If you’re going to spend your money on your wardrobe, handbags are a wise investment: They’re less tied to trends than clothes or shoes, aren’t bound by size restrictions (meaning you can pass them on some day), and retain their value over time—well, if you take good care of them, that is.
That’s the tricky part—most of my bags end up with makeup-marked lining, worn-out corners, and rain-damaged exteriors—and while that’s not the end of the world for an everyday bag, someday I’d like to think that I could keep a collection of fancy designer bags in tip-top condition.
Since I’m clearly in need of a little help in that department, I asked Rachel Koffsky, an associate specialist in handbags and accessories at Christie’s auction house for her expertise. Koffsky specializes in big-ticket bags—think $20,000 Birkins and exotic Chanel flap bags—but rest assured her tips apply just as well to your treasured A.P.C. tote or Rag & Bone cross-body.
Read on for her advice for storing handbags so they last (basically) forever; caring for suede, patent leather, and embellishments; and wearing bags in such a way that they don’t get wrecked. And, in case you do want to put these to the test on a new Hermès, Gucci, or Louis Vuitton (wishful thinking? Perhaps), Christie’s is having a major handbag auction tomorrow, March 8.
How to care for suede:
“Suede is particularly delicate and very susceptible to fading due to sunlight. It should not come in contact with water or oil of any kind. Purchase a suede brush for your suede items, or use a soft toothbrush. A paper towel or a white eraser are good ways to get small marks out of suede.”
How to care for patent leather:
“Patent leather is more durable than a traditional leather, but is plagued with the problem of color transfer! Do not let patent leather rest against another surface—always keep the item in a dustbag or a pillow case, otherwise the colors of the bag and surrounding items will bleed onto each other, and it is basically impossible to get it off. Petroleum jelly or rubbing alcohol can sometimes help, but not always.”
How to care for colored leather:
“Brightly colored bags can fade in direct sunlight—store them in a dark closet. Also, when cleaning the items, some of the dye can be removed. Be extra careful when rubbing the bag with a baby wipe or a damp paper towel.”
How to care for embellishments:
“Embellishments can catch on surrounding items. Wrap any crystals, dangly pieces, or key chains in a bit of tissue paper when storing a bag.”
The most common problem she sees:
“Cracking! Leather is a skin and can dry out due to age. It is important to treat vintage leather with a leather conditioner. Once it is cracked, it cannot be completely repaired, only covered up with leather polish—at this stage, bring the piece to a professional.”
Products to have on hand:
“Most of the time, a simple baby wipe will do the trick to remove a mark on a handbag. A lint roller can come in handy to dust out the hard-to-reach interior spots. A bit of leather polish keeps vintage leather bags looking shiny and supple. For more extensive damage, seek professional help!”
How to care for your bag while you’re using it:
“First of all, keep your cosmetics in pouches, and make sure pens are capped in order to keep the lining clean.”
“Don’t overstuff the bag, which can distort the shape. There are purse-shapers that you can buy that line the inside of your bag—they act as trays, and you can easily move all your belongings from one bag to another.”
“Do not put your bag on the floor when you are out, and watch the corners as you walk around with it. Corners are the first place that a bag shows wear!”
“For Birkin and Kelly bags, do not keep the lock on the bag for too long, as it can scuff and create a dark mark on the leather. ”
How to store your bag:
“After using your handbag, the first step is to empty it of its contents and dust. Feel free to turn the bag inside out if it is soft and use a lint roller to get those hard to reach places. If your bag is crafted of hard-pressed, grained leather, wipe the exterior of the bag softly with a damp paper towel or an alcohol-free baby wipe. If your bag is made from natural or untreated leather, or if it is exotic or suede, then simply dust it off with a dry paper towel. For more serious issues, take it to a professional.”
“Now that your bag is empty and clean, you must stuff it in order for it to keep its shape. I suggest using acid-free tissue paper, a small pillow, or bubble wrap. Be sure to wrap exposed hardware (including buckles and zipper pulls) with a piece of tissue paper to keep it from making imprints on your bag over time.”
“Place your bag in a soft, breathable dust bag. If you don’t have one, you can use a cotton pillowcase in a neutral color, in order to prevent color transfer. Make sure that the dust bag is large enough so that your handbag doesn’t warp or change shape.”
“Do not have the hardware of one bag touching another bag; it may leave a mark. In addition, do not have anything touching patent leather, this will cause color to transfer from the patent leather to whatever is next to it.”
“Refrain from hanging your bags—this will distort the shape of the handles.”
“If you have it, store your bag in its original box. Otherwise, line your bags up on a shelf in your closet. If the shelf is not tall enough, do not allow the handles of the bag to be pressed down—in this case, the bag should lie flat. You can keep track of your bags by including a note with the name of the bag on the box or dustbag, so that you don’t have to rifle through 10 boxes before you find your Etoupe 35!”