>> Long time Style Bubble readers will know about my general dunce stance towards handbags. Bag Snob slash Purse Forum I am not. I’m generally clueless about the subtle differences in leathers, straps, hardware types and rivet positions that indicate different styles. Therefore when I heard that Liberty were hosting an exhibition of Hermès bags to celebrate 30 Years of the Birkin bag with specialist private collector Catherine B of Les 3 Marches de Catherine in Paris, I thought I should pop by to glean some knowledge from someone who knows their shiz about handbags. Catherine has been collecting vintage Chanel and Hermès for decades, opening her shop in St Germain in 1994 which has now become a pilgrimage point for vintage bag connoisseurs, what with an impressive floor-to-ceiling collection of over 1,500 pieces.
The central focal point of this open-to-public exhibition, is the first ever Hermès Birkin bag, owned and commissioned by Jane Birkin. Catherine won it in an auction back in 2000 when Jane sold it to raise money for an AIDS charity. Very generously, she got it out of its glass vitrine so that I could cop a feel of its marked and marred glory. It is beaten up and battered with adhesive residue marks, as Jane notoriously stuck travel stickers on her Birkin and also used it quite heavily – a world away from the pristine image I have of privileged owners of Hermès bags. Everyone will know the story about Jane Birkin sitting next to Jean-Louis Dumas on a plane explaining to him that it’s difficult to find a bag that fits all her stuff. In 1984, Jane got her wish with a specially designated black suppler leather bag that was based on the large Hermès weekender HAC bag that her then-husband Serge Gainsbourg carried. There’s an example of these rare specimens on show too. Catherine also told me that this is the only Birkin bag to have a shoulder strap because Jane asked Dumas to put one on so that she could carry it on her shoulder as well as have little Charlotte in her arm. Oh, and Jane liked to keep her nails in check with a specially attached nail clipper inside the bag.
Elsewhere in the exhibition, I learnt about skins that Hermès use for their bags – the niloticus croc that originate from the Nile, alligator from Africa and the premium porosus crocs prized for its relatively small belly scales…
I also learnt about a Kelly bag rarity named Ulysses, distinctive because of its H-patterned leather and canvas finish.
This Kelly bag was painted by friend Antoine Gruc in 2004 in celebration of Catherine B’s 10 year anniversary of her infamous vintage store.
Here’s a transparent Kelly, which was first produced after the terrorist attacks in Paris in 1996 created with Anna Wintour in mind, so that the contents of her bag could be seen visibly for a smooth security check at the Hermès show in Paris.
According to Catherine, Kelly bags aren’t made in black patent leather anymore because of the material’s inflexibility.
There were also a few prime examples of some highly prized Hermès models that don’t exist anymore such as the ladylike Mini Piano Box, a Medor Box bag with a gold stud and Macpherson Bolide that comes with a detachable jewellery case at the bottom for women to transport their jewellery around…
…or the curiously named Drag bag…
This beach bag and umbrella set is also an oddity in this array of well-mannered Hermès leather goods.
I love this cartoon baby Kelly made in 1996 complete with little arms and legs.
Catherine’s collection Constances also have a point of difference exemplified by this one in white from the 1960s – difficult to find in such pristine condition.
Catherine also has a huge Hermès silk scarf collection.
The exhibition only on until Monday Nov 17th in Liberty’s Heritage Suite on the 3rd floor with Catherine on hand to guide you through the bags. Private tours are available if you [email protected]