Hermès – The Birkin Bag – An Impossible Quest?

07/17/2016
Angela Ranieri
Birkin bag black

The Birkin awaits

Yesterday, I was carrying my Hermès Birkin bag while with two friends from the UK. My friend took the bag in her arms and hugged it. While both were complimenting me and genuinely thrilled that I had one, they told me about an investigative journalist in the UK who wrote an article about how she was denied the opportunity to purchase a Birkin Bag. Stories of those being denied this opportunity ran rampant. On one hand, I find the idea of keeping a brand’s integrity to be admirable; but on the other, I find this to be a little over the top and obnoxious. I get the wait-list part; that happens, but to be told that you cannot purchase this bag is a little too much in the arrogance department.

That being said, I am sure I look like a hypocrite, right off the bat, because I own one. I wanted a Hermès Birkin Bag for about ten years before I got one; and thinking back on why I wanted it, prompted a very honest conversation with myself. So as I sit – talking to myself – an owner of a Birkin, I could not put into words what that desire was. Why that bag?

The bag is gorgeous. Without question, it is a beautifully crafted bag.

Hermes Birking bag purple pink

The Birkin in purple pink

It seems like owning a Birkin can be seen as a type of acceptance. A feeling of being part of a club that can walk around carrying a bag that says, “The people at Hermès think I am good enough to carry this” or it says, “The people at Hermès think this bag can carry me.” It says that you have “arrived” in some way or another. This bag can tell the world that you have enough change on hand to make this purchase. And let’s be honest – money equals power. So, one can infer that this bag can be not only a symbol of status, but of power. Are we pining after the Birkin to show that we have authority? I’m not sure.

Not only is the Birkin bag the most sought after handbag in the world, whether you are a fan of it or not, it also has a sordid past. Fashion legend tells a few variations of how the first Birkin came to be. For instance, it is not confirmed if the first bag made its debut in 1982 or 1984. The location of inspiration, whether on a flight or in an airport waiting room also varies.

What we know for sure is the story that Hermès tells. In 1981, Jane Birkin was traveling with a battered woven straw travelling carryall and many of the contents inside were falling out. She was carrying this disaster of a bag because her husband had intentionally run over it two days prior to her trip. Usually, I would be really angry at her husband for having done something so spiteful; but in this case, the Birkin was the result, so I’ll give the bad behavior a pass.

Hermès chief executive Jean-Louis Dumas was seated next to Jane Birkin on a flight from Paris to London. Birkin explained to Dumas that it had been difficult to find a leather weekend bag she liked. Two days before the flight, her then-husband, Jacques Doillon, had reversed his car over the cherished straw basket, “crushing it on purpose”.

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. Nevertheless, since that time, the bag has become a status symbol. This legendary bag, which was a sub-plot on ‘Sex and the City’, was first sketched on a ‘airline barf bag’. This is a side effect of inspiring an artist on an airplane or in an airport waiting room.

Birking bag

It takes one artisan 48 hours to make one Birkin Bag, and every artisan has his/her own tool set specially crafted just for creating this bag. The Birkin is available in 5 sizes: 25cm, 30cm, 35cm, 40cm and 45cm.

Birkin bags can be purchased at Hermès boutiques; however, they are not available on the Hermès website. Should you call the store, Hermès associates will tell you, in no uncertain terms, that they will not provide ANY information over the phone regarding the Birkin bag. If you want to purchase one, you need to get there in-person; and while you are at it, you may want to get there fast, since there is often a wait-list.

Birkins can be purchased on the secondary market, but do not expect any price tag that looks drastically different from in-store. Currently, a black leather 25cm Birkin is for sale on the auction site eBay with the starting bid at $12,795. A 30cm pink crocodile Birkin is listed with a “Buy it Now” at $51,500.

The brand CEO states that Hermès is “creating desire,” and that is surely what we see when it comes to the Birkin. Some people have said using American Express concierge helps to get a Birkin, others advise going to Las Vegas, since no one can tell how much money you have, based on your attire there. Others say to build a relationship with a Sales Associate; and after a few purchases of slower selling items such as clothing or less popular Hermès bags, ask then about a Birkin.

My personal favorite acquisition of a Hermès Birkin story is of the woman who walked into Hermès wearing Nikes and pair of spandex pants; and just asked about buying a Birkin. A Birkin went home with her that day, and I am not going to say if that woman was me or not!

Until doing research, I had no idea of the craftsmanship or history of the bag, so to say those facts played any role in why I wanted to own mine, would be a blatant lie. I am usually a pretty good gauge of consumer behavior (I am the best shopper in the world but keep my amateur status for the Olympics), so I can say with certainty that the work that goes into a Birkin, for some prospective purchasers or purchasers, did not play much of a role.

Birkin bag 2

The Birkin snuggles up

I’ll leave you with this last thought to ponder – if a first-time Hermès buyer went to the store and asked about a Birkin, would the Sales Associate say, “Nope, sorry.” If she did, would she still say, “No” if that same client offered to buy five Birkins and three Kellys? I guess it’s like asking, “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear, does it make a sound?”   Or perhaps it’s closer to, “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie pop?”

The world may never know…

Editor’s Notes:
The Daily Mail (UK) newspaper sent a number of female reporters to various Hermès outlets in London and Manchester to find out if anybody could get on a wait-list. READ Daily Mail article.

How to Buy

Hermès official policy is that “There is no wait-list”. However, clients are encouraged to “develop a relationship with a sales associate”. That’s an euphemism for establishing a “Hermès credit” rating with purchases of other goods such as clothes, shoes or unpopular bags (excluding belts). Then, you can buy a Birkin.

In an “unspecified” USA boutique, the threshold is $5,000 worth of clothes and shoes…
If you get the manager’s approval, you still can’t pick which one you want. If you are lucky, there may be a few variants to choose from.
Hermès Boutique in CityCenter Las Vegas may be the easiest place to buy a Birkin in the USA as they have the most inventory or so our Secret Squirrel Spies tell us!  🙂

Author’s Biography
Angela Ranieri joins us as Contributing Editor with an extensive background in Fashion, Beauty and Digital Media. She has worked with PRADA USA Corp., Jurlique, Amore Pacific and the New York Daily News in management capacities including Marketing, Client Relations, Employee Relations and Training Management. She has authored and published the column, “Ask Angela,” featured on the Amore Pacific USA website.
Her beauty advice has been featured in Shape and Fitness Magazines and CBS News.

She is a graduate of Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science in Communications and Writing.
Angela also has an MBA in Marketing and Entrepreneurship from Northeastern University. While at Northeastern, her Market Research on the Electric Car was published for University use.

Angela is currently creator of Circuit Cosmetics, a Brand Ambassador for luxury beauty line, Patchology, an On Air Guest for QVC and blogger for www.thelaughinmommy.blogspot.com
In her spare time you can find Angela running, spinning, practicing yoga or getting beautified. She resides on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with her Husband, Son, and Chihuahuas.