… was the price paid for this hand-painted, vintage Hermès bag at a recent auction. Here’s what makes it such a steal
You can expect to pay more than double this price for a current version of Hermès’s Retourne Kelly bag. This vintage holdall – a black, 28-centimetre, box calf leather and toile Retourne Kelly with gold hardware from the early 1980s – is unusual enough in itself, and made all the more so with the addition of a striking painting of a tiger on the front and a serpent on the back. The painting is by New York-based artist Max Brownawell, who is also a senior luxury-accessories specialist at Heritage Auctions.
The bag was sold during Heritage Auctions’s Winter Luxury Accessories auction last month. A total of 277 items, ranging from Hermès Birkins, bracelets and scarves, to Chanel watches and gloves, were sold during the event.
The condition of this bag was listed as excellent, indicating that it shows very minor evidence of handling, despite its age. It was estimated to fetch between US$6,000 and $8,000 (up to Dh29,400).
Brownawell started painting on Hermès handbags in early 2016, since the toile fabric used by the luxury
fashion house presents a perfect canvas for his work. He has customised eight Hermès handbags, with three more currently in the works.
An Hermès customised leather and toile Ebene
Negonda garden party MM bag, featuring a Brownawell painting of a brightly coloured serpent, was also sold during the auction.
In a time-consuming process, Brownawell paints
his animal motifs by hand, using numerous layers of paint to build texture. The artist uses acrylics, which have the added benefit of staying put if the bag ever gets caught in the rain.
“I was first inspired by antique Tibetan carpets
featuring tiger motifs. Many of my works are inspired by these extremely creative and varied depictions of tiger skins from 19th-century Tibet, where they were believed to protect those who wore them during meditation. By reworking these motifs into designs that fit onto the canvas of the bags, my tigers are given back to their original purpose. They’re protecting the owner, and of course protecting the bag itself,” says the artist.