Meet the Woman Taking the ‘Blood Sport’ out of Buying a Coveted Hermès Birkin Bag - Kanebridge News
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Meet the Woman Taking the ‘Blood Sport’ out of Buying a Coveted Hermès Birkin Bag

By SHIVANI VORA
Fri, Feb 16, 2024 9:32amGrey Clock 4 min

The impetus for Judy Taylor to start her luxury handbag and jewellery resale company Madison Avenue Couture dates back to her career in investment banking more than two decades ago. At the time, she was an avid shopper for high-end clothing and had built a sizeable collection of corporate wear from designer labels.

Taylor eventually took an extended break from banking to travel the world and decided to sell the clothing on eBay.

“I was surprised at the money I netted by selling these used items and realized the potential of the online resale market,” Taylor says. “Not being someone to let an opportunity pass, I began to buy and sell new and almost new luxury clothing, shoes and handbags and saw how much they were in demand.”

Hermès Birkin 25 Himalaya Niloticus Crocodile Diamond Encrusted Hardware, priced at $US500,000.
Courtesy of Madison Avenue Couture

Her homespun venture quickly grew into a full-fledged profitable business, and in 2010, she established Madison Avenue Couture. Today, the brand bills itself to be the largest online independent reseller of new and never-worn Hermès holy grail bags, primarily Birkins and Kellys that are nearly impossible to find. It also sells a selection of pre-owned collectible and vintage Hermès, Chanel, Goyard, and Louis Vuitton bags, Hermès and Chanel jewellery, and accessories and sought-after fine jewellery.

Taylor says that her company enables any consumer with the means to buy highly in-demand goods.

“You can’t just go into Hermès and buy a Birkin because there usually aren’t any available, and if they are, customers are limited to buying two bags a year,” she says. “Chanel has also limited purchases since Covid, and other brands have imposed restrictions.”

According to Taylor, these tactics have increased market demand and have enabled luxury labels to increase their prices. However, since supply cannot meet demand, consumers are increasingly reaching out to the resale market, including her company, for these items.

“Our business continues to grow, and we have an extensive network to source handbags and jewellery,” Taylor says. “Unlike much of the traditional resale market, our items are primarily new and never used and carry a premium over [the] retail price.”

Taylor, 59, speaks with Penta about her company and the luxury resale market overall.

Can you talk about how the luxury resale market for handbags and jewelry has evolved in recent years, especially since the pandemic?

About three weeks into the pandemic, we started getting orders. They were slow at first but then accelerated.

With retail stores closed and travel restricted, people turned online to shop. The only place to purchase new Hermès and Chanel handbags was online and from dealers on the secondary market. They became comfortable with buying these brands online. Sales increased by 60% in 2020 and doubled in 2021, compared to the prior years. Even after the brand boutiques opened and travel resumed, online sales continued their momentum. Our sales quadrupled from 2019 to 2023.23.

Who are your customers, and have they changed over the years?

Our clients are primarily those who have disposable income and love to spend it on beautiful things. Partners of hedge funds, investment bankers and law firms, self-made entrepreneurs, physicians and dentists, celebrities and socialites represent the bulk.  But we always have the aspiring—those for whom buying a Birkin or Kelly is a bit of a financial stretch.

What are the advantages of buying a resale bag or piece of jewellery?

Hermès and Chanel do not offer their handbags online. While Hermès.com may offer one or a few small bags on occasion, they are sold out in seconds. The same goes for branded jewellery, notably Van Cleef & Arpels. Try purchasing a popular VC&A Alhambra piece online or in one of their stores to take home immediately—it is almost impossible.

Hermès Sac Faubourg Birkin 20 White Matte Alligator Palladium Hardware, priced at $US225,000
Madison Avenue Couture

The second is ease of purchase. Hermès has made getting a holy grail bag almost a “blood sport.” The machinations that someone goes through to get a Birkin or Kelly are anxiety-producing for most. First, you need to find a friendly sales associate. Then, a profile must be built, which involves spending on Hermès goods that are not leather handbags. The more the spend, the greater the chance of getting a handbag. Expensive furniture, fine jewelry, and watches have the greatest sway. Scarves or a pair of shoes won’t bat an eyelash. The amount needed to be spent is unknown, but we’ve heard it could be significantly more than the price of the bag. Plus, there is no guarantee that it will result in getting the bag of your dreams.

In the secondary market, you can pick the bag of your dreams without the hassle and stress of building a profile.

How do you source your items, and how are you able to guarantee their authenticity?

We purchase from individuals and other handbag dealers primarily. We usually get the original store receipt or a copy of it for most bags we purchase, which establishes provenance. Regardless of having the receipt or not, every bag goes through in-house and third-party authentication. We chose who we believe to be the best independent authenticators of Hermès and Chanel, which is where we find the most counterfeits.

What are some of the most in-demand brands and items for buyers who can afford them?

Hermès and Chanel handbags are generally in demand by professional and affluent women and men who give them as gifts. Goyard is popular because it evokes quiet luxury. In jewelry, we see the greatest demand is for Van Cleef & Arpels pieces, particularly the Alhambra series.

What advice do you have for people who want to find a specific piece from a source outside of the brand itself?

We recommend that people purchase only from dealers who guarantee authenticity and have a history of selling only authentic bags.

Furthermore, rely on a reseller that has its inventory on hand like us.  We have already checked the condition, verified authenticity, and confirmed availability. Marketplaces, which aggregate different vendors, cannot know for certain if an item is available, in the stated condition or authentic. (Some authenticate after the item is sold, which delays getting the item.) Resellers that do not have an item in stock will source it, which can take weeks and may not be in the condition described.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 



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Some chocolatiers and coffee makers say they will have to pass on the extra cost to consumers

By JOSEPH HOPPE
Sun, Apr 14, 2024 4 min

Global prices for cocoa and coffee are surging as severe weather events hamper production in key regions, raising questions from farm to table over the long-term damage climate change could have on soft commodities.

Cultivating cocoa and coffee requires very specific temperature, water and soil conditions. Now, more frequent heat waves, heavy rainfalls and droughts are damaging harvests and crippling supplies amid ever growing demand from customers worldwide.

“Adverse weather conditions, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, have played an important role in sending several food commodities sharply higher,” said Ole Hansen , head of commodity strategy at Saxo Bank.

The spikes in prices are a threat to coffee and chocolate makers across the globe.

Swiss consumer-goods giant Nestlé was able to pass only a fraction of the cocoa price increase to customers last year, and it may need to adjust pricing in the future due to persistently high prices, a spokesperson said.

Italian coffee maker Lavazza reported revenue of more than $3 billion for last year, but said profitability was hit by soaring coffee bean prices, particularly for green and Robusta coffee, and its decision to limit price increases.

Likewise, chocolatier Chocoladefabriken Lindt & Spruengli said in its 2023 results that weather and climate conditions played a major role in the global shortage of cocoa beans that led to historically high prices. The company had to lift the sales prices of its products and said it would need to further raise them this year and next if cocoa prices remain at current levels.

Hershey ’s chief executive, Michele Buck , said in February that historic cocoa prices are expected to limit earnings growth this year, and that the company plans to use “every tool in its toolbox,” including price hikes, to manage the impact on business.

In West Africa, where about 70% of global cocoa is produced, powerhouses Ivory Coast and Ghana are facing catastrophic harvests this season as El Niño—the pattern of above-average sea surface temperatures—led to unseasonal heavy rainfalls followed by strong heat waves.

Extreme heat has weakened cocoa trees already damaged from heavy rainfall at the end of last year, according to Morningstar DBRS’s Aarti Magan and Moritz Steinbauer. The rain also worsened road conditions, disrupting cocoa bean deliveries to export ports.

The International Cocoa Organization—a global body composed of cocoa producing and consuming member countries—said in its latest monthly report that it expects the global supply deficit to widen to 374,000 metric tons in the 2023-24 season, from 74,000 tons last season. Global cocoa supply is anticipated to decline by almost 11% to 4.449 million tons when compared with 2022-23.

“Significant declines in production are expected from the top producing countries as they are envisaged to feel the detrimental effect of unfavourable weather conditions and diseases,” the organisation said.

While the effects of climate change are severe, other serious structural issues are also hitting West African cocoa production in the short- to medium-term. Illegal mining poses a significant threat to cocoa farms in Ghana, destroying arable land and poisoning water supplies, and the problem is becoming increasingly relevant in the Ivory Coast, according to BMI.

The issues are being magnified by deforestation carried out to increase cocoa production. Since 1950, Ivory Coast has lost around 90% of its forests, while Ghana has lost around 65% over the same period. This has driven farmers to areas less suited to cocoa cultivation like grasslands, increasing the amount of labor required and bringing further downside risks to the harvest, the research firm said.

The Ivory Coast’s cocoa mid-crop harvest—which officially starts in April and runs until September—is expected to fall to 400,000-500,000 tons from 600,000-620,000 tons last year, with weather expected to play a crucial role in shaping the market balance for the season, ING analysts said, citing estimates from the country’s cocoa regulator. Ghana’s cocoa board also forecasts a slump in the harvest for this season to as low as 422,500 tons, the poorest in more than 20 years, according to BMI.

Neither regulator responded to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, extreme droughts in Southeast Asia—particularly in Vietnam and Indonesia—are resulting in lower coffee bean harvests, hurting producers’ output and global exports. Coffee inventories have recovered somewhat in recent weeks but remain low in recent historical terms. Robusta coffee has seen a severe deterioration in export expectations, while Arabica coffee is expected to return to a relatively narrow surplus this year, said Charles Hart, senior commodities analyst at BMI.

The global coffee benchmark prices, London Robusta futures, are up by 15% on-month to $3,825 a ton. Arabica coffee prices have also surged 17% over the last month to $2.16 a pound in lockstep with Robusta—its highest level since October 2022. Cocoa prices have more than tripled on-year over these supply crunch fears, and risen 49% in the last month alone to $10,050 a ton.

“Cocoa trees are particularly sensitive to weather and require very specific conditions to grow, this means that cocoa prices are especially vulnerable to extreme weather events, such as drought and periods of intense heat, as well as the longer-term impact of climate change,” said Lucrezia Cogliati, associate commodities analyst at BMI.

Cogliati said global cocoa consumption is expected to outpace production for the third consecutive season, with intense seasonal West African winds and plant diseases contributing to significant declines.

Consumers hoping for a return to cheaper prices for life’s little luxuries in the midterm may also be in for a bitter surprise.

“There is no sugarcoating it—consumers will ultimately be faced with higher chocolate prices, products that contain less chocolate, and/or shrinking product sizes,” Morningstar’s Magan and Steinbauer said in a report.

“We anticipate consumers could respond by searching widely for promotional discounts, trading down to value-based chocolate and confectionary products from premium products, switching to private-label from branded products and/or reducing volumes altogether.”

The record-breaking rally for cocoa and coffee is likely more than just a flash in the pan, according to Citi analysts, as adverse weather conditions and strong demand trends are likely to support prices in the months ahead. The U.S. bank estimates Arabica coffee futures in a range of $1.88-$2.15 a pound for the current year, but said projections could be lifted if the outlook for 2024-25 tightens further.

At the heart of it all, climate change is set to play a major role, as the impact of extreme weather events could exacerbate the pressure on cocoa and coffee supplies, according to market watchers.

“I don’t expect prices to remain at these levels, but if we continue to see more unusual weather as a result of global warming then we certainly could see more volatility in terms of cocoa yields going forward, which could impact pricing,” said Paul Joules, commodities analyst at Rabobank.