Many credit Jean-Paul Gaultier’s revitalization of Hermes in the mid-2000’s as the fuel injection that blasted the world of handbag collecting into the stratosphere. Margiela’s 1997-2003 tenure realized many beautiful clothes, but Gaultier’s flair for the theatrical is what brought Hermes handbags to the next level. One of his first moves was to redesign the iconic Kelly bag as a new clutch, creating the Kelly Pochette; he turned the Birkin into a traveler’s crossbody and named it the Jypsiere. Under his eye, new and exciting materials were experimented with for runway shows, and occasionally made their way into limited special editions. His final show for the house in 2010 was a somber symphony of black. A funeral procession for Hermes by Gaultiere. From this sad event bloomed what have grown to become some of the most coveted handbags of all time; the So Black collection.
When these bags first arrived in Hermes stores, seeking VIP clients as their first owners, many were met with confusion, distaste. People wondered ‘why is the box black? Why is everything black? Why doesn’t the Kelly have a shoulder strap?’ Their reputation further marred by the delicacy of the calf box leather, and irreparability of the PVD coated black hardware, some So Black bags even made their way into the secret Hermes sales, marked forever with the telltale S stamp. But as soon as these bags finished passing through the stores, and found their way into the backs of collections all over the world, demand began to grow.
The So Black is the only bag where having the full set of accessories really matters. Not only did they come with a black box, black dustbag, black tissue paper and ribbon, but the care booklet is made of matte black paper with glossy black text, the protective felt is black, everything has been considered and made black. This is true for every So Black bag produced in 2010 and 2011. Not only were these bags produced in Calf Box leather, but an even smaller number were made in matte black crocodile and alligator skins. The Kelly had the most numerous versions given the So Black treatment. Kelly Cuts, and Pochettes, as well as 32cm and 35cm Retourne Kellys can be found in both leather and exotic. As for the Birkins, the options are much more limited, with only 30cm and 35cm versions getting blacked out. In 2015 Hermes released a Constance Wallet and a Medor clutch that were close to the original So Black formula, though they were rendered in glossy alligator skin, have a silver foil Hermes stamp, and none of the black accoutrements that came with the original collection.
The popularity of the original So Black bags has been rising faster in recent years. Over the past ten years, leather So Black Birkins both 30 and 35cm have averaged about $35,000 at auction, but in 2019 that average jumped above $50,000. The 32cm Kellys, which are arguably the hardest to find, averaged $40,000 over the same period, and $55,000 this past year alone. The larger 35cm Kellys have sat squarely at the bottom of the rankings, selling on average for $26,000 overall, and $33,000 this past year. As far as the exotics go, there are only enough auction results for 30cm Crocodile So Black Birkins to draw conclusions from (they’ve averaged $112,000 over the past ten years, and $123,000 in 2019). Too few of the other styles have sold at auction, but we can assume the values for other exotics are similar to the 30cm Birkins. The results for leather So Black clutches are similarly sparse but cluster around $20,000-$30,000 for leather, with no results showing up for exotics.
Serious Hermes collectors will already know that the So Black collection did not just spring from nowhere. As with most Hermes products, there is a line of inspiration that draws back to other Hermes products. Around the turn of the century (this century), Hermes released a limited edition Kelly called the Millennium Kelly, which was done in Sellier construction in black Chamonix leather with Ruthenium hardware. Ruthenium is a discontinued Hermes hardware that is close to gunmetal; dark gray and glossy, nearly black. Most of these Kellys had silver foil Hermes stamps, but some were foil-less, dubbed the ‘Millenium Moonlight Kellys’ creating something very close to a So Black effect ten years before the real So Blacks would be born. The Sellier construction, along with the double-loop handle hardware and shoulder strap, make these rare vintage Kellys particularly special collector’s items. Most people do not know the full history of these bags, and as such they tend to sell for a lot less than their younger cousins, but anybody looking to assemble a complete collection of So Blacks would be remiss to overlook the Millenium Moonlight Kelly.