Birkin bag

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Birkin bag made from calf leather that has been dyed pink

The Birkin bag (or simply, Birkin) is a line of tote bags by the French luxury goods maker, Hermès, that is handmade in leather and named after English actress and singer Jane Birkin. Introduced in the 1980s, the bag quickly became a symbol of wealth and exclusivity due to its high price and long waiting lists.[1] Birkins are the most popular bag with handbag collectors, and was once seen as the rarest handbag in the world.[2][3] The bag's value as a matter of its intentionally high price has led to its being described as a Veblen good.[4][5]

In 2020, prices started at US$11,000 and have reached up to HK$2.94 million (US$380,000) when a bag was sold at auction by Christie's in Hong Kong for a record price in May 2017.[4][6] Costs can vary widely according to the type of leather, if exotic skins are used, and if precious metals and jewels are part of the bag. Birkins are distributed to Hermès boutiques on unpredictable schedules and in limited quantities, which create artificial scarcity and exclusivity; however, the bags have flooded the upscale resale market and are frequently sold in second-hand boutiques and through social media.[2]

History[edit]

English actress Jane Birkin, the eponymous inspiration for the bag (1985)

In 1983, Hermès chief executive Jean-Louis Dumas was seated next to Jane Birkin on a flight from Paris to London. Birkin 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.[7]

In 1984, he created a black supple leather bag for her, based on a 1982 design.[8][9] 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."[10] Nevertheless, since the late 1980s, the bag has become a status symbol, though it's become much easier to purchase due to aftermarket resales.[2]

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.[11] "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".[12][13][14][15]

Design[edit]

Hermès red crocodile-skin Birkin bag
Hermès Ostrich Birkin bag, with matching leather-covered lock and key lanyard, displayed with a plaid bow

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.[16] 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.[17]
  • 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.[17]
  • 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.[16]
  • The metallic hardware (the lock, keys, buckle hardware, and base studs) are plated with gold or palladium. Detailing with diamonds is another custom option.[16]
  • Hermès offers a "spa treatment", which is a reconditioning treatment for heavily-used bags.[18]
  • 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.[18]
  • 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.

Craftsmanship[edit]

The bags are handmade in France using the company's signature saddle stitching, developed in the 1800s.[19] 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.[20]

Demand[edit]

According to a 2014 estimate, Hermès produced 70,000 Birkin bags that year.[21] The bag is highly coveted and, for several years, was reputed to have a waiting list of up to six years.[22] The rarity of these bags is purportedly designed to increase demand by collectors.[23]

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.[24][25] 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 returns over the same period.[26] In April 2010, Hermès announced that the waiting list would no longer exist, implying that it is potentially available to the general public.[27]

The Philippine Star reported in March 2013, that a high-end, 30-cm Shiny Rouge H Porosus Crocodile Birkin with 18-carat gold fittings and encrusted with diamonds was sold for US$203,150 at an auction in Dallas, Texas, US.[28]

In May 2017 a 30 centimeter 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.[6][29]

According to an analyst quoted by The New York Times in 2019, there are more than one million Birkin bags on the market, while a resale boutique in Miami has sold more than US$60 million in used Birkin bags in just five years.[2]

Birkins are one of the most covetable bags, therefore one cannot go into Hermés and simply ask for a Birkin bag. One must have a long-standing relationship with one of the Hermés sales associates. Also, "waiting lists no longer exist at Hermés stores, and it's the limited availability of the bags that is just one of the aspects of why demand has risen", which explains why one can not simply just ask to buy a Birkin bag.[30]

Counterfeits[edit]

In addition to the possible counterfeits that all well-know brands are subject to, fake Hermès bags including the Birkin bag are alleged to have been made by a group of people including seven former Hermès workers. Ten people were on trial in June 2020, alleged to have made dozens of counterfeit bags which sold for tens of thousands of euros each, for a total profit of over €2m. The crime was discovered by police investigating unrelated stolen products. Four of those on trial were skilled leatherworkers; the bags were made using Hermès stitching methods. The counterfeiters imported crocodile skins. Leather offcuts, tools, zips and faulty bags that were to be destroyed were stolen from Hermès.[31]

In popular culture[edit]

The Birkin bag is a major plot point of the Sex and the City episode "Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda", in which Samantha is placed on a five-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.[32]

In his 2008 memoir, Bringing Home the Birkin; My Life in Hot Pursuit of the World'’s Most Coveted Handbag, author Michael Tonello, recounted his career selling used luxury goods on eBay.[33]

In the Will & Grace episode "Last Ex to Brooklyn", Grace is gifted a Birkin by her husband's ex-girlfriend Diane, who works at Vogue. Will angrily says that he has been on a two-year waiting list for the bag.[34]

In the Gilmore Girls 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.[35][36]

In How I Met Your Mother episode "The Mermaid Theory", Zoey is seen with a light brown Birkin bag as she enters the bar to meet and sit with Ted at MacLaren's pub.[citation needed]

Kim Kardashian made news in 2013 for a US$40,000 Birkin, gifted to her by husband Kanye West, on which the artist George Condo painted a group of nude figures.[37] Another picture showed Khloe Kardashian's child nestled in US$108,000 worth of the bags, which drew some unfavorable comments about conspicuous consumption from her adherents.[38] Additionally, Kim's daughter was publicized while carrying a US$17,000 Hermes bag.[39]

In her 2015 memoir The Primates of Park Avenue, author Wednesday Martin recounts how Birkin bags signal social class status on the Upper East Side.[40]

American first lady Melania Trump carried a Birkin bag during her summer 2018 trip to Scotland.[41]

Rosmah Mansor, the second wife of Najib Razak, former prime minister of Malaysia, is claimed to have the largest Birkin collection in the world.[42][43] In 2018, Malaysian police found a total of 272 Hermès bags, worth nearly US$13 million, after seizing the family's three apartments in Kuala Lumpur.[44][45]

Other known larger collections of Birkin bags include: Singapore socialite Jamie Chua, who reportedly owns more than 200 Hermès Birkin and Kelly bags, and celebrity fashion designer Victoria Beckham, who reportedly has more than 100 Birkin bags.[46]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Martha's Moneyed Bag Carries Too Much Baggage". The Washington Post. 22 January 2004. Retrieved 19 October 2010.
  2. ^ a b c d Zerbo, Julie (9 April 2019). "Can the Birkin Bag Survive the Resale Market?". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  3. ^ Rupert Neate (1 January 1970). "What am I bid? Prices go through the roof at Christie's handbag auction | Fashion". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 June 2017.
  4. ^ a b Unger, Brooke (2 July 2016). "Demand curve". The Economist1843 Magazine. Retrieved 4 January 2020.
  5. ^ Hutch, Leonie (1 March 2018). "Birkin Mad: is this the apex of capitalist lunacy?". The Oxford Student. Retrieved 4 January 2020.
  6. ^ a b Chan, Kelvin (3 May 2017). "Birkin bag sells for record $380,000 at Hong Kong auction". AP News. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  7. ^ "The Birkin Bag". hermes.com. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  8. ^ Becker, Doreen (2016). Color Trends and Selection for Product Design: Every Color Sells A Story. William Andrew. p. 42. ISBN 9780323394062.
  9. ^ "In the Bag". Time. 17 April 2007. Retrieved 19 October 2010.
  10. ^ "Home page". RunwayRiot.
  11. ^ Association, Press (2 July 2015). "Jane Birkin asks Hermès to remove her name from handbag after Peta exposé". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  12. ^ Catherine Bennett, Jane Birkin demands Hermès remove her name from crocodile bag, Financial Times, 29 June 2015
  13. ^ "Fashion victims: Jane Birkin asks Hermes to change 'her' handbag's name, citing cruelty to crocodiles". South China Morning Post. 28 July 2015.
  14. ^ Mondesert, Anne-Laure (28 July 2015). "Jane Birkin asks Hermes to take name off crocodile handbag", Agence-France Presse.
  15. ^ Brannigan, Maura (28 July 2015). "JANE BIRKIN WANTS HER NAME OFF THE BIRKIN BAG". Fashionista. Retrieved 18 September 2015.
  16. ^ a b c "Hermes v. Hermes". The Washington Post. 28 June 2006. Retrieved 19 October 2010.
  17. ^ a b "Can a Birkin bag Get You Special Treatment?". USA Today. 22 April 2008. Retrieved 19 October 2010.
  18. ^ a b "Hermès Birkin". The Handbag Concept. 24 January 2017. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  19. ^ "Bag Man". Boston Globe. 17 April 2008. Retrieved 19 October 2010.
  20. ^ "Box up the Birkin Hermes Craftsman Stitches Up Lavish Leather Goods in Calgary". The Calgary Herald. 16 October 2010. Archived from the original on 27 November 2010. Retrieved 19 October 2010.
  21. ^ "Beauty and the beasts". The Economist. 11 December 2014. Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  22. ^ "Hermes". New York. Retrieved 19 October 2010.
  23. ^ "Bagging a Birkin". Planet Money. NPR. 25 December 2015.
  24. ^ Bringing Home the Birkin, by Michael Tonello, 2008, Harper
  25. ^ "Why a $223,000 Hermes Birkin bag might actually be a good investment". Fortune. Retrieved 31 May 2016.
  26. ^ Au, Desiree (3 June 2016). "Who Would Pay $300,000 for a Handbag?". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 June 2016.
  27. ^ "The Wait (List) Is Over: Now Anyone With $5,000 Can Get Their Hands On A Birkin". Glamour. 26 April 2010. Retrieved 19 October 2010.
  28. ^ Tetta Ortiz Matera (20 March 2013). "Crocodile Skin 101", The Philippine Star
  29. ^ "Handbag auctioned for world record HK$2.94m in Hong Kong". South China Morning Post.
  30. ^ RAMAZZOTTI, Giorgina. "Everything You Need To Know About Buying An Hermès Bag". Vogue Magazine. Vogue Magazine.
  31. ^ Kim Willsher (24 June 2020). "Ex-Hermès staff appear in court over fake designer handbags". The Guardian.
  32. ^ Faran Krentcil (3 August 2016). "Lucy Liu Can Still Kick Your Ass in Heels". Elle. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  33. ^ Muhlke, Christine (18 May 2008). "Bag Man (book review)". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 March 2019.
  34. ^ Last Ex to Brooklyn, Season 6 Ep. 2. 2 October 2003.[non-primary source needed]
  35. ^ Welcome to the Dollhouse, Season 6 Ep. 6. 1 October 2005.
  36. ^ Stansfield, Jen. "REVIEW: GILMORE GIRLS – SEASON 6, EPISODE 6 "WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE"". Last Ditch Effort. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  37. ^ Erin Weinger (2 December 2013). "Kanye West Gives Kim Kardashian a Birkin Bag Painted by George Condo". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 9 June 2018.
  38. ^ Malbon, Abigail (8 March 2019). "Khloe Kardashian had to turn off comments on this picture of True with £100k worth of Birkin bags". Cosmo. Retrieved 9 March 2019.
  39. ^ Merrett, Robyn (8 March 2019). "Celebrity Kim Kardashian's 13-Month-Old Daughter Chicago Wears $592 Yeezy Heels and $17,500 Hermés Bag". People.
  40. ^ Lowrey, Annie (2 June 2015). "At Lunch With the Author Who Introduced the Upper East Side 'Wife Bonus'". The New Yorker.
  41. ^ "Melania Trump's Birkin Bag Makes a Comeback". InStyle.com. Retrieved 19 July 2018.
  42. ^ hermesauto (1 May 2018). "284 luxury handbags seized from Najib-linked apartments: 5 things about the Hermes Birkin bag". The Straits Times. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  43. ^ Leong, Trinna (1 May 2018). "Malaysian police seize 284 luxury bags, 72 bags of cash and valuables from Najib-linked apartments". The Straits Times. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  44. ^ Birdthistle, Elizabeth. "The Birkin: bags of style and a sound investment". The Irish Times. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  45. ^ "Here's what you need to know about Rosmah Mansor, the former first lady of Malaysia, Business Insider – Business Insider Malaysia". Business Insider Malaysia. 4 October 2018. Retrieved 5 January 2020.
  46. ^ theAsianparent (1 February 2018). "Jamie Chua's Handbags Will Take Your Breath Away! | theAsianparent". sg.theasianparent.com. Retrieved 2 August 2019.

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