Letting go of a beloved handbag can be a painful process, but when it’s badly stained, lost its shape or the handle’s hanging on by a thread, parting with it often feels inevitable.
But rather than surrendering your favourite tote to landfill and splashing out on a new one, it’s worth investigating if it’s possible to restore it – and you could well end up quids in.
Charlotte Staerck, co-founder of Handbag Clinic, told FEMAIL that their treatments regularly add hundreds – sometimes thousands – of pounds to the value of leather bags or shoes in need of a bit of TLC.
And in an age where sustainability is challenging fast fashion, buying pre-owned and vintage is firmly back in vogue.
Rather than surrendering your favourite tote to landfill and splashing out on a new one, it’s worth investigating if it’s possible to restore it – and you could well end up quids in. Pictured: stock image
Handbag Clinic has restored over 40,000 bags for its direct clientele since launching in 2015, and also handles restoration work on behalf of several luxury brands including Jimmy Choo, Aspinal of London, Radley and the majority of the major auction houses, as well as Harrods clients.
Charlotte said she believes the pandemic has made a lot of people reconsider their values and question how they can enjoy fashion in a more responsible way.
‘We have specialised in handbag restoration for over 12 years and, in recent months, we’ve seen a dramatic change in the way people engage with sustainable fashion,’ she said.
‘People have become much more conscious of the impact waste is having on the planet. Buying a pre-owned item and using it for another nine months can actually reduce its water and carbon footprint by 20 to 30 per cent.
‘As well as the benefits to the environment, because we buy and sell pre-owned designer handbags we can easily identify the significant financial value restoration work adds, should they decide to sell it on and invest in something new.’
Charlotte said the team is able to take on all manner of challenges, from handbags burnt in fires or chewed by dogs to reconstructing the inside of vintage trunks or restoring satin-white wedding shoes.
Here she shares some of Handbag Clinic’s most impressive restorations – and reveals the value giving it a revamp has added to its price tag.
This Chanel Classic was valued at approximately £1,200 prior to its restoration (left), but is now worth £2,795 (pictured right after)
Charlotte says: ‘A Chanel restoration typically includes a full hygienic clean of the bag before preparing the leather for restoration: removing oils, repairing holes and strengthening corners before we begin with the colour matching process to create a bespoke leather colourant to restore the colour.
‘We always colour match from the least used area of the bag as colours can change with heat or light contamination and general use. We then restore the colour using fine layers of airbrushed pigment and fine detailed brush work on corners and hard to reach areas.
‘We then seal this colourant with the desired finish and re-plate the CC turn lock if necessary, with either 24 carat gold or a silver-based compound. Finally, the bag has a protection treatment applied to protect it against sun damage, liquid damage including ink, general wear and light scuffing.’
PRICE BEFORE RESTORATION: £1,200
PRICE OF RESTORATION: £375
PRICE AFTER RESTORATION: £2,795 (an increase of £1,595)
This Balenciaga City bag looks brand new (right) whilst still maintaining its soft and supple aesthetic – and its value has gone up by £300. Pictured left before
Charlotte says: ‘The Balenciaga City bag quickly went from cult status to classic, and has always been a firm favourite with fashion editors and celebrities. The soft goat and lambkin leather is one of the reasons it is so loved, but this leather can fade and wear quickly if not appropriately protected.
‘The restoration process included a clean inside and out using our own patented products and solutions that remove stubborn stains, such as ink and oil, trapped in the leather. We strengthened and repaired the corners of the bag – a key area which shows sigs of wear and tear.
‘We then mixed a bespoke colour matched to the least used and true original colour of the bag. The iconic buckle details were also touched up. We replaced the string from inside the handle which had become worn and frayed. The bag also underwent extensive conditioning and had a protective treatment.’
PRICE BEFORE RESTORATION: £395
PRICE OF RESTORATION: £385
PRICE AFTER RESTORATION: £695 (an increase of £300)
This Hermes Birkin was lovingly restored for £495, meaning its value increased by over double (pictured left before and right after)
Charlotte says: ‘This iconic Hermes Birkin arrived at the Clinic with badly stained panels and worn handles.
‘Our technicians used our expert restorative techniques to remove the staining and rejuvenate the bag.’
PRICE BEFORE RESTORATION: £4,000 (although it would only appeal to a savvy buyer with restoration in mind)
PRICE OF RESTORATION: £495 (this includes collection from your home and delivery)
PRICE AFTER RESTORATION: Up to £10,000 (an increase of £6,000)
PRADA PLEATED TOTE
The client was reportedly astounded by the results – so happy their cherished bag had been given a second life she never dreamed possible. Pictured before left and right after
Charlotte says: ‘This timeless bag had completely degraded and its owner would have thrown it away without a second thought, had it not been for its huge sentimental value. The bag was stolen and then found in a nearby wooded area a few days later and returned to the police.
‘The original colour was putty grey but the colour was completely lost and the leather was damaged and heavily worn. Our technicians got to work on a full restoration. They managed to locate a tiny fragment of leather inside the bag that still had the original colour and created a colour match. The bag also underwent extensive conditioning and had a protective treatment.’
PRICE BEFORE RESTORATION: Unsaleable
PRICE OF RESTORATION: £255
PRICE AFTER RESTORATION: £645 (an increase of £645)
CHANEL GRAND SHOPPING TOTE
Having the structuring material restored on this Chanel Grand Shopping Tote made it look brand new (pictured left before and right after)
Charlotte says: ‘In this particular example our technicians replaced the specialist stiffening material between the Chanel Grand Shopping Tote’s front and back panels, restoring its natural support.
‘This structuring material degrades over time through use and from the natural weight of the leather. Having this restored can make a bag look brand new.’
PRICE BEFORE RESTORATION: £1,100
PRICE OF RESTORATION: £395
PRICE AFTER RESTORATION: £1,995 (an increase of £895)
The large stain down the front of this bag rendered it unsaleable on the resale market – so its restoration added a huge £8,000 to its value
Charlotte says: ‘This item came to us with a stain on the crocodile leather, which was carefully restored by our exotic specialist. They gently extracted the substance, which had penetrated the surface pores of the skin and then performed a professional colour match to the surrounding area.
‘We then, using this special blend of exotic dyes, recoloured the area finishing with a specific polishing agent designed to restore the iconic shine on these leathers.’
PRICE BEFORE RESTORATION: Unsaleable
PRICE OF RESTORATION: £395
PRICE AFTER RESTORATION: £8,000 (an increase of £8,000)
CHANEL FLAP BAG
The restoration of this Chanel bag which was badly discoloured meant it increased in value by £1,195. Pictured left before and right after
Charlotte says: ‘This highly coveted Chanel bag had lost almost all of its natural colour, not uncommon with the butter soft Nappa leather used on this brand. This leather is very natural, meaning it is prone to UV fade through outdoor use.
‘After a full in-depth clean to remove any surface contaminants, we professionally restored the colour using natural balms and dyes to return the leather to its natural shade whilst maintaining its soft feel.
‘The bag had its lining refreshed and finally we applied a nourishing protection cream to the leather; this adds the natural oils again and a barrier to the surface which defends against UV fade and liquid penetrating the leather avoiding staining.’
PRICE BEFORE RESTORATION: £800
PRICE OF RESTORATION: £375
PRICE AFTER RESTORATION: £1,995 (an increase of £1,195)
VINTAGE LOUIS VUITTON VANITY CASE
The lining on this Louis Vuitton Vanity Case had completely come away; it was stained and had even been drawn on. Its renovation saw it increase in value by £1,695. Pictured left before and right after
Using a specialist tool, Charlotte told how the team re-plated all four corners on the case in 24 carat gold (pictured left before and right after)
Charlotte says: ‘The lining on this Louis Vuitton Vanity Case had completely come away; it was stained and had even been drawn on.
‘We started by removing the four corner pieces and cleaning the exterior.
Best buys on the pre-owned luxury and bag market
- Chanel Classic
- Chanel Grand Shopping Tote
- Hermes Birkin and Kelly
- Louis Vuitton Neverfull
- LV Speedy
- LV Monogram
- LV Damier
- Mulberry Bayswater
‘We then glued down the exterior vachetta that had started to come away, re-securing it to the canvas.
‘We then applied a de-greasing solution that removes contaminants from the vachetta, before nourishing the leather with our bespoke nourishing balm.
‘Next we removed the interior leather lining and created bespoke new leather pieces using specialist card as a template and backing.
‘Once secured with our own crafted glue, the iconic yellow stitch lines were added. We then handcrafted all original pockets and reattached the original vachetta, removing it stitch by stitch.
‘Once the base was created, and the vachetta was ready to be attached, we slowly and carefully re-sewed the vachetta.
‘We then rebuilt the interior, replacing the new pieces by hand whilst smoothing down every edge and corner to create a seamless finish.
‘Using a specialist tool, we re-plated all four corners in 24 carat gold.
‘This machine conducts electricity through the metal to re-plate and can only be carried out on conductive metals, such as those seen on this vintage Louis Vuitton and Chanel CC’s.’
PRICE BEFORE RESTORATION: £1,300
PRICE OF RESTORATION: £355
PRICE AFTER RESTORATION: £2,995 (+£1695)
How to master the pre-owned handbag market – and NOT get caught out by a fake
Buying pre-owned, especially for vintage and cult bags, is the sustainable solution – but it’s important to know what to look for, which can seem daunting, especially with so many incredible fakes out there.
If you’re buying a preowned handbag, it’s important to consider the brand and ideally opt for styles that are sure to retain their value. Here Charlotte shares her top tips…
GO FOR ASPIRATIONAL BRANDS
One of the reasons the pre-owned handbag market has taken off to such a degree is because brands such as Louis Vuitton and Chanel never mark down their products – you’ll never see them on a discount site or on clearance in store.
Aspirational luxury brands such as Hermes and Chanel will always hold their value and often be worth more on the pre-owned market because of their superior quality and scarcity.
Louis Vuitton is one of our top three bestselling brands alongside Mulberry and Chanel, and I think it is mostly down to its timeless aesthetic and longevity in the fashion industry.
Hermes Birkin and Kelly bags are always in high demand – they only make around 12,000 Birkin bags a year and limit sales to a very exclusive clientele, so it’s no surprise that these bags are worth far more on the pre-owned market.
WHAT’S HOT RIGHT NOW?
Popularity is also a big factor if you’re hoping to get bang for your buck. In the last year alone, Louis Vuitton as a brand has been searched for on our website more than 15,000 times.
Since January this year LV became the second highest ranking, overtaking Chanel with over 7,000 searches – it’s now only 500 searches behind Mulberry, so may well take the top spot.
It is currently our second most circular (most bought and sold) brand. The LV Neverfull often sells within minutes of it appearing on our website – we sold one in just nine minutes after posting it recently.
The LV Speedy bag is another hugely sought-after style – it was made in 1930 and is still extremely popular today, no doubt fuelled by the fact it is a luxury product but still with an accessible price point.
Louis Vuitton bags are also highly durable – if looked after correctly the classic Monogram and Damier styles are made from a hard-wearing canvas meaning they will hold their value provided they have been well looked after.
Another super seller for us is of course Chanel. Most girls dream of owning a Chanel handbag some day and the classic styles just ooze timeless luxury.
WATCH OUT FOR SHORT-LIVED TRENDS – AND SELL AT THE RIGHT TIME
Trend bags will always have their place and you never know which one will take off.
Prada’s small nylon bag which became hugely popular in the Nineties is the perfect example of this. Embracing nostalgia, Prada reintroduced the It-bag as the Prada Re-Edition last year.
Prior to this, a small Prada nylon shoulder bag used to sell on the pre-owned market for as little as £75 and would sit on the shelves for quite a while. They now fly out and we sell them for as much as £345. For a bag to appreciate by over 400 per cent is pretty impressive.
With any bold trend bags my advice is to watch the market and sell at the right time. I made over £300 on a Velvet Gucci Marmont bag by watching the market and buying one just before it took off. I then sold it the minute it reached its height, before its value dipped.
I also recently made £200 on an LV Speedy Bandoulière, which I used frequently for travel over a four-year period. Because I waited for the price to go up in April, in line with Louis Vuitton’s own price increase, I was able to optimise the value on the preowned market. Despite its frequent use, I kept the bag in excellent condition with protective treatments so it maintained its value.
DON’T BUY BRANDS THAT DISCOUNT ITEMS
I would also advise caution against any brands that don’t have a standout iconic style that have stood the test of time. Miu Miu and Tom Ford spring to mind immediately here.
Also any brands which have frequent sales or are discounted by the fashion label itself – this means the value can significantly drop despite being current – this happens a lot with Anya Hindmarch and Jimmy Choo.