I Visited London’s Best-Kept Secret for Rare Designer Handbags

The Second-Hand Shopperis a new franchise that sees Who What Wear’s shopping editor, Joy Montgomery, join forces with some of the industry’s coolest vintage brands to show you that second-hand does not have to mean second-best. This series will give you exclusive access to sellout second-hand drops, which will be hand-selected by our editor and styled to show how you can wear them for the season ahead. Prepare to get clicking because these pieces won’t stick around for long.

There haven’t been many times in my life when I’ve been asked to wear a pair of white gloves to handle an inanimate object, but as I reached into the dust bag of a £13.5K Hermès Kelly in the basement of Sellier Knightsbridge, I felt rather grateful for the thin layer of cotton protecting me and my sweaty hands from any threat of financial ruin. Welcome, readers, to the high-stakes world of preloved designer handbags. 

Founded in 2010 by mother-and-daughter duo Hanushka Toni and Dina Ibrahimova, Sellier Knightsbridge is a luxury second-hand fashion store that sits on a quiet street just off south London’s bustling Brompton Road. With its narrow shopfront and white-washed exterior, it would be easy to walk straight past it (which I did twice before realising my mistake), yet inside it is a veritable Aladdin’s cave of preloved designer gems. While you will find plenty of Chanel tweed jackets and Gucci platforms hidden in its depths, the majority of its sales—roughly 65%—come from handbags, which is precisely why I was there, cradling a tiny handbag like a newborn baby on a sunny September morning. 

As I studied the immaculate craftsmanship of this holy grail of handbags, I was told that 90% of Hermès bags are sold within three days, with the most expensive ever sold being an Hermès Kelly for a whopping £15,000—three times its RRP. No biggie. Indeed, Sellier is known as the number one reseller of Hermès in the UK, a thriving and lucrative market due to the scarcity of new models that are released every year. (The store manager told me about a client who was on the waiting list for seven years.)

And while Sellier is certainly regarded as a go-to for such rare pieces, it is also a gold mine for sought-after contemporary handbags from the likes of Bottega Veneta, Yves Saint Laurent and Prada. The brand has also recently set up a website in an attempt to expand its reach, and despite its prestigious reputation, the store manager is keen to impress on me the range of their clientele: from Gen Zers looking for a sub-£300 Simone Rocha tote to people investing in a long-awaited Chanel 2.55. In the first month, online turnover was just shy of £90K.

The vintage and second-hand industries have gone from strength to strength over the last year, but it’s not without its pitfalls, and unsurprisingly, counterfeits are aplenty within the preloved-bag market. I have always wanted to include a designer-bag specialist in my Second-Hand Shopper franchise, but when I did, I wanted to ensure that it was a brand that had all the right credentials, which, thankfully, Sellier does. I spoke with Toni over email about navigating the murky waters of authentication and the changes she has witnessed in the preloved world over the last decade. Scroll down to read the interview and to shop my exclusive Sellier bag edit. 

What inspired you to set up a preloved fashion brand?

We have always been passionate about the idea of preloved luxury. However, we found ourselves increasingly frustrated by the experience of shopping preloved when so much of the market was filled with old, tired and undesirable pieces. We wanted Sellier to feel like a beautifully curated gallery where everyone, irrespective of their budget, could find something truly special. To this day, our pieces are carefully curated by us, meaning that they are in amazing condition, still relevant from a style point of view, the right price and, most important of all, authentic.

How has the vintage market changed since you launched?

It’s amazing how much the market has changed in all but a few short years. We have seen a greater awareness amongst consumers about the importance of sustainable shopping habits and also a greater appreciation of the sorts of pieces one can pick up preloved. Where that is most evident is with “best-in-class” vintage handbags. We have seen an increased appetite for vintage Chanel, to the point that vintage Chanel pieces now trump more recent pieces for popularity and resale value.

How do you guarantee authenticity when it comes to selling second-hand designer bags?

We have a three-stage authentication process, meaning that each product goes through several thorough stages of verification before it is offered to our clients. We firstly rely on our in-house expertise to carefully inspect each piece. We use all of our senses to examine all aspects of the item including the accompanying dust bag, packing paper and box.

We also have a designated brand expert for each of the superbrands we sell. This means that we do not have individuals authenticating across all the brands. We instead have leading experts for each brand authenticating that brand and that brand alone.

As an additional layer of authentication, we use the latest cutting-edge authentication technology to give our clients that additional peace of mind. The technology we use takes microscopic images of each bag and compares them to a cloud-based database of images before an AI algorithm evaluates the authenticity and provides us with a result in real time.

By ensuring our authentication processes make use of both technology and decades worth of human experience, we can be sure that we only ever offer our clients beautifully curated pieces that have been carefully vetted. Meaningful authentication lies at the very heart of what we stand for as a business and is the reason we can offer our clients a full-money-back guarantee in respect of each and every sale.

Which brands or models have sold well over the last 12 months? With reports like the recent Knight Frank Investment Index ranking handbags as a more desirable investment than more traditional asset classes, we have seen demand for the investment-grade handbag from brands like Chanel and Hermès skyrocket. Our community is super-educated in what makes a bag an “investment” purchase. We are therefore finding that demand is soaring for models like the Hermès Kelly, Birkin and Constance as well as the Chanel Classic and Mini Flap Bags. Whenever any of these come in, they sell out in seconds. This is simply a consequence of the huge imbalance between the scarcity of these pieces and the insatiable demand. In many ways, these bags are priced like an asset class in their own right with specifics like colour, type of leather and hardware determining premiums on the resale market. It’s absolutely fascinating and something that you could write a book on in its own right! What would be your top tips for people looking to buy a preloved designer bag for the first time? Unfortunately, the luxury preloved industry can, at times, be a dangerous place. You hear countless tales of people parting with their hard-earned cash only to later find that their items never arrive or, if they do arrive, are counterfeit. We tell all of our clients and followers that irrespective of how they come to buy, they need to buy the seller, not the item. What this means in real terms is asking the company to explain their authentication processes to you. Don’t feel embarrassed to ask questions and get technical. If a company is reluctant to reveal how they authenticate, this could be an indication of the simple fact that they don’t.  Condition is also key. Make sure you ask for as many images of the item as possible to make sure you understand precisely what you are buying. Whilst £1000 may not seem like a lot for a superbrand handbag, if that bag was used to within an inch of its life, suddenly that price tag may no longer seem as competitive. Ask for the ownership and repair history. Whilst consignment businesses are not always, at first instance, provided with this information, they should be able to pass on this request to the seller. It is only by having a complete picture that you can make more informed buying decisions!

Style Notes: True vintage Chanel bags, I was told by the store manager, are actually quite rare, but this iconic flap crossbody is the perfect example of well-preserved vintage and a testament to the brand’s ageless appeal. With 24-karat-gold hardware and Chanel’s signature quilted leather, it’s a true fashion heirloom.

Style Notes: Just to avoid disappointment, I have to tell you that this Bottega dream clutch has just sold out, sorry! But I’ve included a similar style below, which I saw in-store and can confirm is not only beautiful but also super roomy. Proof that second-hand can encompass those cult brands that are in demand right now.

Style Notes: There’s nothing that says party to me quite like YSL’s tasseled Kate bag. Coming with the brand’s signature logo and two strap options (one chain and one leopard-print), this statement baguette is the ultimate grab-and-go style that will add interest to your favourite LBD.

Style Notes: If you’re looking for something with a more contemporary spin, may I recommend this cute Simone Rocha straw tote? Coming in at a reasonable £275, it uses the brand’s signature pearl detailing to give a traditionally low-key material an elevated twist, which I love. Very much an insider-party-bag choice (if you know you know).

Style Notes: Thanks to the resurgence of ’90s fashion trends, Dior’s logo bags have seen a storming return in recent seasons. Originating from the brand’s 2019 collection, this roomy bowling bag is the sort of tote I dream about taking on a weekend away 

Style Notes: Celine’s Trapeze bag has become one of the brand’s most iconic styles, with its colour-blocked finish and minimalist silhouette. The cobalt blue and white of this iteration feel very A/W 21. Plus, it’s a super-versatile size that would allow you to use it for both work and at the weekend. (It also comes with a crossbody strap.)

Style Notes: Okay, so I know this is the second Celine of the edit, but I just couldn’t resist this slouchy leather style that doubles up as both a shoulder bag and an oversized clutch. Size-wise, this is very much a “fit everything except the kitchen sink” situation (never a bad thing), but it was the chic colourways and reasonable price point—£390—that won me over in the end. 

Style Notes: Behold the holy grail of preloved designer bags: the Hermès Kelly. Sellier’s store manager told me that, second-hand, these bags can go for double their retail price due to how hard they are to acquire new. Hence the five-figure price tag. So no, it’s something we lowly mortals could afford, and yes, I had to use gloves to take it out of its dust bag. But a fascinating insight into the high-stakes world of preloved designer bags? Undoubtedly. 

Style Notes: Call it the Carrie effect, or merely another side effect of this season’s ’90s obsession, but the baguette is back, and you don’t get much more iconic than a Fendi. This particular number, sadly, doesn’t come with a shoulder strap. However, one can easily be added, and I think it could function just as well as a clutch. I’m also a big fan of the leather lace detailing that borders the bag flap.

Style Notes: Prada’s Galleria is one of those classic structured handbag styles that will continue to look good for many decades to come. This style comes in a very stylish shade of burgundy and would be big enough to fit all the essentials. In immaculate condition, you can buy this exact bag for £2400 on the Prada website, but this number comes in at £880. Not too shabby.

Style Notes: Recognisable by its stuffed top handle and logo charm, the Dior Diorissimo bag comes in a range of sizes, but it wasn’t until 2013 that the brand created the mini. This pint-sized (yet no-less-practical) tote comes in a bold mid-blue hue and colour-match crossbody strap. Just add to neutral autumnal separates. 

Up Next: How to Find the Best Vintage Pieces, According to a Second-Hand Expert