Handbags & Fashion

The Most Expensive Chanel Bag Ever Sold at Auction: Karl Lagerfeld’s Prized Possession

By Erica Kagan
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Karl Lagerfeld
Karl Lagerfeld

An Instantly Recognizable Image

Enigmatic, and almost mythical, Karl Lagerfeld is a pop culture icon, recognized far beyond the realm of luxury fashion. A distinctive caricature of legendary status, he embraced a personal wardrobe that reflected the iconic designs of an illustrious career. While he is best remembered for his regular uniform of a black suit, dark shades, oversized collar, a powdered white ponytail, and fingerless leather gloves, Lagerfeld’s style evolved dramatically over his six decade career. Naturally, his ponytail was not always powdered white, but once pitch-black with a matching beard. Karl Lagerfeld’s elusive, fascinating persona was never stagnant, and from the color of his suit to the width of his necktie, his style constantly evolved with him. When Karl Lagerfeld took the reins of Maison Chanel in 1983, Coco Chanel had been gone for twelve years, and the brand was struggling. The death of its founder had left a vast void, and Chanel was in desperate need of a new iconic persona to fill it. Lagerfeld, like Coco, understood what it took to craft an instantly recognizable image, and he did just that.

Sotheby's Sold the Most Expensive Chanel Bag Ever at Auction for $107,000
Karl Lagerfeld's Chanel Black Embossed Lambskin Tote Silver Hardware, circa 2010

Karl’s Most Elusive Shoulder Bag

Despite his designated role as the “channeler of Coco,” Karl Lagefeld rarely wore Chanel himself. “In Chanel, I look like my mother,” he once insisted, the mother he deemed a villain. Thus, considering their relative rarity, the Chanel items in his personal collection are of tremendous significance. Even more unique than Lagerfeld’s Chanel embellished fingerless gloves or the brooches he strapped to his neck tie, is his Black Embossed Lambskin Tote. Considering that the style was never released in Chanel boutiques or even worn down the runway of a show, this shoulder bag’s tremendous significance stems from its provenance. The attachment of Lagerfeld’s 2011 FIAC photo pass as a guest of Galerie Gmurzynska, and the adornment of a tag from the Chanel Paris-Bombay 2011/12 Metiers d’Art show, are the only visual hints of this elusive bag’s origin. An item as mysterious as the owner himself, its exact design never materialized beyond a prototype style in Karl Lagerfeld’s personal collection, arguably making it that much more special.

Most Expensive Chanel Bag Sold at Auction, Owned by Karl Lagerfeld
Worn by Karl Lagerfeld, features an Entry Pass Fiac 2011 with his photo, and the Paris Bombay 2011/12 Runway tag

Sotheby’s Record-Smashing Estate Sale

It was a brisk night in Paris, and the second live sale of a buzzworthy three-part auction series, dedicated to the estate of Karl Lagerfeld, was finally underway. The auction opened with one of the estate’s most coveted pieces: Lagerfeld’s personal Chanel croc-embossed lambskin tote. Instantly, a world record was set. The bag went for a hammer price of €94,500 ($107,000), making it the most expensive Chanel bag ever sold at auction. Prior to this unprecedented sale, the record price for a Chanel bag at auction was $32,500 (as set in 2018). Over 500 bidders from more than 25 different countries took part in this extraordinary Paris auction. “Act two of the Karl sale has kept its promises, following the historic success of the inaugural Monaco sale,” exclaimed Pierre Mothes, vice president of Sotheby’s France. “Collectors from the world over, snapping up Karl Lagerfeld’s objects and designs, have consecrated his status as a fashion icon. The ‘Kaiser’ would surely have been moved by this immense public success.” A resounding success, the Paris sale generated $4.9 million (three times above the high presale estimate), bringing the two-part auction total to $18.4 million, with the third installment scheduled for March 2022.

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