Luxury Birkins, record-breaking auctions and a multimillion-dollar court case – who knew the market in used bags was so cut-throat? SUNA ERDEM talks to the 27-year-old behind the drama
Last December, Matt Rubinger, who heads up the luxury handbags and accessories team at Christie’s auction house in London, oversaw the sale of £4 million (about R87 million) worth of bags and other pretties in an online auction. One – a matte-white Himalaya crocodileskin Hermès Birkin – sold for more than £100 000 (about R2.2 million). Another crocodile-skin Birkin, custom-made in Paris and decorated with images of red tulips, went for £65 000 (about R1.4 million).
Matt is a handbag prodigy, and the bags he deals in are astronomically priced items sold at auction. Faced with the di culty in getting hold of premium Hermès bags, with their limited release and mysterious waiting lists, what else is an oligarch’s arm candy to do?
The suave, well-groomed Matt – only 27 – is king of this fast-growing new world. As I chase him by telephone across the globe, he pops up in the playgrounds of the moneyed and impatient. First, I nd him in Dubai, where he is exploring private sales. Then he’s in Hong Kong, his base, where, in June, Christie’s sold the most expensive handbag ever at auction – a fuchsia crocodile-skin Birkin – for £147 000 (about R3.2 million).
As Matt expounds with enthusiasm on the world of rare luxury handbags, it’s easy to see why he is at the centre of a tug-of-war that has resulted in a multimillion-dollar court case. The subject hit the spotlight in 2014 when the American auction house Heritage sued Christie’s over allegedly luring away its luxury handbag experts, most grievously snatching Matt. The suit alleges that Matt breached his contract and stole trade secrets from Heritage, which hired him straight out of university four years earlier. It is still unresolved. Christie’s, Matt and his colleagues hotly contest the case, in which Heritage is seeking £40 million (about R876 million) in damages.
I tell Matt I nd the whole story incredible – millions of dollars for a row over a bunch of old handbags? He is silent for a scarily long time. ‘I don’t want to talk about it,’ he says in a whisper.
Get him back on the subject of the bags themselves, however, and there’s no stopping him. He talks excitedly about the Himalaya; only a handful have been made, I’m told, but he directs me to the Harrods VIP suites, where Christie’s is holding an invite-only private sale in a rst-time collaboration with the luxury department store. The bag is a beauty to behold, with its white-dusted dye carefully calibrated to evoke the Himalayas. Well, I expect it is, but before I could ‘behold’ it, the bag had been sold – for £95 000 (about R2 million). ‘Harrods can get you anything,’ says Michel Omeyer, Christie’s private sales manager for the Middle East. ‘But even if you turn up with a million dollars, even if you are a king, they can’t get you this bag.’
Matt has been well acquainted with handbags for most of his life. ‘I fell into it,’ he says. ‘When I was a teenager, my mom asked me to look online for a bag for her. As I was spending my parents’ money, I was careful and took it seriously. I did a lot of research. A week later, I sold it again – she didn’t want me to.’ Why would you do that? ‘I became fascinated by the possibilities. I probably made $100 (about R1 500), and I was
Grace Kelly carrying the Hermès bag named after her