The "Birkin" bag
is a handbag manufactured by leather goods and ready-to-wear manufacturer Hermès
. It is named after British-born actress and singer Jane Birkin
, a longtime resident of France
Press accounts of the bag's genesis differ in details. Birkin told noted fashion writer Dana Thomas that while seated next to Hermès CEO Jean-Louis Dumas in 1984 on a Paris to London flight, she opened her Hermès-made datebook and a flurry of loose notes fell to the floor. Dumas took her datebook and returned it a few weeks later with a pocket sewn into the back (which has since become standard). Birkin went on to discuss with Dumas her difficulty in finding a leather weekend bag and at his prompting, described her ideal. Shortly thereafter, the bag she described arrived at her flat with a note from Dumas.
A more piquant version of the story was repeated by film director Andrew Litvack. He put the year as 1981 and says that Birkin was called to Hermès to receive the first prototype. As she was leaving with the bag, they asked if she had forgotten something. Puzzled, she realized they wanted her to pay for it. Litvack claims Birkin was eventually reimbursed, and now receives a 10% discount on Hermès products.
Generally, the price of a Birkin starts at approximately $7500 USD
, not including sales taxes, but can reach 5- and sometimes 6-digit prices, particularly when the bag is constructed from exotic animal skins. Allegedly, the waiting list for a Birkin is over two years. In practice, however, many stores have a "call list" and an "order list", both usually consisting of clients who have in one way or another become "regulars" or have formed a relationship with a particular Sales Associate.
Hermès does not sell its handbags online or to online retailers. Authentic Birkin bags are sometimes available on auction websites such as eBay, though often at a very high markup over the retail price. It is also possible to acquire a used Birkin bag at couture-consignment shops. In Plum Sykes' novel Bergdorf Blondes (2004), the character Julie Bergdorf steals a Birkin from her family's store, Bergdorf Goodman, to avoid a three-year wait, although in reality Birkins are only sold by Hermès, are not available (as claimed in the novel) in pink with fur trim, and probably would not require such a long wait for a socialite like her.
Hermès handbags have been noted for being one of the few brands of handbag to either hold or increase in value with time, giving them the distinction of being considered by some as "investment quality" products. Author Michael Tonello in his book, Bringing Home The Birkin, published by William Morrow in 2008, shares his experiences buying and selling the Birkin Bag on eBay. He recounts how he acquired Birkin Bags in Spain and France and became a powerhouse eBay seller until Hermes refused to sell him anymore Birkins. The book provides an insiders peek at the mystique of this exclusive accessory.
Manufacture and materials
Hermès Birkin handbags are hand-built by experienced craftsmen, one of the primary factors contributing to the high price of all Hermès handbags. The production of each bag may take up to 48 work hours, translating into weeks. They are distributed worldwide to Hermès boutiques on intentionally unpredictable schedules and in even fewer reliable quantities, creating a sense of scarcity and exclusivity around the product.
The exterior of the bag can be made of a variety of leathers. One of the most expensive variations of the bag is made of saltwater crocodile skin. The price of these bags depends on the size of the scales. Bags with smaller scales cost much more than those with larger scales.
Typically, a Birkin bag's lining is made of goat skin and its color will match the bag's exterior color. The bags can also be special-ordered from custom leathers and colors, but order privileges are granted only to certain established Hermès clients, and again, on an unpredictable basis. Orders are reportedly submitted to Paris twice a year, with "special-order" bags coming back anywhere from a year to 2 years later. Occasionally, special orders may never arrive, as Hermès is notorious for discontinuing certain leathers or colors without notice, frequently making the arrival and "pick-up" of a special order Birkin a cause for some fun fanfare both for the client, and occasionally even for boutique staff.
The metallic hardware on a Birkin bag (the lock, keys, buckle hardware and feet studs) are typically plated with gold or other precious metals, such as palladium, which, unlike silver, will not tarnish. The metal lock may be covered with leather as an option when custom ordering. Certain notable Hermès clients have paved buckle hardware with diamonds, notoriously resulting in one black crocodile skin Birkin which notably sold for close to $65,000 at auction in 2005.
Birkin lock keys are enclosed in a type of leather lanyard known as a "clochette" which is typically, but not necessarily, carried by looping it through one of a Birkin's handles. The Birkin bag may be locked by closing the bag's top flaps over all buckle loops, wrapping the buckle straps, and closing the lock on the front hardware.
Locks and keys are number-coded.
Because of the high profile of the Hermès brand and the high prices attached to their products, there is a significant amount of counterfeit Hermès merchandise produced and sold, some of which ends up on online retail and auction websites such as eBay
Authenticity can sometimes be determined by the presence of these characteristics:
- Appropriate pricing - a Birkin in any vendable condition will never sell for less than 50% of its original value.
- Even stitching
- Gilt or blind stamped in the front face under the tap: "Hermès Paris, Made in France"
- Craftsman's marks and letter year of manufacture stamped in a square underside of right belt. The year of manufacture should be consistent with condition and history of bag
- Interior leather zipper tag parallel with zipper hardware, not perpendicular
- Feel of superior leather. The touch and weight of fine leather are not easily duplicated.
In popular culture
In pop culture, the Birkin has become a symbol of ultimate luxury, although its ostentatious use by the wives and girlfriends of British footballers
during the 2006 World Cup
caused some fashion writers to speculate about its continued desirability. In Paris
it has been associated with, among others, so-called BCBG (bon chic bon genre)
women. Jane Birkin
remarked that by 2006, the fame of the bag had exceeded her own: "Now when my daughter [actress Charlotte Gainsbourg]
goes to America, they ask her if she is the daughter of the bag.
In recent years the bag has featured prominently on popular television shows such as Sex and the City, Gilmore Girls, and Will & Grace. In the final season of The Sopranos, Dr. Melfi carried a Birkin bag into her own therapy session. In Gossip Girl, Lily van der Woodsen carries her Birkin bag in black and tan in season one.
A widely publicized incident at London's Heathrow Airport in 2006 where actress Lindsay Lohan's orange Birkin bag was reportedly stolen drew further attention to the bag. The actress claimed that the lost bag was full of valuables worth upwards of $1,000,000. It was returned shortly thereafter. Sophie Albou, founder of the fashion house Paul & Joe, claimed to have bought a Birkin each season for ten years, describing her collection as "an expensive addiction but ... part of my heritage as a French woman".
- The song "Doing It Way Big" by Lil Kim contains the lines, "...working at the Birkin Hermes bag, only multimillionaires who know about that be like damn she doing it way big."
- In the episode of Will and Grace entitled Last Ex to Brooklyn Will exlaims, "The Hermès Birkin bag! I've been--I've been on that waiting list for two years. For my mother."
- In the Sex and the City episode "coulda woulda shoulda", the character Samantha Jones exclaims "It's not a bag; it's a fucking Birkin!" when attempting to use Lucy Liu's name to get moved up the waiting list.
- In Season 6 of the television show Gilmore Girls, Logan Huntzberger gives his girlfriend Rory Gilmore a pink Birkin bag.
- "Comin' back with Birkin bags. Your chick was like what type of purse is that?"
(Jay-Z, 30 Somethin')
- "I used to bag girls like Birkin bags. Now I bag B..."
(Jay-Z in Beyoncé's Déjà Vu)
- "Hermès Birkin Bags, Manolo Blahniks, Timbs, Aviator Lenses..."
(Jay-Z in '03 Bonnie & Clyde with Beyoncé)
- "...Pursue a film career. How about a nice Birkin Bag?"
("What You Want," from Legally Blonde: the Musical)
Each own multiple Birkin handbags.
- Sophie Albou, Fashion Designer
- Victoria Beckham, Singer
- Jane Birkin, Actress
- Sandra Bullock, Actress
- Foxy Brown, Rap Star
- Carla Bruni, First lady of France
- Naomi Campbell, Model
- Mariah Carey, Singer
- Sofia Coppola, Director
- Marisol Deluna, Fashion Designer
- Portia de Rossi, Actress
- Jodie Foster, Actress
- Sadie Frost, Fashion Designer
- Katie Holmes, Actress
- Janet Jackson, Singer
- Jade Jagger, Socialite
- Lil'Kim, Rap Artist
- Cristina Kirchner, President of Argentina
- Lindsay Lohan, Actress
- Elle MacPherson, Model
- Sylvie Meis, Television Presenter
- Debra Messing, Actress
- Demi Moore, Actress
- Kate Moss, Model
- Sarah Jessica Parker, Actress
- Pharrell, Producer
- Katie Price, Model
- Nicole Richie, Actress
- Julia Roberts, Actress
- Coleen Rooney, Socialite and Writer
- Martha Stewart, Businesswoman, Television Personality
- Rachel Zoe, Fashion Stylist
- Part of the price of all Hermès bags is the privilege to bring any authentic Hermès bag into any boutique to be sent to Paris for a "spa treatment". At a cost of several hundred dollars, any bag, no matter how old or abused, will be brought back to the best condition possible.
- "Shooting Star" Birkins have a blind (colorless) stamp adjacent to the "Hermès, Paris Made in France" stamp. They are Birkins or other Hermes bags which craftsmen are permitted to make, a limit of one per year, for personal use or personal gifts. They are not meant for resale in any capacity whatsoever, not eligible for "spa" treatments, and any "Shooting Star" Birkin brought to the attention of Hermès is reported to result in serious attention to the craftsman whose stamp appears on the bag.
- Jane Birkin attributes her tendinitis to years of carrying the heavy bag and now tends to carry a small leather sporran.
- HarperCollins has published a memoir (released April 22, 2008) called Bringing Home the Birkin . The book details the author Michael Tonello's adventures as an eBay entrepreneur who travels all over the world, going to Hermès stores to procure "same day" Birkins for wealthy and famous clients who don't want to wait for the iconic purse.