in working condition? Interior condition of the bag: Are there any stains (like mould) inside the bag? Is there a musty smell or smell of cigarettes? Does the bag come from a pet-free environment (in case you have allergies, this question is very helpful)? Does the bag still come with its original packaging?
- If the bag will come from overseas, make sure that you are aware of local duties and taxes that your country might impose on you upon your bag’s arrival to avoid any post-purchase issues.