Fashion History: Hermès Birkin

Fashion Series #4: This bag became a symbol of wealth and luxury.

Photo by Modern Affliction on Unsplash

One of the most powerful fashion houses in the world is a French brand named…Hermès. It has a classic, timeless, and sophisticated style that shines in the fashion industry.

They’re well-known for jewelry, watches, ready-to-wear (aka prêt-à-porter), and many more luxury goods. Yet, so many people seem to be fascinated with their bags, specifically, the Birkin bag.

I was curious to look into the history of the Birkin bag because I wanted to learn why this bag became so famous and how this name was even chosen for the bag in the first place.

To my surprise (and probably yours too), the Birkin came from one incident on the plane.

In the early 1980s, Jean-Louis Dumas was the chief executive officer of Hermès. He was on a flight from Paris to London. On the flight, he was seated next to a popular English actress and singer named, Jane Birkin.

Birkin put her bag in the overhead compartment when all of a sudden, her bag dropped and everything inside of it fell out. (via Wikipedia)

According to Hermès, Birkin told Dumas that she had a hard time finding a bag that was suitable for her because she was a young mother. However, Wikipedia claimed that Jane Birkin said that she could not find the right weekend bag. On the other hand, there were a few sites like Freeman’s who claimed that Dumas suggested Birkin find a bag with pockets inside of them.

Although the topic of the conversation was unclear, it sparked something inside of Dumas to create a leather bag called “The Birkin.”

Quickly, this bag became a symbol of wealth and luxury. At some point, it was known as a rare bag because not everybody could purchase it. A Birkin can typically range between $8500 to $500,000.

According to Town & Country, it takes 48 hours to make one Birkin and Hermès only allows a certain amount of orders per year. These reasons also contribute to why the Birkin is rare too.

Today, if someone wanted to purchase a Birkin, they would be put on a waitlist. Many people have claimed that they cannot go to an Hermès store and/or their website to purchase a bag and bring it home immediately. There are specific ways for you to purchase the bag and to enter the waitlist.

Update: Several websites claim that Hermès does not do a waitlist anymore. However, I see other websites that claim that a waitlist is still implemented at the store. I’m assuming it depends on the store and their regulations. It’s encouraged that buyers go in-person to purchase a bag or purchase the bags from a second-hand store.

Photo by Thomas Allsop on Unsplash

What does “The Birkin” look like?

According to Wikipedia, the Birkin comes in all sorts of colors and sizes. The more “rare” the color and leather is, the harder it is to obtain the bag. Also, the bag will have a higher value over time if it is a rare bag. In general, the value of a Birkin is very high even if it is not a rare bag.

The Birkin is also a “made-to-order” bag and clients may have subtle customization so it fits their style. It also comes in all sorts of leather like calf, lizard, and ostrich. The most popular and controversial leather is crocodile skin. The bag also comes with a small lock, 2 keys, and (apparently) enough space to put a baby’s bottle in there too (via Wikipedia and Hermès).

Furthermore, the Birkin is a decently sized tote bag that can fit (almost) everything that a woman wants to fit in a bag. It is pretty heavy even if you don’t put anything inside of it too.

According to Harper’s Bazaar, The Birkin has a lot of value to it which means it’s worth more in the long run. Some researchers have shared that it’s worth investing in a Birkin than buying a stock in the stock market. Even though luxury stores suffer economically during economic troubles, apparently ultra-luxury brands (like Hermès) will generally not be affected economically.

Modern Day

In 2015, Jane Birkin asked Hermès to stop using her name for the crocodile version of the Birkin. PETA and Birkin expressed their concerns about animal cruelty and animal rights. Birkin then claimed that until better practices are put on the bag, she does not want her name associated with the bag (via The Guardian).

As of 2020, The Birkin is still named as one of Hermès most popular bags on the market. It has gained stellar recognition that even outshined the Kelly. However, the Kelly is still one of the most notable and loved bags on the market too. Each bag serves a different function and many people debate over which bag is most suitable for them.

Sources: Freeman’s | Hermès | Harper’s Bazaar | Town & Country | The Guardian |Wikipedia — The Birkin

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