Interview – Prudence Hopkins, head of accessories, Sworders

Prudence Hopkins is Head of Accessories at Sworders in Stansted Mountfitchet and is regularly seen on the rostrum there. Sworders’ next Accessories sale will be in July. We talk to Prudence about her passion for luxury design and the growing demand for vintage accessories.

What was the first accessory you acquired?

Prudence Hopkins at SwordersOne of the first accessories that I acquired was a Louis Vuitton Ellipse PM Monogrammed Handbag from the flagship store in London; it was a Christmas gift from my parents. I still have it now as it’s a classic timeless piece that I can use for many years to come. I love how the pink leather darkens to a wonderful tan over time as it ages gracefully. The wonderful thing about designer items is that they are luxury, made to stand the test of time and should become classics, maybe even investments in years to come.

Why and when did you start in the auction house trade? 

I have always loved beautiful objects and history. My first job after leaving university was at Harewood house in Leeds and it was there, working with the finest collection of Chippendale furniture and antiquities, that my passion for antiques was ignited. I was then lucky enough to be given a job at Tennants auctioneers and from there I moved on to my current role at Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers in Essex.

Who influenced you most when you started and who do you aspire to be like? 

My mum has always been a huge influence on me; she is a formidable woman and has taught me that you can achieve anything, even in a male-dominated industry, with enough determination and hard work. She also has an eye for interior design and an impressive shoe and vintage clothes collection, and growing up with her passion sparked my love for fashion and eclectic antiques. I aspire to be like Kerry Taylor, the guru of all historical and vintage fashion.

What items would you most like to collate for auction? 

Hermes accessoriesEvery vintage fashion valuer dreams of walking into a room of Hermès Birkin and Kelly handbags and having them for sale. However, personally I would love to catalogue a fashion collection from a fashionista like Kate Moss or Audrey Hepburn. I love Hollywood glamour in the 1920s and ‘30s, so to research and catalogue a Hollywood star’s wardrobe would be a dream.

What’s your biggest buy and biggest regret? 

My biggest buy last year was a trip to Miami to see all the original Art Deco buildings and visit the museums. My biggest regret was not making sure the Bass Museum was open! I could see the museum from the hotel and I was really looking forward to visiting, only to find out it was closed for refurbishment. However, Miami was amazing and it fuelled my love for Art Deco architecture and design.

What do you like most about working in the auction world? 

Meeting fascinating people with knowledge that they love to share – my colleagues at Sworders are passionate about their specialisms and it’s a pleasure working with them – but also our clients who are never too busy to stop and tell you about their finds. I love the fact that every day is different and, of course, working with beautiful objects that have experienced life.

What do you dislike most? 

An amethyst necklaceNegativity and resistance to change. I love trying new ideas and being positive about them. If the idea doesn’t work, you still have that experience to do it differently next time.

Which reference book or tool could you not live without? 

As an antiques valuer, I have a bookcase full of reference books, all of which are vital.  We also have a wonderful library at Sworders, so if you need to research anything it’s at hand. However, if I had to pick a book it would be Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 20th Century by Akiki Fukai. I used it for reference throughout university and still use it today to give talks and to catalogue period costume.

What is your favourite hobby or pastime outside of the auction world? 

I love animals, so my favourite hobbies are horseriding and walking my dog Coco. I also enjoy visiting galleries and museums, and living in Essex, it’s so convenient being close to London, so you will often find me in the V&A or at The Wallace Collection.

What is the single thing which would improve your life?

A teletransporting machine. A lot of my time involves travelling…if I could just turn up at places in the blink of an eye I could fit even more in!

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