Getting your hands on an Hermès Birkin (a.k.a. the world’s most coveted handbag) is no easy feat. Should you ever come to the point when you’re ready to plunk down five figures on the iconic satchel in your favorite color and size (hey, a girl can dream), you need to know somebody that can locate it for you—and that somebody should be Caitlin Donovan.
At 27, Donovan is one of the country’s leading experts on handbags and travels to cities all over to procure the very best vintage styles, as Head of Handbags for Christie’s. One of her specialties? Tracking down the world’s finest Birkins from private collections (of which she has amassed a pretty major range for the auction house’s first-ever handbag auction in the U.S., to take place in December in New York). She can practically smell the Birkin in the air when her plane hits the tarmac. Donovan, who was named one of Forbes‘ 30 Under 30 gave us a a preview of the auction and explained women’s fascination with handbags, the incredible private handbag collections she’s seen and, yes, the beloved Birkin:
I: Birkin bags are quite expensive to say the least. What kind of women are really buying them?
Caitlin Donovan: While big cites tend to have a higher concentration of handbag collectors, as one of the only female-centric collecting category [at Christie’s], there are major handbag collectors in all cities across the U.S. I have been privileged to see a number of impressive, jaw-dropping collections in my career, from many different types of clients.
I: Pretty major. What do these closets even look like?
C.D.: Clients go as far as to build closets simply for their Hermès bags, to be displayed in their closet like works of art.
I: What are some of the most in-demand styles of any brand?
C.D.: Initially, it was the Kelly bag, named after Grace Kelly. Now, the Birkin is what people pay the high premium for.
I: Are you seeing any emerging trends in bags?
C.D.: We used to see that bigger is better. Now people are calling for the 25-centimeter bags instead of the huge 45-centimeter bags. Small bags are back, and there’s nothing more adorable than [a mini bag]!
I: Do your clients view collecting bags as an investment on par with art or real estate?
C.D.: We just broke the world record for the world’s most expensive handbag sold at auction, in Hong Kong for around $225,000— so some do. But most of these bags have plastic on the hardware and have never been worn. The Hermès culture is they buy a bag, they bring it home, leave it in the box and take it out after a while and say, ‘Hey, I haven’t worn this and two months have passed. I can make so much money [selling this].'”
I: What was the first nice bag you bought for yourself?
C.D.: As if it were yesterday, I remember begging my mother for the multicolor Louis Vuitton pochette, thinking there was nothing else in the world I desired, or needed, more. So while I claim to not consider myself a traditional “bag lover” over any other fashion accessory, clearly, that is just not the case. My first luxury handbag purchase took place just after my 14th birthday, and like a number of girls in New York City in the early 2000s, was a Prada nylon pochette. It was purchased from the new [at the time] Prada Flagship Store, and was purchased with a combination of much of my birthday money from family and friends.
I remember feeling the same way then that I do now, that a handbag can easily make an outfit. While then it was a Prada nylon pochette, and today more likely a vintage piece from Hermès or Chanel, whether it be a formal outfit, or casual weekend attire, any outfit can be elevated with the right bag.
We couldn’t agree more! Here are some of the Hermès highlights from the December auction. Take a moment to ogle the prettiness!