From Jane to Hermès: the journey of the Birkin bag
Picture this – it’s the year 1946. A baby girl named Jane Mallory Birkin was born in London, England. Jane was to become a big name in the London Swinging Sixties scene. A pop culture icon for years to come. But above all, it was to become the inspiration for the most popular high-end handbags. The Birkins. The protagonist of this story. Say the words handbag supremacy and there is only one bag that comes to mind – The Hermès Birkin bag. The most sought after arm candy. Also, the most outrageously expensive.
But from Jane to Hermès, how did the Birkin get here? What about that usual-looking structured elite keister that earned it a spot at the top of the premium bag pyramid? Let’s talk about it.
Fashion tradition says that it was on a Paris-London flight in 1983 – when Jane Mallory Birkin was seated next to Jean-Louis Dumas – then chairman of the Hermès group – that she shared how it had been difficult for her. find a leather weekend bag that he likes. It was right after his straw bag had spilled out of the overhead compartment during the flight. The following year – the Birkin bag was created. An unpretentious structured black leather bag. It was simple. It was convenient. And in Jane’s words, it was “very heavy”. Nevertheless – she used it. Its various compartments, spacious interior and robust structure make it a practical weekend bag.
Each Birkin is handcrafted. Using premium (read cruel) materials like calf leather, alligator skin and ostrich skin. Lined with goatskin on the inside. No, it’s not the opening scene of American Horror Story. This is the recipe for one of the most coveted bags. The bag doesn’t feature any big logos – and the hardware – it takes finesse to install hardware like that. In 2015 – Jane wanted her name removed from the bag due to concerns about the company’s practices for acquiring animal skins. There were back and forths – Hermès reassured her about safer and more ethical practices and that was it.
Jane’s Brief was simple – she wanted a bag “bigger than a Kelly but smaller than a Serge”. But the Birkin bag – was larger than life.
How does a bag – a simple weekend bag – manage to do this?
Now, you can’t just waltz into a Hermès store and buy a Birkin. That’s not how it works. In his Eyes Wide Shut style – Birkins are in limited supply. And every Birkin – entirely handcrafted by artisans who train for decades – is different. Owning a Birkin means – being part of an elite clique. There is an extensive waiting list and also a cap on the number of Birkins each customer can purchase. It is estimated that there are approximately 2,000,000 Birkins currently in circulation.
and that is exactly what has made Birkin bags such a sought after commodity on the resale market. The most expensive Birkins are the Himalayan Birkins. Made from extremely rare albino croc skins. Sometimes the skin is bleached extensively to achieve the desired texture and color.
No points for guessing that there is a sprawling network of counterfeit Birkins. And we have to give it to them – over the years the quality of counterfeit luxury items has improved. It’s a difference game and the true connoisseur of Birkin will almost always win.
THE MOST EXPENSIVE BIRKINS EVER SOLD
Himalaya Birkin Sold in 2019 for $500,000
Himalaya Kelly Sold in 2020 for $437,330
Himalaya Birkin Sold in 2017 for $383,000
Himalaya Birkin Sold in 2016 for $300,168
Hermès Porosus Crocodile sold for $298,000
Some say a Birkin is a better investment than gold or silver. According to a survey, the price of Birkins has seen a steady increase every year. And because of its exclusivity, the resale value of a Birkin is often higher. Turns out – if there’s a Jeffree Star signature pink Birkin you want – someone out there might want it more and be willing to pay a few extra grand for that unique artistic creation. And since there are not many Birkins in the sea, it all depends on who is ready to pay first and more.
David Oancea currently holds the world record for the most expensive Himalayan Birkin ever sold at -$500,000. And in his own words – he did it for the content, for the record.
EXCLUSIVITY, INDIVIDUALITY AND SELF-EXPRESSION?
Consumers buy goods for the dopamine kick. Often without even realizing it. Yes, that includes you and me. Guilty as charged. Bags, shoes, clothes – these are tools for self-expression. The crutches that help us stand out. Being part of an exclusive clique like that of the Birkin bag – you can only imagine what the pinnacle of this purchase would be. Luxury products are a guarantee of self-esteem. Research indicates that 51.33% of kids who go to college buy things they can’t afford just to satisfy their vanity.
If you think you’re immune to this, think again. But who can deny the power that a small leather accessory holds to shape the narrative we construct of ourselves? After all, what better way to look more enigmatic and visible than carrying a giant black tote bag over your shoulders? Pray, why else would Anna Delvey wear what appeared to be an ill-styled Alaia dress?
These are consumer issues. Not accusations. Consider this an introspective narrative.
So what defines luxury? Is it quality or exclusivity? When you figure it out, let us know too.