Iconic handbags in Detroit federal court’s clutches

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

A fight over five iconic Hermes handbags is arguably the most colorful case in federal court in Detroit.

The leather bags — one purple, one turquoise, one orange, one lime green, one black — worth a total of almost $62,000 are at the center of a spat between a New Jersey luxury goods dealer and a Birmingham boutique.

Only Authentics dealer Charles Rogers says Birmingham boutique owner Anthony Aubrey made a $20,000 deposit and received five new purses but stiffed him after agreeing to pay $61,500 for the carryalls, which are coveted by celebrities including Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez.

The purses — four Hermes Birkin bags and one Hermes Evelyne Iris purse — cost about $12,300 each, almost as much as the per capita income of Detroiters.

Aubrey refused to return the bags or pay the balance, so Rogers filed the lawsuit July 16 in federal court in Detroit.

The lawsuit accuses Aubrey of fraudulent representation. That’s because Aubrey signed a contract to pay the $41,500 balance before trying to sell the purses to a third party for less money, according to the lawsuit.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to my client. Why take the bags and sell for less unless he had no intention of paying the $41,500 balance?” said Daniel Dalton, a lawyer for Only Authentics.

Rogers wants U.S. District Judge Sean Cox to force Aubrey to return the purses or pay $124,500.

Dalton knew nothing about prices for Hermes Birkin handbags and was surprised when approached by his client.

“I was thinking he had sold a couple thousand purses, but he said there were only five. I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ ” Dalton said.

The bags, created in the mid-1980s and named after English singer and actress Jane Birkin, range in price from $10,000 to $60,000.

“That’s insane,” said Tracy Garley, owner of Zarkpa’s Purses & Accessories on East Grand River in Detroit. “Some people love the brand name and there’s something about a purse a woman has when she walks in a room and feels like people are going to know they have money.”

Rogers specializes in new and vintage luxury handbags, purses that are expensive and elusive. Hermes Birkin bags are notorious because even the mega-rich often must sign up on a waiting list before buying.

Rogers’ company obtained the new handbags directly from buyers on the list, Dalton told The Detroit News.

“At this level, people buy them even if they don’t want them because they want to remain on the list,” Dalton said. “It’s unbelievable.”

In May, Rogers started swapping text messages with Aubrey, who runs Birmingham Estate & Jewelry Buyers, a boutique on Woodward, north of 14 Mile.

Aubrey wanted to buy five Hermes bags. Rogers agreed to sell them for $61,500. Aubrey paid $20,000 on May 14.

Five days later, Rogers mailed the bags after the boutique owner agreed to pay the balance later that month at a Las Vegas trade show, according to the lawsuit.

Aubrey, however, failed to pay the $41,500 balance. Dalton is unsure why.

“If he wants to resolve it, just give the bags back,” Dalton said.

The answer is simple, Aubrey told The News on Friday.

“He owed me money from prior purchases,” he said. “We were friends for years, but he didn’t want to pay so I said: ‘Enough.’ ”

After failing to pay Rogers, Aubrey allegedly sold some or all of the bags to a store in Baltimore, according to the lawsuit.

The Birmingham dealer is accused of selling them for less than the price he agreed to pay Rogers.

Rogers learned about the side deal and notified the Baltimore buyer, who returned the bags to Birmingham, according to the lawsuit.

Aubrey said he no longer has the bags.

“Everything was sold,” he told The News. “(Rogers) knows the purses are already gone. I’m not worried about this.”

Besides, the Birkin bag market has deflated in Michigan. “Nobody buys in Michigan,” Aubrey said, “there’s no money here.”