The Birkin bag is a personal accessory of luggage or a tote by Hermès that is handmade in leather and named after actress and singer Jane Birkin. The bag is currently in fashion as a symbol of wealth due to its high price and use by celebrities. Birkins are the most popular bag with handbag collectors, and Victoria Beckham owns over 100 of them.
Its prices range from US$11,900 to $300,000. Costs escalate according to the type of leather and if exotic skins were used. The bags are distributed to Hermès boutiques on unpredictable schedules and in limited quantities, creating artificial scarcity and exclusivity. Small versions (25 cm) may be considered a handbag or purse.
In 1983, Hermès chief executive Jean-Louis Dumas was seated next to Jane Birkin on a flight from Paris to London. She had just placed her straw travelling bag in the overhead compartment for her seat, but the contents fell to the deck, leaving her to scramble to replace them. Birkin explained to Dumas that it had been difficult to find a leather weekend bag she liked.
In 1984, he created a black supple leather bag for her, based on a 1982 design. She used the bag initially, but changed her mind because she was carrying too many things in it: “What’s the use of having a second one?” she said laughingly. “You only need one and that busts your arm; they’re bloody heavy. I’m going to have to have an operation for tendonitis in the shoulder." Nevertheless, since that time, the bag has become a status symbol.
In July 2015, however, Birkin asked Hermès to stop using her name for the crocodile version due to ethical concerns, as PETA alleged crocodile farms supplying the hide to Hermès for the manufacture of the bags crammed their animals into barren concrete pits. "At just one year old, alligators are shot with a captive-bolt gun or crudely cut into while they're still conscious and able to feel pain," PETA said. Birkin is quoted as having asked Hermes "to debaptise the Birkin Croco until better practices in line with international norms can be put in place".
Birkin bags are sold in a range of sizes. Each one may be made to order with different customer-chosen hides, colour, and hardware fixtures. There are other individual options, such as diamond-encrusting.
- The bag also comes in a variety of hides such as calf leather, lizard, and ostrich. Among the most expensive used to be saltwater crocodile skin and bags with smaller scales cost more than those with larger scales. Each bag is lined with goat-skin, the colour of the interior matching the exterior. Prices for the Birkin bag depend on type of skin, the colour, and hardware fixtures.
- Sizes range from 25-, 30-, 35-, to 40-centimetres, with travelling bags of 50- and 55-centimetres. It also comes in a variety of colours such as black, brown, golden tan, navy blue, olive green, orange, pink, powder blue, red, and white.
- The bag has a lock and keys. The keys are enclosed in a leather lanyard known as a clochette, carried by looping it through a handle. The bag is locked by closing the top flaps over buckle loops, wrapping the buckle straps, or closing the lock on the front hardware. Locks and keys are number-coded. Early locks only bore one number on the bottom of the lock. In more recent years, Hermès has added a second number under the Hermes stamp of the lock. The numbers for locks may be the same for hundreds of locks, as they are batch numbers in which the locks were made.
- The metallic hardware (the lock, keys, buckle hardware, and base studs) are plated with gold or palladium. Detailing with diamonds is another custom option.
- Hermès offers a "spa treatment" – a reconditioning for heavily used bags.
- A "Shooting Star" Birkin has a metallic image resembling a shooting star, stamped adjacent to the "Hermès, Paris Made in France" stamp, that is in gold or silver to match the hardware and embossing. Rarely, the stamp is blind or colourless, if the bag is made of one or two leathers onto which no metallic stamping is used. Sometimes, Birkins or other Hermès bags may be made by independent artisans for "personal use", but only once a year. Every bag bears the stamp of the artisan who made the bag. These identifications vary widely, but are not different for every bag made. Finding stamps of more than one artisan on a bag occurs because the stamp is not a serial reference. Fonts and the order of stamping may vary, depending on the artisans.
- The Birkin bag may be distinguished from the similar Hermès Kelly handbag by the number of its handles. The single-handle handbag is the Kelly, but the Birkin has two handles.
The bags are handmade in France using the company's signature saddle stitching, developed in the 1800s. Each bag is hand-sewn, buffed, painted, and polished, taking several days to finish. Leathers are obtained from different tanners in France, resulting in varying smells and textures. The company justifies the cost of the Birkin bag, compared to other bags, claiming the degree of craftsmanship involved.
According to a 2014 estimate, Hermès produced 70,000 Birkin bags that year. The bag is highly coveted and, for several years, was reputed to have a waiting list of up to six years. The rarity of these bags is purportedly designed to increase demand by collectors.
As a result of the strong demand, the Birkin bag has a high resale value in many countries, especially in Asia, and to such an extent that the bag is considered by some people as an instrument of investment. One 2016 study found that Birkin bags had average annual returns of 14.2% between 1980 and 2015, significantly beating the S&P 500 Index. In April 2010, Hermès announced that the waiting list would no longer exist, implying that it is potentially available to all.
The Philippine Star reported in March 2013, that a very high-end, 30-cm Shiny Rouge H Porosus Crocodile Birkin with 18K gold fittings and encrusted with diamonds fetched US$203,150 at an auction in Dallas, Texas. A 30-inch matte white Himalaya niloticus crocodile Birkin with 18-carat white gold and hardware bearing 245 diamonds was sold at a Christie's auction in Hong Kong for HK$2.94 million (US$377,261), creating a new record for the most expensive handbag in the world. A similar one had been sold by Christie's in spring 2016 for a then-world-record price of HK$2.33 million (US$300,000).
In popular culture
The Birkin bag is a major plot point of the Sex and the City episode "Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda" (Season 4), in which Samantha is placed on a 5 year waiting list for the bag. She is so desperate to obtain one that she falsely says the bag is for her celebrity client Lucy Liu. When Liu finds out she fires Samantha and keeps the bag for herself.
In the Will & Grace season 6 episode "Last Ex to Brooklyn", Grace is gifted a Birkin by her husband's ex-girlfriend Diane (Mira Sorvino), who works at Vogue. Will angrily says that he has been on a two-year waiting list for the bag.
In the Gilmore Girls season 6 episode "Welcome to the Dollhouse", Rory is gifted a Birkin by her boyfriend Logan. Emily says that around her birthday she had hinted to Richard about wanting one.
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