Thursday, October 30, 2014

Jeff Koons Creates Work of Art Out Of Birkin Bags

Jeff Koons's cavernous studio is already humming with activity when he arrives a little past 10 on a bright September morning, striding across the floor like a chef inspecting his kitchen. A former nightclub (one glass partition still bears its name, Amnesia, engraved in script), the multilevel space is crowded with wooden packing crates, ladders, and larger-than-life statues swathed in sheets of plastic like shiny togas. In the midst of this fantastical scene stands a slender woman with cropped auburn hair and a serious expression. Her name is Svetlana Kuzmicheva-Uspenskaya, and she's a collector of Koons's work as well as his friend and, most recently, collaborator. Her philanthropic organization, Project Perpetual, will auction new works by Koons to raise money for the United Nations Foundation in November. "The idea for Jeff's contribution was originally smaller," she says, "and then with his touch, it grew into what we have now."
What they have now, exactly, involves a medium that Koons has never worked with before: handbags. Specifically, about a dozen Hermès Birkins of varying sizes and colors. These are no "ordinary" Birkins (if such a thing exists)—they have been donated by Marc Jacobs, Sofia Coppola, Diane von Furstenberg, and others, and will be incorporated into Koons's works for the auction. "I wanted to have people participate so that it's not just about writing a check," says Kuzmicheva-Uspenskaya, who was born in St. Petersburg and currently lives in Paris with her husband, businessman Alexey Kuzmichev, and their five-year-old son. "It's about people giving something tangible and significant, that they have an attachment to," she explains. "The Birkin bag is a symbol of luxury that everyone recognizes."

"I wanted to make a work of art that could be in a museum and that I could be proud of." —Jeff Koons

The auction's star piece will be a nearly six-foot-tall plaster sculpture, inspired by Pablo Picasso's 1902 painting La Soupe (The Soup),which depicts a woman proffering soup to a young girl. In Koons's piece, the woman is holding a Birkin bag. "I've been asked many times to make works for charity," says Koons. "It's a little difficult for an artist to do that, because you just make your work. But I became very engaged in this program. I wanted to make a piece that could work for the charity, a work of art that could be in a museum, and that I could be proud of."
For Kuzmicheva-Uspenskaya, November's event is only the beginning: She will soon enlist more artists for Project Perpetual's donation-led initiatives. "People could give lipstick—I don't care," she says. "When you give up an object of value and then an artist transforms it, I believe it will touch people." Or, with Project Birkin, they can carry it.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Michael Tonello on Q with Jian Ghomeshi - Discussing Hermes and Birkin Bags

Now that Jian Ghomeshi is all over the news what better time to revisit this great interview.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Christie's Ramps Up Online-Only Sales - From Warhol's to Birkin's

Right now it’s possible to click on and bid on a Warhol drawing, a Helmut Newton photograph and an ostrich Hermès Birkin bag. Often there is a selection of rare wines to be purchased there, too.
And last year, the auction house introduced a buy-it-now feature echoing eBay that offers a head-spinning variety of watches that can be snapped up instantly. “The main objective here is the acquisition of new clients,” said Steven P. Murphy, Christie’s chief executive. “We’re building our online business the old-fashioned way, brick by brick.”
So far the auction house says it has invested $50 million in hiring experts and building its own infrastructure. It dipped its toes in online-only auctions in 2011 with a sale of Elizabeth Taylor’s clothes and jewelry. That effort ramped up considerably last year when Christie’s held 51 online-only sales. Officials there said that number was increasing by 50 percent this year.
Both Christie’s and its rival Sotheby’s introduced online bidding during their live auctions about four years ago. Their success, coupled with the realization that a new population of online shoppers is waiting to be tapped around the world, is what is driving their focus on online-only sales.
Christie’s website offers a broad variety of watches that can be purchased instantly, without bidding. Credit
While Christie’s is promoting its homegrown e-commerce business, Sotheby’s is taking a different route. In July it announced a partnership with eBay. In the next few months Sotheby’s plans to broadcast most of its live auctions on a new area of eBay’s website. And over time Sotheby’s and eBay will add more options for shoppers, including online-only sales. Sotheby’s hopes to lure eBay’s nearly 150 million customers into being as comfortable buying a 19th-century dining room table or Damien Hirst print as they are a new suitcase or a pair of sneakers.
“Both auction houses are racing to catch up with luxury retailing that has been a huge success online,” said Josh Baer, an art adviser who publishes the Baerfaxt, an industry newsletter, and who was hired by eBay last year to help shape its art programs. “It is now clear to everyone in the art business that it is no longer if online sales of art can happen, but who executes them best.”
He added: “Just like the brick-and-mortar world, they start with content, inventory and buyer experience. Categories like cars and fashion — both of which are called emotional categories — are among the most popular areas for eBay, and for that reason it is banking on its own brand and that of partners like Sotheby’s to move customers into regularly buying fine art and objects.”
Christie’s, however, is starting out small and going it alone. Noting the success of luxury retailers like Net-a-Porter, 1stdibs and Gilt, which entice shoppers by showing merchandise in the context of an alluring online environment, Christie’s has hired experts from some of these sites to shape its initiative.
John Auerbach, 36, joined the auction house last year from Gilt to lead its e-commerce efforts. He has watched shoppers spend larger and larger amounts of money at Christie’s online-only sales. Right now, he said, the average price on its site is about $11,000, but in May a buyer purchased a drawing by Richard Serra for $905,000, making it the most expensive online-only purchase for the auction house to date. Competition was stiff. Eight bidders competed for the 2009 abstract drawing, according to Mr. Auerbach.
“People are becoming more comfortable online and buying art from digital images,” he said. “This was a well-known drawing by a famous artist.”
For those who wonder what Christie’s online business is all about, Mr. Auerbach answered some questions about his world, trying to demystify how it works and talking about what its goals are.
Q. Why does a successful company like Christie’s that is so well known for its live auctions feel the need to go into the online-only sales business? How does one avenue for selling feed off the other?
A. It’s a way of serving customers — existing and new — where they want, when they want and how they want. It’s also about capturing a younger consumer. When you consider that about 71 percent of our e-commerce traffic has come from visitors who are new to, and of them 11 percent have gone on to register in regular auctions and 39 percent of these clients bid on pricier merchandise, it’s a pretty compelling picture.
Our research shows that about 53 percent of those who register to bid online are under the age of 45. As for the most popular categories of our online auctions, they are postwar and contemporary art, fashion and photographs, followed by wine and jewelry.
How do you get the material for the online sales?
Everything is sourced through our specialist departments. So if you think about it, Christie’s as a company has three channels: live auctions, private sales and e-commerce. The sourcing for all three is the same. The specialists work with their clients to figure out where they will get the best results.
What makes a work of art or an object better for an online sale rather than a live auction or private sale?
Private sales have a value threshold, depending on the department. Live auctions have a more broad value as does e-commerce. If someone calls and says, ‘I have X to sell,’ it might be months before the next live auction, whereas online sales occur more often. The properties that make up our online auctions are authenticated and cataloged by our experts, just as if they were going to be sold in a live auction. There are also condition reports. Everything remains the same except the timelines, which are different. There are works of art that we can give greater exposure to online, which can also be to a seller’s advantage.
What happens if you buy something online and don’t like it because, for example, the green doesn’t go with my sofa, or it didn’t look that color online?
The policies are the same online as they are for live auctions. We do everything we can to assist clients in making a decision. We’ll have multiple photos; a very detailed zoom feature on the site. For flat art we’ll show it on a wall so you can get a sense of the relative size. In our watch shop we have two heads of our department doing a 45-second video about each watch, giving it context, so in a sense it’s virtual contact with a specialist, and the specialists are available to clients in person in much the same way they are for live auctions.
When you make the argument that you can give certain works better exposure for an online auction than a live one, what exactly do you mean?
There are common forms of digital marketing. It’s about driving traffic to our site. If someone has bought something like this before or viewed similar kinds of property, then we can alert them about the sale.
Just how worldwide are these sales? How many languages are available on the site?
All our sales are available online around the world and in multiple languages. Our First Open sales, auctions of postwar and contemporary art that are live sales taking place in London, New York and Hong Kong, also have an online-only component, too. Obviously, New York and London are in English. Hong Kong is in Chinese. The site itself is translated into five languages. Since there are so many Chinese artists, we translated the whole site into simplified and traditional Chinese. In emerging markets like the Middle East, we do a Dubai online sale every year, meaning it is made up of property sourced from the region. So far it’s in English, but we’re debating having it in Arabic, too. Also don’t forget every sale has multiple currencies, so it’s a very flexible platform and is a way to engage people who might not have otherwise bought online.
Christie’s is about to reintroduce its website at the end of the month so that it is more geared to lifestyle. What is that about?
Content will be a very big part of the relaunch. Jeremy Langmead from Mr Porter has joined Christie’s and he really knows how to put something in context. For example, we did an Asian porcelain sale that traditionally is marketed to collectors of Asia porcelain, but this time we showed it in situ, meaning in a domestic environment. And we had a whole variety of people who became interested in it, and most of the top lots were bought by new collectors. Over time we will be showing more things in context. The new updated home page will have a dedicated area for online shopping — and again this is all part of that lifestyle positioning.
Besides the online sales, Christie’s last year introduced its buy-it-now part of the site, which sells watches. What’s the thinking behind that?
When it comes to watches, we have both online-only auctions and a buy-it-now portion on our website. Since we launched buy-it-now, it has become our most visited online sale. Seventy-two percent of Watch Shop registrants are new to the e-commerce channel and they’re buying watches in a wide price point: from $1,500 to $195,000. We started this because we realized that people are used to buying when they want something. And a watch or handbag or piece of jewelry are things that people want because they need to buy a gift for someone, or it might be a purely impulse buy.
Sometimes social media can have surprising results. Someone who saw the $195,000 watch, a yellow gold Patek Philippe from 2000, posted an image of it on his Instagram site, and a buyer who was new to Christie’s came to us through that Instagram photo.
What about Sotheby’s and eBay? Why hasn’t Christie’s teamed up with a company like eBay or Amazon yet?
I can’t speak to what Sotheby’s is doing. But we have decided to grow this organically and are doing it in a way that is on-brand and understood by our customers. Two-thirds of the people looking at this site are new and one-third of our customers are new to Christie’s. This is not a volume business. These are hand-chosen works selected by Christie’s specialists.
Who are the biggest online buyers?
Right now we are seeing the biggest buyers in the U.S. and the U.K. But it depends on the category. Hong Kong for wine has dramatically increased over the past few months. It’s on a category-by-category basis. We have people shopping from all over the world. When it comes to Birkin bags right now, I’d say the majority is Europe, but other strong regions include Asia and the U.S.
Is there crossover between the person who bids in a traditional auction and those who buy online?
There is a crossover. We’ve seen a number of people who start with us in the online-only world and then move into the live auctions. These are customers who shop in multiple categories and price points and they tend to spend significantly higher sums in live auctions than ones online. If you look at the timing of this, it’s very rapid. You can see somebody buying online and then two months later they’re in our salesroom bidding at a live auction. So they’ve caught the bug. The average online-only Christie’s shopper has bought three lots this year. They come back over and over again and are highly engaged.
Why do you think it is that it has taken consumers longer to warm up to the idea of buying art and collectibles online when the fashion industry has been doing it successfully for over a decade now?
The world has changed. There’s now reduced resistance to buying online. In addition, technology has also improved so much that it is now possible to send clients clear, high-resolution images and videos. Collectors have also become more comfortable buying something from a digital file, so it’s all coming together, making buying online of the moment.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Hermès Breaks With Tradition and Launches a Modern Line of Nautilus Pens

Hermès is in the business of creating icons. The Birkin bag, the double-banded Cape Cod watch, even those whimsical patterned ties: each is an inescapable totem of the 177-year-old fashion house's rock-solid brand.
Yet looking at their new line of pens, it would appear that after two centuries of brand cohesion, someone at the company was itching to try something new. 
That someone, it turns out, is Pierre-Alexis Dumas, Hermès' artistic director and great-great-great grandson of the company's founder. "I wanted to do an object that's unlike anything you've seen before," said Dumas during last night's launch event at their New York flagship on Madison Avenue. "This is the way we should design at Hermès. We should not be superfluous. We should be essential."
And so we have the Nautilus line of cap-less, retractable pens, designed by the Australian industrial designer Marc Newson. There's no enamel, no precious metals, nothing that would imply glittering luxury. Instead, the brushed aluminum and stainless steel pens are matte, solid, and uncharacteristically understated, priced at $1,350 (for the ballpoint) and $1,650 (for the fountain). They come in dark blue, burgundy, and black -- with nary a spot of that signature Hermès orange to be found.
"I've been heading the collections for about 10 years," said Dumas. "The exercise, every season, is to give a contemporary expression to an age-old company. It's a paradox, but it leaves space for creativity."
Of course, at a time when most people use smartphones for correspondence and pens to sign receipts and not much else, there's a certain irony to creating a ‘modern,' pen, but Dumas explained that's missing the point. "Using a pen is an interesting act of resistance," he said. "I don't write the same way with a computer -- I'm more inspired when I'm writing with a pen. It's a different, more personal thought process."
In conjunction with the pens, Hermès has launched an entire ecosystem of distinctly traditional leather accessories. (No one said anything about them abandoning their billion-dollar business model entirely.) There's a leather ink-cartridge holder ($500), leather pen cases ($360), a stationary set, with notepads and notebooks ranging from $35 to $65, a leather writing set (medium size: $2,000), and notebooks ($115) bound in Hermès' signature colorful silk patterns.
At the launch event, guests were invited to try out the pens at different tables. At one, a graphologist analyzed visitors' handwriting. ("Bold leader" here, in case you're wondering.) People could also write letters on Hermès stationary, which the company then mailed, or listen to leather-covered headphones and practice "automatic writing," letting their hands move to the beat of the music.
The stationary, which is made in France, is thick, lustrous, and tactile -- you don't write on the notepad paper as much as carve into it. The pens feel balanced and almost uncannily solid when held.
"We spent a long time trying to get the right shape, so that it fits well in your hand," said Dumas. "I find the object very sensual."
The glossy blue leather writing set is the least practical piece in the product launch. It's lovely to be sure, but fairly bulky -- even if you've got a capacious briefcase or purse, only the most dedicated traveling scribes will want to lug it around.
Still, this is Hermès; items will move. As Dumas stood in the thick of it all, smiling and greeting visitors, Glenda Bailey, editor-in-chief of Harper's Bazaar, rushed up to him brandishing a giant shopping bag. "I bought a brown and a navy," she exclaimed about her new pens. "I just love them, they're fantastic."
Dumas beamed. "Good!" he said. "You're not leaving empty handed." 


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Birkin: the smell of luxury?

By Jill Radsken

Boston Globe Correspondent   

The news of a bad batch of Birkin bags has created a minor le stink for the French fashion house Hermes.
A small number of the leather handbags sold within the last year have revealed a not so odor-able problem: a pungent stench similar to skunk or marijuana. The opulent bags sell for $20,000 or more.
“In the back of a car, or in the sun, or in a closed Hermes box, the smell becomes more concentrated,” said writer and Birkin expert Michael Tonello.
The Massachusetts native who authored “Bringing Home the Birkin” in 2008 about his years reselling the sought-after luxury bags, has heard from three Hermes devotees who have experienced the problem, which was reported earlier last week in the New York Post’s Page Six column.
“It’s either the togo leather, which is grainy, very pebbly looking, or the other leather is taurillon clemence. It’s also grainy with a pebbly finish, but a larger grain,” said Tonello, in a telephone interview from St. Helena Island in South Carolina, where he is writing the screenplay of his book. “Both are soft. They’re classic Birkins.”
Hermes has yet to comment on the scent-sational situation, which, Tonello said, is the way the Paris-based company likes to do business.
“I guess it’s part of their allure. They like to keep these stories, myths, urban legends perpetuated,” he said.
Tonello estimates that only a tiny fraction of Birkins — fewer than 100 — have odor issues. And while the problem may seem “a little silly,” he noted that a Birkin isn’t easy to replace.
“Some people save up for a long time and it’s a big purchase,” he said. “These bags are done as part of a season or collection. When those bags all ship out, they’re gone.”


Monday, October 20, 2014

LVMH Explains How It Will Distribute $7.4 Billion Hermes Stake

LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA (MC) laid out how it will distribute its 23 percent stake in Hermes International SCA to shareholders after agreeing last month to relinquish its stake in the Birkin bag maker.
LVMH shareholders will get two Hermes shares for every 41 LVMH shares they own, according to a regulatory filing today.
LVMH will communicate the distribution at least four business days before it takes place, the world’s largest luxury-goods maker said. The Hermes shares will be valued at the opening trading price on the day of the payment, not exceeding 235.2 euros a share, valuing the stake at as much as 5.8 billion euros ($7.4 billion), LVMH said.
LVMH, based in Paris, is distributing its Hermes stake to shareholders almost four years after it started building the holding without Hermes’s knowledge. The payment, due to be completed by Dec. 20, will leave Groupe Arnault, the family holding company of LVMH Chairman Bernard Arnault, with an 8.5 percent interest in Hermes, LVMH has said.

Monday, October 13, 2014

$20k Hermès Birkin bags ‘smell like marijuana’

Hermès’ iconic bag, the Birkin, has a pungent problem — customers are returning some recent orders of the wildly expensive bags to the boutiques, complaining they smell of marijuana.
Customers — some of whom have paid about $20,000 or more for the exclusive bags — have been told by staff at the luxury goods store that there was a problem with a “badly tanned” batch of leather from a supplier to Hermès.
They claim the tanning process somehow makes the leather smell like marijuana whenever it heats up in warm temperatures, such as in direct sunlight or in a hot car.
A source tells us:
“Owners are returning the Hermès bags back to boutiques across the US, including the Madison Avenue store, saying they smell of skunk. The bags are being sent back to Paris as nobody knows quite how to deal with this embarrassing situation.”
Apparently, this is a worldwide problem as Hermès bags are distributed to boutiques in limited quantities and are often on back or special order.
While the problem does not affect all Hermès leather products, we are told this does affect multiple bags in varying colors, ranging in designs such as the Birkin, the Kelly and the Elan clutch, which retail from $5,000 to more than $20,000, all of which had been purchased in 2013 and 2014. It is not believed the problem affects the Hermès crocodile skin bags, which can sell for more than $60,000. Customers are reporting that Hermès staff are saying the bags have to go back to Paris, have the bad-smelling leather panels removed and the entire bag rebuilt.
While a New York-based Hermès rep didn’t respond to requests for comment, the so-called “skunk stinky syndrome” has become a subject of discussion on Web forums devoted to luxury goods.
One Kelly bag owner posted on PurseBlog:
“After riding in the car with her for about 30 minutes, I smelled what I thought was a dead skunk. Another 30 minutes later I could still smell the dead skunk, and I thought it was odd, but never imagined it could be my bag. I keep (it) in an armoire . . . When I opened the cabinet door this morning, the smell hit me, and I immediately knew it was the bag.”

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

All I want for Christmas is a Hermes Handbag: Wealth Building in Luxury Assets

I have an actuary acquaintance who paid a small fortune for a Louis Vuitton handbag, much to the irritation of her actuary husband. She argues that she derives much pleasure out of using her designer bag daily, while her husband only gets to use his equally expensive set of golf clubs occasionally. She has more reason to brag than ever about her decadent purchase, as luxury handbags are increasingly becoming considered assets in the true sense of the word. Big money has been changing hands between collectors of vintage designer brands, and some lenders happily accept luxury bags as security against loans. A personal asset lender says it has handed out the equivalent of about R4m to cash-strapped handbag owners who need money for private school fees or to fund a business venture. It could be easier for you to borrow against a luxury handbag than against a portfolio of investments like shares. Make sure you ask for a Hermes or vintage Chanel for Christmas, as some brands are more valuable than others. And, beware: there are lots of very good-looking fakes out there. – JC

On the day of the Hermes fashion show at Paris Fashion Week, Borro, the UK personal asset lender, reveals a number of their clients are using luxury bags from the designer as collateral for loans. In response to popular demand, we launched a service offering loans against handbags from the classic French fashion house Hermes in December 2013 and since then, business has blossomed.
Just last week, a client in London brought in a Hermes blue crocodile skin Birkin bag, with a value of £40,000 new (more than R700 000), and secured a £16,500 loan (R300 000).
In the US, Borro worked with one client to lend $30,000 (R35 000) against another Hermes crocodile Birkin bag. These types of loans are not unusual. We have seen other clients borrow £12,500 for school fees against a burgundy crocodile Hermes Birkin bag, and another who borrowed £10,500 against a slate grey crocodile Birkin.
Since launching this proposition in December last year, the lender has issued £210,000 against designer bags, with an average loan value of £9,000 (about R160 000).  Using both its in-house valuation experts, as well as external third party valuers, we authenticate and value the handbags, and offer clients up to 60 per cent of the market value of the bag based on its condition and age, as well as market desirability.
The classic designer bag is very collectable, especially to the fashionista. The Hermes Birkin bag in particular is exceptionally sought after, but buyer beware – there are myriad fakes and replicas flooding the market, from the primitive to the exquisite.Provenance is imperative when purchasing so always buy from authentic dealers and respected auction houses.
The luxury handbag market is not only high growth, but a global market that is synonymous with our wealthy clientele. We decided to add high end handbags to our asset classes to match demand for loans against these assets, and have seen clients capitalise on the service ever since.
One came to us with a vintage Chanel 2.55 handbag which she used to secure funds for launching her own online business. All the handbags we lend against are checked and authenticated by an internal and external authority to make sure they are the genuine article, and if possible we ask for proof of purchase too.”

Friday, October 3, 2014

Christophe Lemaire’s Final Hermès Collection Doesn’t Disappoint

The designer’s last take was a beautiful representation of his four years designing womenswear for the house.

A look from Hermès's spring 2015 collection. Photo: ImaxtreeDesigner Christophe Lemaire is leaving Hermès to focus on his own label, which means that his spring 2015 collection for the house was his last. (It also happened to be the final show of Paris Fashion Week.) Sand covered the runway, but there was no hokey safari theme here. Instead, Lemaire focussed on silhouette, draping suede dresses and wool blouses in the most elegant, nonchalant ways. A suede robe coat made an impression, as did a navy leather collared shirt. A neutral palette gave way to a few looks made out of Hermès scarf fabric, a nice homage to his former employers. Lemaire, both with Hermès and his own collection, is one of a consortium of designers truly capturing how we want to dress now: luxe utilitarianism, with few flourishes. Really, who doesn’t want a navy leather anorak in their closet? 

What a shame, some might say, given that his wares seem to embody the quiet elegance Hermès puts forward. But unlike some departures, there was little sadness today. After all, we’re not losing Lemaire. He’s simply moving on. And so has Hermès. Next season, new womenswear designer Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski will begin again. And we’ll be watching.  


NBC-TV/Today Show
Summer Reading Round-Up

Bringing Home the Birkin
top 10 summer reads!




May 18, 2008
Bag Man