Are sneakers the new Birkins? We speak to Caitlin Donovan the head of Christie’s handbags and accessories department

Via Instagram / @raisindonovan

Caitlin Donovan has been with Christies since the past six years. She helped found the auction house’s Handbags & Accessories Department which she now heads from NYC. Over the years she has been involved in dozens of auctions and the sale of countless classic bags from Dior, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and of course Hermes. However, instead of crocodile Birkins we are going to talk with her about sneakers. While sneakers have steadily grown in popularity with collectors it was last months Christies ‘Original Air: Michael Jordan Game-Worn and Player Exclusive Sneaker Rarities’ sale that broke all the records. It was in this online auction that someone paid a staggering $615,000 for a pair of Nike’s worn by Michael Jordan. We speak to Caitilin on how this auction came into being, her advice for aspiring sneaker collectors and a lot more.

Can you tell us more on how the recent Jordan sneaker lots came to be curated?
The sale has been a true collaboration between Christie’s Luxury team and Stadium Goods. Each piece was hand-selected as we wanted the auction to be a true representation of the most iconic Michael Jordan game worn, signed, and player issued sneakers. We sought to offer the highest quality pieces – in the same way we seek out pieces for Christie’s category sales – looking for quality, rarity, and uniqueness of design.

With them generating so much buzz and fetching astronomical sums, you think that sneakers are on the path to become the new Birkins?

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In many ways there are similarities between the two categories – in terms of rarity of design, quality of materials, and limited production. There is also an incredible appetite – in 2019 the resale sneaker market was estimated at $2billion.

What are the trends you are observing in sneaker connoisseurs?
Collectors are really looking for pieces that tie to a specific moment in time. These designs were created for the world’s best athletes, worn in historic games, and featured groundbreaking designs. With this legacy, these objects are elevated to pieces of art and luxury.

How would you describe a typical bidder for sneakers?
What’s exciting is that this sale appeals to a cross-section of buyers. The term ‘traditional collector’ is not as applicable for this material, which I think speaks to the intermingling of collecting and consumer behavior today. From contemporary art collectors to buyers of high fashion, the legacy of Michael Jordan and Nike is interesting because it represents a new type of luxury – inclusive of all references from fine art to pop-culture and sports.

What advice would you give for someone who is looking to build a sneaker collection?
Find a trusted resource. Sneakers, like any other collecting category, have subtle nuances that can make an impact on their value – in terms of what to look for in the design, quality, and provenance. Our incredible partner, Stadium Goods, is one resource and at Christie’s, we are excited to announce we’ll be hosting a series of additional sales this coming year – so stay tuned for that! We can also share a link to a panel we did with a few outside experts that offers some helpful insights.

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What are your thoughts on sneaker resale platforms like StockX, RIF, Index, etc?
Similar to our feeling with handbags, other resellers add to the marketplace. It’s great to see the energy surrounding this category.

Over the years you and your team have brought some very interesting pieces under the hammer. Any achievements you are particularly proud of?

It’s hard to pick just one! We are incredibly fortunate with the treasures we bring to auction. Last December we entered into a new market with the Handbags x Hype sale in which we sold the highest valued selection of Supreme at auction – setting records for artist
collaboration skateboards. We also just set a record for a handbag sold online with a diamond Himalaya Birkin 25 selling for $300,000.

Which are your favorite sneakers?
My favorite were the very pair of the Air Jordan 7 “Olympic” worn in the Dream Team’s gold medal game in 1992, which sold for $112,500. Growing up in the 80s/90s, I remember the excitement surrounding the ‘Dream Team’ and the ’92 Olympics. This pair also has some really excellent design details – with the red/white/blue combination and the mod-style number 9 on the back of the heel.

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