Ann Getty's Exquisite Designer Handbags to Go on Auction at Christie's

·4 min read
Photo credit: Slim Aarons - Getty Images
Photo credit: Slim Aarons - Getty Images

A love story filled with both quiet creativity and utter opulence is what comes to mind when remembering the life of Ann and Gordon Getty. Together, the couple were philanthropists and benefactors of the arts, as well as avid art collectors, auction house royalty, and respected socialites. Individually, Mr. Getty was an award-winning composer who changed the classical music landscape for the better, and Mrs. Getty was an interior designer with the most exquisite taste, from rugs to jewelry, to handbags—and the money to spend on them.

Two years after Mrs. Getty’s death, prestigious New York auction house Christie’s is holding four evening and day sales, as well as online sales, of the style and design icon’s most prized possessions: from fine art to furniture, to textiles, jewelry, and one-of-a-kind handbags. All proceeds will go to the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation for the Arts, dedicated to supporting arts and science organizations.

Harper’s BAZAAR was among the first to see the luxurious handbag collection, which includes about 50 rare pieces from Hermès, Chanel, Dior, Judith Leiber, Louis Vuitton, Bulgari, and other designers.

Photo credit: Chrisitie's
Photo credit: Chrisitie's

The colorful Bulgari piece is encrusted with vibrant gems, showing Mrs. Getty’s love of jewelry; while the ornate Dior bags, with their intricate animal and floral embroideries and delicate beads, mirror her love of nature, ornate patterns, and textures—all themes which were also present in the wallpaper and furniture in her San Francisco home, and in her wardrobe.

Photo credit: Chrisitie's
Photo credit: Chrisitie's

The collection also includes several Hermès Kellys and Birkins, and various limited-edition pieces, such as the Hermès Sac Sequana.

Estimates range from under $1,000 to $10,000, but because of the immense interest in Mrs. Getty, it’s impossible to say what they will eventually sell for at auction.

Photo credit: Chrisitie's
Photo credit: Chrisitie's

“When you look at these bags, it’s evident that the same people who created those beautiful homes and collections of decorative art and furniture would also collect handbags that looked like these,” Rachel Koffsky, international head of handbags at Christie’s, tells BAZAAR. “It’s actually a really great window into the eye of Mrs. Ann Getty, because they’re so representative of the things that she loved—her travels, her love of texture and color, the themes of flora and fauna, the embroidery, the craftsmanship.”

Mrs. Getty, Koffsky says, was curating her life—her home, her wardrobe—in a way that feels natural today, but at the time was very new. That tapestry of her life is recreated in Christie’s auctions, which are curated by era and aesthetic rather than by product category.

Photo credit: Chrisitie's
Photo credit: Chrisitie's

“Mrs. Ann Getty was always in beautiful fashion, with gorgeous handbags, at incredible events. She was a philanthropist—whether she was going to the opera or the philharmonic she would have these beautiful handbags with her,” Koffsky says. “So when you’re acquiring a piece like this, you’re really getting a piece of her legacy. And that’s what’s so fantastic about it also, because often times when you buy a piece of art or furniture, you have it in your home, but these are pieces that you can wear out, you can represent your love of these iconic figures (the Gettys) every day.”

And when you buy a handbag like the Kelly or the Birkin, you’re also buying an investment piece that will be just as fashionable in 20 years as it was 20 years ago, when it was purchased by Mrs. Getty, and likely even more valuable.

Photo credit: Chrisitie's
Photo credit: Chrisitie's

Christie’s has become synonymous with fine art and precious jewelry, which often leads people to believe that everything at auction is out of their price range and impossible to acquire, Koffsky says, but what’s exciting about the Getty sales is that they are bringing in an entirely new and diverse clientele—likely much younger than what Christie's is used to.

“What I think is so fascinating about the handbag department is that for many clients, it’s their first entry into Christie’s. We rank in more new clients than any other department because handbags are such an accessible object,” Koffsky says. “As a woman, I’m sure you feel very comfortable buying a handbag for yourself, more so than you would buying a huge table or your first photograph. So it’s really a teaching opportunity for a lot of clients on how to bid, how to gain access, how to speak to a specialist. But this sale is also an entry point into the Gettys’s life—their collecting journey and the pieces that they curated over the decades that they were collecting together.”

Photo credit: Chrisitie's
Photo credit: Chrisitie's

From October 15 to 23, the collection will be on view in New York City and open to the public, while the online auctions—like those of the handbags and jewelry—will remain open for bidding for about two weeks.

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