Even just from that title, you already know which bag we have in mind, don't you?
The utterly iconic bag was the result of a brief encounter on a flight from Paris to London, in which Jane Birkin was struggling to cram her basket bag into an overheard locker, when the lid popped off and everything spilt out onto the floor. She exclaimed that she could not find a suitable weekend bag anywhere, and that is when her seat mate introduced himself as Hermès himself, or rather the creative director, Dumas. The two then spent the entirety of the flight sketching potential designs on the back of a sick bag.
No one knew at the time what this handbag would mean to the world. A year later Dumas presented Jane with the Birkin bag, a spacious, simplistic yet elegant design. Functional with its pockets and complete closure meant items would not fall out, and made from premium calfskin leather which was crafted in France.
Jane Birkin herself used her Birkin everyday, and loved it. She certainly wasn't precious with it, she attached keychains to it, applied stickers all over the leather, and did not mind filling it up resulting in its shape becoming somewhat slouchy. The Birkin embodies the everyday women - stylish, confident, but with a need for practicality.
The first Birkin creation even featured a shoulder strap, something Hermès did not carry forward with the design.
Jane Birkin's first Birkin Bag on display in the V&A Bags - Inside Out Exhibition.
So how did a simple everyday bag become so popular?
The answer is not right away. Upon the launch of the Birkin in 1984, it was not a raging success. It wasn't until the 90's that the bag began to pick up appeal as more of a status symbol than anything else. Celebrities started to collect Hermès handbags, including Victoria Beckham who is reported to have over 100 in her collection worth over $2 million, but Jamie Chua takes the trophy of most Birkins owned, including not one, not two, but three Himalayan crocodile Hermes bags adorned with 245 diamonds.
For many, the Hermès Birkin is the ultimate embodiment of luxury and style. Nothing says 'I made it' like a beautiful black Epsom leather Birkin perched upon your arm. Many luxury lovers give years of hard work to save for this sought after bag, but, oh?! You thought you could just walk in and buy the bag?
How to Buy a Hermès Birkin or Kelly Bag
The system for obtaining Hermes bags is famously opaque. Some rely on their celebrity status to secure the bag, whilst others rank up a considerable Hermès spend before asking about the bags. There are some who play the waiting game, making a wish and regularly checking in with their sale associate. If you are so lucky to be a chosen one, don't expect to be able to pick the size or colour down to the last detail - these luxuries are not guaranteed. You may be offered your dream specs - but more often than not, you are offered a variation on these (especially if you're a walk in customer - rather than a wishlist buyer). This is one of the reasons that the resale market is so buoyant - buyers would rather buy resale and guarantee the exact spec of the bag they get.
Hermès operates differently in different countries. For example, some stores in Paris only allow bags to be sold if you make an appointment, and to make an appointment you have to enter a lottery each day in order to have the chance to purchase a bag (yes, we are serious). This involves queuing online to secure the appointment, for which you must provide forms of identification. Even after securing an appointment, this gives no guarantee of being able to purchase any Hermès bag.
Hermès also allow customers to place 'a wish'. This wish can be an exact bag model, colour and size. Hermès then have a year to grant the wish, after a year the wish is lost and you have to place another to have the chance to get your dream handbag. Wishful customers report to never hear from Hermès, but those lucky few who do describe the emotional turmoil that is receiving the call from Hermès. No details are given until the appointment, and even then the customer does not know what they could be offered. It is only upon the bag being revealed to the customer that they must make the split decision wether to purchase or not. Bag forum's discuss the issue of rejecting a bag having impact on what you could be offered next, and there are many theories on this subject. So much so that customers admit to buying a bag they do not want out of fear of not being offered any more bags. The price may be luxury, but the experience can feel quite the opposite.
If you are one of the successful customers who actually gets what they want from their wish, one might find themselves under a Hermès high, meaning you want to grant another wish! Oh, but there is a limit on that too! You must wait 3-6 months before making another wish.
Tips for buying Hermès
Try visiting the store at the start of the season and ask to see which colours they expect to receive. Your wish has a higher chance of being granted if the store expect to receive it. Knowledge and appreciation of the brand is key, the bag community detail how the London stores do not seem to operate in the style of trying to impress the sales associate with buying scarves and ashtrays to further your chance. Discuss other models and colours, but remain true to what you are after. Sticking with the same sales associate and building a relationship can improve chances on being offered exactly what you want, and don't want. Try your luck, you never know what they may have in store!
Hermès, like many designer brands place buying limits on their bags. This is the extent the brand go to preserve the exclusivity of the brand, and it's handbag offerings. It is this lack of availability that heightens the demand, and so leads to a thriving resale market.
The most talk about bag holds its own financially, with a 500% price increase in the last 35 years, giving an average of 14% a year. This investment performs better than stocks, gold, and even property.
Sky high, but why?
The price of an Hermès bag is an interesting topic to broach. How is it reasonable to demand around £7500 for a handbag that I cannot even try on before I buy? This staggering price comes down to the availability. The actual number of Birkins that Hermès produce a year is a closely guarded secret, but many regular shoppers have their estimations. It is reported there are about 200,000 Birkins in circulation as of January 2021. There are very few things in life that one can purchase, and immediately it is worth more than you bought it for. The Hermès Birkin is one, but other factors go into the pricing of a Birkin on resale, such as colour, size, leather, hardware. The most sought after colours and sizes of course have a higher demand and so can be worth more, some resellers can double (or triple) their money from simple just selling on.
The reason the brand is flourishing on the resale market is down to lack of choice. When attempting to purchase through the store, you may be offered something similar to what you had in mind, but maybe not entirely the leather you wanted. On the resale market, you may be able to find the exact bag you are after without compromising on the size or colour. The price may be higher, but to get the exact bag you desire it's justifiable (to some).
Along with the difficulty of obtaining a Hermès bag comes the influx of fakes onto the market. Sellier prides itself on the most complete authentication process on the market for every item that comes through our door. Elsewhere we often say that if the price seems too good to be true - it probably is.
Mason Howell, handbag specialist at Sotheby's details some of the biggest factors of authenticating an Hermès bag, 'The handle should never be too long. If they look too long, longer than the bag, then it is most likely inauthentic. The hardware shouldn't be too shiny or protrude out, and the feet, another big thing, it's one of the best things I always check, is that the feet should never screw off. They are hammered in. The leather itself should feel very supple, very luxurious.'
Sellier are London's leading Hermès reseller, and we often get incredible store fresh Birkin's which we show on our Instagram stories first. Keep an eye on our page if you have a dream bag in mind as you never know what could be coming in tomorrow!