Photograph by Isaac Lawrence for Getty Images.

What Do You Do With the World’s Most Expensive Handbag?

The experts tell us about the care and use—dear God, do not carry it with denim!—of the Hermès White Himalayan Birkin.

by Christopher Barnard
Dec 4 2017, 2:27pm

Photograph by Isaac Lawrence for Getty Images.

So you’ve found yourself the proud owner of the most expensive handbag ever sold at auction: the Hermès Niloticus Crocodile Himalaya Birkin 30, or more casually, the White Himalayan. Now what? Do you just snip off the price tag and chuck it in the coat closet for safekeeping…and bring it out, well, never? Not exactly. We asked a couple of the top bag experts how exactly does one care for and live with something that costs as much as a couple Ivy League degrees.

First, a bit on the bag itself: the White Himalayan Birkin is arguably the rarest bag that Hermès produces. Not even insiders know how many are made each year—one told me that even a top Hermès client walking into the store asking for one would be waitlisted. The bag is made of crocodile skin, dyed in gradations of white in the center to grey at the outer edges with white diamonds on the hardware (this sets it apart from the other more quotidian Birkins that are just “Himalayan,” obv). And the name? The croc gradation is said to be inspired by the snowy mountaintops of the namesake mountain range—sadly not after a species of Himalayan crocodile, which I was told did not in fact ever walk the earth.

This latest sale last week, at Christie’s in Hong Kong, set the record at $382,000. Coincidentally, the same bag style set the record before that, and the record before that—it's kind of the White Himalayan’s “thing.” For most people, the thought of having $380K of anything swinging from your shoulder is nothing short of paralyzing, but in the words of Christie’s Handbags specialist, Caitlin Donovan, they are like wearable works of art, built to be used—a lot. “These bags are made with such impeccable craftsmanship and skill. They’re really made to be worn. Just like an Hermès saddle was made to be worn.”

But is someone who is in possession of a WH Birkin really using it as their go-to, every day carryall? We asked New Jersey-based Jane Angert, the woman behind the legendary bag reseller JaneFinds: “The last sale of mine for a White Himalayan was to a princess and she uses it on special occasions. Another woman, a client in the area, has one also. She goes to the opera with it—it’s like a piece of jewelry!” Angert was also quick to point out, her voice flush with terror, that whatever you do, do not wear jeans with this style. “With the Himalayan, you cannot wear denim because it transfers. I had a customer buy a 35cm Himalayan Birkin and she wore it in the Hamptons with a pair of jeans. She called me hysterical the next day, with a picture of the bag and the entire side was blue.” Quelle horreur. That client was able to take it to the Hermès store on Madison and they somehow got the stain out—which, in brand parlance, is called “getting spa’d.”

Then there was the client who took hers to the beach and was upset when the sand and spray turned the bag, thinking that the water was a crocodile’s natural habitat, so what could be the harm? (Valid.)

As for general upkeep of this Mount Everest of handbags, both Donovan and Angert agree that the first priority should be to maintain its shape, whether through old-fashioned stuffing or in Angert’s case, an invention she calls “the baginizer,” a liner and organizer she created five years ago and includes with each purchase from JaneFinds. She notes it also prevents interior scraping, indenting or, say, a rogue, cap-less Chanel lipstick with a score to settle. As for the rest, just keep the pieces in their dustbags, out of direct sunlight and far from any knives or rusty nails.

The irony of something this precious and expensive is that it is actually built to last for decades. “It’s not a piece of glass—it’s an accessory.” says Donovan. That being said, Angert recommends, especially for the croc styles, a yearly conditioning visit to Hèrmes spa—unfortunately they do not take human reservations.

If you’re currently in the market for a Himalayan Birkin (sorry, no white diamonds) there is one on offer at the Christie’s online auction until Tuesday—current bid: $85K—along with a robust assortment of Louis Vuitton x Supreme merch (like a cotton t-shirt now bidding at $1K), and a veritable smorgasbord of Chanel 2.55s. Or if you can't wait until next year’s auction, when I have a feeling the Niloticus Crocodile Himalaya Birkin 30 will set yet another record, you can simply call JaneFinds right now: “Whatever bag a client wants, I can get it for them within 48 hours.” Ain’t no mountain high enough!