The Exotics Guide
Arguably the most precious and costly leather on the market, crocodile is often referred to as the “king” among exotic skins. With its lush look and feel, handbags crafted from crocodile hide usually command the highest prices, in-store and pre-loved.
Hermès distinguishes between Porosus Crocodile, sourced mainly in Australia, and Niloticus Crocodile, originating in Zimbabwe. Porosus Crocodile is in fact the most valuable among Hermès’ exotic skins and available in a matte or shiny appearance, the so-called “Lisse” finish. Unlike an artificial coating or glazing, Hermès artisans skillfully buff and polish the crocodile hide with agate to create the glossy shine. Bought in store, a Birkin 30 Porosus Crocodile Hermès handbag costs around €44,000 and usually scores above its retail price on the resale market. Porosus is mainly used for bigger sizes, starting with the Birkin 30, making smaller sizes especially rare and desirable.
Hermès Niloticus Crocodile is similarly exclusive, but slightly less costly. An exception: The Hermès Birkin Niloticus Crocodile Himalaya, widely known as the most expensive bag worldwide. With only a handful manufactured each year, an edition with diamond-studded 18-carat white gold clasps was sold for about 338.000€ at a 2017 Christie’s auction in Hong Kong. This ‘Holy Grail’ of Hermès bags is surpassed in rarity only by its sister, the Kelly Bag in Niloticus Crocodile Himalaya.
Another exotic favourite, Dior offers a range of models crafted from crocodile leather. With the large scales and elegant gloss, the Dior Lady is a particularly beautiful choice. However, Dior crocodile bags do not necessarily hold their value – retailing at around €8,000 to €20,000, they usually resell for half of their original price.
What you need to know
- Invest in: Hermès Birkin 25, Hermès Kelly 20, light colours (e.g., Bubblegum, Vert D’Eau) or pop-bright colours made specifically for crocodile (e.g., Rose Sheherazade)
- The Ultimate Collector’s Item: The Hermès Birkin Niloticus Crocodile Himalaya
- Resale Value: Kept in immaculate condition, Hermès crocodile bags resell well above their retail price. Make sure to keep all documentation (CITES), the invoice, accessories, and box to get the best return on the secondary market.
- Sensitivity: Medium – avoid water, direct sunlight, and heat
- Maintenance: Medium – requires regular professional treatments
At first glance, alligator and crocodile skins are hard to tell apart. Both reptiles share a similar appearance, but alligator scales are slightly smaller and softer to touch. In contrast to alligator skin, crocodile scales show small pores, visible remains of the animal’s hair follicles – the easiest way to differentiate between them.
Hermès works with Alligator Mississippiensis, a species sourced from US farms down the Mississippi river, to craft smaller bag sizes. The skin is a little less costly and used more often, as it is easier for Hermès to source than crocodile. If you purchase an alligator Hermès Birkin or Kelly, inspect the bag’s front: A line – the umbilical scar – should run more or less symmetrically down the middle, dividing the scales as they get smaller towards both sides. Generally, the more symmetrical the pattern of the scales is, the higher the value of the bag.
A very rare collector’s item, the Constance 18 Marquette Alligator features the signature “H” snap lock in lizard skin. The blend of these delicate exotics makes it a limited-edition auction favourite, selling for up to €30,000. With very few released over the years, this investment piece is highly sought-after on the secondary market.
Among Chanel bags, alligator is the most valuable exotic skin. As the French couturier discontinued working with exotics in 2018, due to the company’s struggle to ethically source skins, exotic creations are solely available on the resale market. Since the ban, Chanel has released crocodile- and alligator-embossed look-a-like leather editions, for instance as part of the Ancient Egypt-inspired 2018/2019 Paris-New York Métiers d’art Show.
If you consider buying a pre-loved Timeless Classic or 2.55 made from alligator, look for vibrant colours. Chanel alligator bags come in bright fuchsia, electric blue, or fire red – shades that look impeccable in combination with the glossy, smooth surface. With an original price tag up to €40,000, chances are good to snap one up for a third or half. Alternatively, keep an eye on rare vintage collectibles in more neutral colours at a lower price point, and have them refurbished at a bag spa if necessary.
What you need to know
- Invest in: Hermès Birkin, Hermès Kelly, Hermès Constance, Chanel Timeless and Chanel 2.55 in vibrant colours
- The Ultimate Collector’s Item: The Hermès Constance Marquette
- Resale Value: Kept in immaculate condition, Hermès Alligator bags resell well above their retail price. Make sure to keep all documentation (CITES), the invoice, accessories, and box to get the best return on the secondary market.
- Sensitivity: High – avoid water, direct sunlight, and heat
- Maintenance: High – requires regular professional treatments
Lizard skin is very sought-after and rare, even in the exotics sphere. The tiny, round scales and glossy surface make it a popular choice for evening bags and smaller sizes. Lizard is extremely delicate and high in maintenance, as it tends to dry out, peel, or break without proper care.
Hermès bags are made from Lizard Niloticus, originating from the Nile river, or Varanus Salvator Lizard. The scales absorb dye very well, and are often released in bright and intense shades. “Lizard is only used for bags sized up to 25 at Hermès, as the scales are very small and refined. Compared to a matte finish, we see a higher demand for Hermès lizard bags with a shiny appearance”, Oliver explains.
The equivalent to the Hermès Birkin Crocodile Niloticus Himalaya, a Birkin 25, Kelly 25, or Constance Mini in Lizard Ombre is a once-in-a-lifetime collectible. It is crafted from a single lizard skin, and features symmetrical colour gradient and remarkable craftsmanship. Each year, only very few are manufactured and sold by Hermès, resulting in great demand and willingness to pay on the secondary market.
Chanel lizard bags are extremely rare. It’s worth keeping an eye out for vintage items from the late ‘80s and ‘90s, especially if you are shopping on a budget. Faded colours can be refreshed at a bag spa, reviving the bag’s original gloss.
For Dior, the Lady or Diorama are classic choices to invest in. Raf Simons’ lizard designs – from Fall/Winter 2015/2016 for example – feature impeccable bright colours and ombre-like shades. Similarly to Chanel, these are a budget-friendly option on the resale market with a price tag starting at €1,500 to €2,000.
What you need to know
- Invest in: Hermès Kelly Pochette, Hermès Kelly 20, Hermès Constance, bright colours
- The Ultimate Collector’s Item: Hermès Constance Mini, Kelly 25 or Birkin 25 in Lizard Ombre
- Resale Value: Unlike Chanel and Dior, Hermès lizard bags hold up their value very well. Make sure to keep all documentation (CITES), the invoice, accessories, and box to get the best return on the secondary market.
- Sensitivity: Very high – avoid water, direct sunlight, heat, and friction
- Maintenance: Very high – requires regular professional treatments and conditioning; breaks easily without proper care, leaving irreversible damage
Python is among the most delicate and sensitive exotics. The snakeskin is especially susceptible to colour transfer, flaking and drying, and requires an expert touch-up every once a while. If python scales start curling up, your bag is in urgent need of professional nourishment.”Despite its sensitivity, python does not break as quickly as lizard skin. Your bag might, however, lose scattered scales over time,” Oliver says.
Python is a particularly popular choice in vibrant colours, as the scales take on dye very well – think fuchsia, turquoise, and scarlet red. Chanel bags crafted from python are much-coveted collector’s pieces on the resale market and usually price around €2,000 to €4,000. Highest in desirability and price are “So Black”-edition Chanel Python bags.
Dior usually works with Ayers snakeskin, which shows slightly smaller, diamond-shaped scales. It is similarly fragile to python, but usually a bit lower in price. Featuring captivating gradient colours, the revived Dior Saddle made from Ayers snakeskin is a contemporary option.
What you need to know
- Invest in: Chanel Timeless Classic, pop-bright colours
- The Ultimate Collector’s Item: Chanel Timeless Classic Python So Black Edition
- Resale Value: Snakeskin bags usually don’t hold their retail value, and can be snapped up on the resale market for a half or less of their original price. Make sure to keep all documentation (CITES), the invoice, accessories, and box to get the best return on the secondary market.
- Sensitivity: High – avoid water, direct sunlight, heat, and friction
- Maintenance: High – requires regular professional treatments and conditioning
Ostrich leather is the most durable exotic skin, and much-admired for the character and patina it develops over time. However, ostrich is prone to discoloration, and bag handles usually darken in contact with skin. Ostrich is also rather difficult to clean and stains can leave permanent damage.
Originating in South Africa, Hermès classics handcrafted from ostrich are made to last. The many visible and closely centered feather follicles, the so called quill pattern, signals the leather’s quality and worth. “In contrast to Crocodile Porosus or other Hermès exotics, the demand for ostrich is fluctuating. Rare, bright colours and small sizes currently generate the highest resale value,” Oliver adds. Some colours are exclusively used to dye ostrich leather, like Hermès Violine or Tangerine. Hermès ostrich bags are not marked by a specific foil symbol next to the logo stamp.
Similarly to Hermès, you should consider the colour when opting for a Dior ostrich bag – light, intense shades accentuate the pebbled surface the best. For vintage lovers, a 2001 Dior Saddle created by John Galliano in thick ostrich leather can be found on the secondary market for €1,000 to €2,000. The Dior Lady offers another popular choice, but often comes with a higher price tag.
Chanel ostrich bags are rather rare, but some well-aged vintage editions can be found on the secondary market – the Chanel Camera design from the mid ‘80s for instance, available for less than €1,000. More expensive and rather scarce is a ‘80s Chanel Timeless crafted from ostrich, often sold for €4,000 to €6,000.
What you need to know
- Invest in: Hermès Birkin 25, Hermès Kelly 20, Hermès Constance, pop-bright colours
- The Ultimate Collector’s Item: Ostrich-exclusive Hermès colours (e.g., Violine, Tangerine, Mousse, Terre Cuite, Gris Agate)
- Resale Value: Hermès ostrich bags usually don’t sell significantly above their retail price. Make sure to keep all documentation (CITES), the invoice, accessories, and box to get the best return on the secondary market.
- Sensitivity: Low – avoid water, direct sunlight, and heat
- Maintenance: Low – requires occasional professional treatments
Secondhand Luxury: Investing in pre-loved Exotics
If you’re on the hunt for an exotic Hermès, Chanel, or Dior bag, shopping pre-loved has numerous upsides. Firstly, these items are re-introduced into the high-end market and thus contribute to a sustainable and circular economy of luxury fashion – with special attention to their exotic origin. Secondly, you can get your hands on vintage treasures, ultra-rare special-orders, and limited editions from previous collections that are no longer available. And thirdly, no long standing purchase history is necessary to be offered an exotic. Instead, you can invest in your dream bag on the spot, and have it delivered to your doorstep within 3 to 5 business days.
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