Freddie Mercury Memorabilia Auction Draws Enthusiastic Crowd at Sotheby’s
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Freddie Mercury Memorabilia Auction Draws Enthusiastic Crowd at Sotheby’s

By JANET H. CHO
Sat, Sep 9, 2023 7:00amGrey Clock < 1 min

An auction of items once owned by British rock star Freddie Mercury turned electric on its opening day, taking in a higher-than-expected $15.4 million.

The sale, by Sotheby’s in London, included $2.2 million for the Yamaha baby grand on which he composed “Bohemian Rhapsody” and other hits. The auction’s second and third instalments happen today.

Mercury, the Queen frontman who died in 1991, was an eclectic collector of artwork, furniture, and feline-inspired décor, who had aspired to lead the Victorian life, “surrounded by exquisite clutter.” Lifelong friend Mary Austin said there was nothing Mercury loved more than an auction.

The live, black-tie event drew 2,000 bidders from 61 countries. The first item, a graffiti-covered door on which fans had written tributes, prompted a spontaneous chant of “We Will Rock You,” and sold for $521,000.

Mercury’s autographed handwritten lyrics to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which he almost called “Mongolian Rhapsody,” sold for $1.8 million, while his “We Are the Champions” lyrics sold for $401,000.

Mercury’s stage costumes were a huge draw, including $801,500 for the jewelled crown and scarlet cloak he wore in his “Magic” tour, and $256,500 for his rainbow-coloured satin appliqué jacket.

A serpent-shaped silver bangle Mercury wore in the “Bohemian Rhapsody” video sold for $882,000, setting a record for the highest price ever paid at auction for a rock star’s jewellery, Sotheby’s said.

The final three online auctions start Sept. 11 and run through Sept. 13.

Austin plans to donate an undisclosed portion of the proceeds to charity, including $344,000 from the sale of a Cartier onyx-and-diamond ring given to Mercury by Elton John to the Elton John AIDS Foundation.



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Why Prices of the World’s Most Expensive Handbags Keep Rising

Designers are charging more for their most recognisable bags to maintain the appearance of exclusivity as the industry balloons

By CAROL RYAN
Tue, Mar 5, 2024 3 min

The price of a basic Hermès Birkin handbag has jumped $1,000. This first-world problem for fashionistas is a sign that luxury brands are playing harder to get with their most sought-after products.

Hermès recently raised the cost of a basic Birkin 25-centimeter handbag in its U.S. stores by 10% to $11,400 before sales tax, according to data from luxury handbag forum PurseBop. Rarer Birkins made with exotic skins such as crocodile have jumped more than 20%. The Paris brand says it only increases prices to offset higher manufacturing costs, but this year’s increase is its largest in at least a decade.

The brand may feel under pressure to defend its reputation as the maker of the world’s most expensive handbags. The “Birkin premium”—the price difference between the Hermès bag and its closest competitor , the Chanel Classic Flap in medium—shrank from 70% in 2019 to 2% last year, according to PurseBop founder Monika Arora. Privately owned Chanel has jacked up the price of its most popular handbag by 75% since before the pandemic.

Eye-watering price increases on luxury brands’ benchmark products are a wider trend. Prada ’s Galleria bag will set shoppers back a cool $4,600—85% more than in 2019, according to the Wayback Machine internet archive. Christian Dior ’s Lady Dior bag and the Louis Vuitton Neverfull are both 45% more expensive, PurseBop data show.

With the U.S. consumer-price index up a fifth since 2019, luxury brands do need to offset higher wage and materials costs. But the inflation-beating increases are also a way to manage the challenge presented by their own success: how to maintain an aura of exclusivity at the same time as strong sales.

Luxury brands have grown enormously in recent years, helped by the Covid-19 lockdowns, when consumers had fewer outlets for spending. LVMH ’s fashion and leather goods division alone has almost doubled in size since 2019, with €42.2 billion in sales last year, equivalent to $45.8 billion at current exchange rates. Gucci, Chanel and Hermès all make more than $10 billion in sales a year. One way to avoid overexposure is to sell fewer items at much higher prices.

Many aspirational shoppers can no longer afford the handbags, but luxury brands can’t risk alienating them altogether. This may explain why labels such as Hermès and Prada have launched makeup lines and Gucci’s owner Kering is pushing deeper into eyewear. These cheaper categories can be a kind of consolation prize. They can also be sold in the tens of millions without saturating the market.

“Cosmetics are invisible—unless you catch someone applying lipstick and see the logo, you can’t tell the brand,” says Luca Solca, luxury analyst at Bernstein.

Most of the luxury industry’s growth in 2024 will come from price increases. Sales are expected to rise by 7% this year, according to Bernstein estimates, even as brands only sell 1% to 2% more stuff.

Limiting volume growth this way only works if a brand is so popular that shoppers won’t balk at climbing prices and defect to another label. Some companies may have pushed prices beyond what consumers think they are worth. Sales of Prada’s handbags rose a meagre 1% in its last quarter and the group’s cheaper sister label Miu Miu is growing faster.

Ramping up prices can invite unflattering comparisons. At more than $2,000, Burberry ’s small Lola bag is around 40% more expensive today than it was a few years ago. Luxury shoppers may decide that tried and tested styles such as Louis Vuitton’s Neverfull bag, which is now a little cheaper than the Burberry bag, are a better buy—especially as Louis Vuitton bags hold their value better in the resale market.

Aggressive price increases can also drive shoppers to secondhand websites. If a barely used Prada Galleria bag in excellent condition can be picked up for $1,500 on luxury resale website The Real Real, it is less appealing to pay three times that amount for the bag brand new.

The strategy won’t help everyone, but for the best luxury brands, stretching the price spectrum can keep the risks of growth in check.

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