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A Birkin by any other name would smell as sweet…
I first heard about the Birkin bag while watching Sex and the City (Season 4, Episode 11 titled “coulda, woulda, shoulda”) where Samantha, the sexpot character of the show is at a Hermès boutique and asks to see a Birkin. As the sales clerk hands over the red Birkin, he tells her the price and the 5 year waiting list to which she replies “for a bag?!!!” and his response is:
“It’s not a bag, it’s a Birkin.”
Sex and the City – “It’s not a bag, it’s a Birkin.”
As that phrase suggests, a Birkin is not a bag, it’s something in its own category. The Birkin is a statement maker, and that statement is a loud “I’ve arrived!”, a status symbol of wealth and unlimited disposable income. It’s definitely the “Holy Grail” of bags and coveted by bag aficionados.
Check out a tour of Kris Jenner’s, of Kardashian fame, closet.
Kris Jenner’s closet tour including Birkin wall with sign that reads “Need Money for Birkin”
Investment or Heirloom?
When the Sex and the City episode aired, the Birkin Samantha wanted cost $4,000 in 2001. Compared to now, that price tag was a steal. But before we get into prices, we need to discuss sizes. The bigger the bag, the bigger the price tag, add to it the exclusivity of the material and you have the perfect trifecta: size, material and increasing price.
Birkins are named according to size such as, “Hermès 25 Birkin” or “30”, “35” and “40”. The numbers refer to the length of the bag in centimeters.
Hermès 25 Birkin Bag:(Lx H x D) 25 x 20 x 13 cm; 9.75 x 8x 5 inches; Handle Drop: 2.25 inches; 5.7 cm
Hermès 30 Birkin Bag:(Lx H x D) 30 x 22 x 16 cm; 12x 8.5x 6 inches; Handle Drop: 3.75 inches; 9.5 cm
Hermès 35 Birkin Bag: (Lx H x D) 35 x 25 x 18 cm; 14x10x7 inches; Handle Drop: 3.75 inches; 9.5 cm
Hermès 40 Birkin Bag: (Lx H x D) 40 x 30 x 21 cm; 15.5x12x8 inches; Handle Drop: 3.75 inches; 9.5 cm
Hermès 50 Birkin Bag: (Lx H x D) 50 x 45 x 27 cm; 19.75×17.5×10.5 inches; Handle Drop 3.75 inches; 9.5 cm
Prices (as of June 2016)
Hermès 25 Birkin Bag Togo: $9,400; €5,900
Hermès 30 Birkin Bag Togo: $10,800; €7,000
Hermès 30 Birkin Bag Alligator: $44,500
Hermès 30 Birkin Bag Chevre: $11,300
Hermès 30 Birkin Bag Himalayan Crocodile: €42,100
Hermès 35 Birkin Bag Togo: $11,900; €7,750
Hermès 35 Birkin Bag Clemence: $11,900; €7,750; ¥1,340,000
Hermès 35 Birkin Bag Himalayan Crocodile: €48,100
Hermès 40 Birkin Bag Epsom: $12,900
Hermès 40 Birkin Bag Togo: $13,200
Hermès 50 Birkin Bag Toile: €9,850
Togo, epsom, chèvre & clemence all refer to the type of leather. In a future post we will delve deeper into the distinctions and go over more variations such as the fjord, gulliver and swift as well as the Himalayan crocodile.
Hermès Birkin Togo Leather
Hermès Birkin Clemence Leather
Hermès Birkin Himalayan Crocodile
So What’s the Big Deal?
An acquaintance of mine once told me that when he was doing odd jobs, one job he had was to fly to New York from California to deliver a Birkin, in person. So this Birkin did not get “shipped” to the intended owner, but delivered via the main cabin of an airplane, in essence, paying a full passenger flight cost for its delivery.
My acquaintance during his 5 hour flight, studied the bag as he was carrying it in hand and said that it was the most exquisite bag and far superior than any other bag he’s seen. He told me, “I get why it’s such an expensive bag.”
Just like you, I’m skeptical about that statement. If the Birkin, wasn’t called a Birkin, nor have that humongous price tag, would it be just as coveted and “exquisite?” I guess we’ll never know. It’s like the question – which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Let’s look at the Birkin in better detail beginning with how it got its name…
Fateful Meeting in the Air
The Hermès bag got its name from a British singer/actress Jane Birkin, who was seated next to then CEO of Hermès, Jean-Louis Dumas on a flight from Paris in 1983. The infamous story goes that Jane stowed her straw bag in the above head compartment at which point all of the contents poured out and she had to replace them. She then told Dumas her difficulty in acquiring a leather weekender bag to suit her needs. The concept of the Birkin was then born – somewhere overhead between Paris and London.
Jane Birkin, English singer/actress for whom the Birkin was named
By 1984, Dumas had created a bag to her specifications and the Birkin became a status symbol!
The Birkin is a big one and intended to be used as a weekender. The bag is heavy and durable.
The Birkin is essentially a rectangle with the top sides that fold like an accordion with a cross over flap and a strap closure that links together with a turn lock closure, which can be locked with the matching padlock and keys. So when carried, the bag has a wide bottom and a triangular shape to the sides.
Hermès Birkin – side view
The Hermès Birkin definitely has a front and a back side, the font being the side with the pad lock. The distinction between the Kelly and Birkin are 2 characteristics. The Birkin has 2 handles, the Kelly has 1, thus to accommodate the second handle, the cross over flap has 2 cut outs to accommodate the handle on the front side, giving the Birkin its recognizability as well as its distinction from the Kelly.
Hermès Kelly with single handle
The Birkin features rolled leather top handles and a matte leather interior and each comes with a polished lock and padlock and includes a hanging clochette (French for “little bell”, which refers to the bell shaped leather cover) with keys. The bag has 4 cylindrical feet matching the bag’s hardware and are reinforced with leather.
Anatomy of Hermès Birkin
The interior opens to a vast open space, also lined with matte leather with 2 side pockets on each side of the bag. Only the side pocket on the rear side of the bag is zippered the other is an open pocket.
With this much room, this bag can get pretty heavy. The cross over flap can be pushed inward, and the bag worn like a tote, just without the security as when everything is locked up.
Hermès Birkins with cross over flap pushed in and used like a tote
It usually goes the larger the bag the more stuff one tends to carry! The weigh of an empty Birkin 35 Togo leather is about 2 lbs (1 kg), which doesn’t seem like a lot, but once you add your contents, such as your leather wallet and keys, and essentials (why not load it up, you have the room) diaries, makeup, etc. it can get pretty heavy quickly.
Also, the bag is meant to be carried by the handles or by the crook of your arm. There are no other options to carry this bag. As you know with top handles, it’s hard to locate your keys, while holding your Starbucks coffee in one hand and your heavy bag in the other, searching for your keys.
Each bag is made with a great deal of care and expertise by a skilled artisan. The bags are made with great craftsmanship as demonstrated by the original Birkin carried by Jane Birkin. From photos you can tell the bag has definitely aged well, not showing it true age and definitely still in great condition.
Hermès Boutique Purchase or…Not?
The exclusivity of the Birkin is driven by the fact that there is more demand than supply, something which I assume Hermès propagates and cultivates. At the boutique, upon requesting a Birkin to purchase, like Samantha you will likely be told that there is a 2-year waitlist.
This is not a rule, however, but to be moved closer to the top of the waitlist, you can do so by making non-purse purchases, such as scarves, shoes, wallets, etc to show that you are a serious, wealthy fan.
For those of you who like instant gratification and want to get your hands on a Birkin without a wait, second-hand boutiques would be a good bet such as Fashionphile.
However, you will pay a premium price for a new bag with tags in tact, as you can choose the size, color, hardware, etc. among the selection. Be a smart buyer, since buying from a third party are prone to counterfeit. You can have the bag authenticated to ensure you are putting your money in an authentic Hermès and not a knock off.
Unlike other designer bags where “preowned” indicates a huge discount in price, the Hermès Birkin is known to retain its value. In fact, with the rising prices over the years, it could be an investment piece. Had Samantha purchased her bag in 2001, she could make a tidy profit if she were to sell it on the pre-owned market.
I have heard that if you are offered a Birkin at a Hermès store and you decide you did not want the bag being offered, perhaps not the right color, size, etc., then you are on the freeze list for another year. Please let me know if this is just a rumor in the comments.
Jane Birkin requested that they remove her name from the crocodile skin bag due to ethical reasons.
Birkins and other Hermès bags can be made by independent artisans for personal use, but only once a year.
Each Birkin is handmade and crafted by a skilled artisan.
Kelly vs Birkin. Aren’t they the same? – Almost, the distinguishing characteristic is that the Kelly has one handle while the Birkin has two.
Each buyer is limited to two Hermès bags a year.
So do you think a Hermès Birkin is worth the price? Please comment below.