Imagine a possession that could hold all your personal belongings and have a price tag equivalent to a full year's salary, or even more. Back in the 1990s, you might have associated this with a house, but in today's world, a valid answer could very well be the Hermès Birkin bag. This capacious saddle-stitched status symbol has become the ultimate accessory of choice for A-listers and fashion elites alike.
While the Birkin bag has adorned the arms of numerous celebrities and high-profile individuals, its reputation remains that of an elusive luxury staple
. It's not available for purchase online, and Hermès intentionally maintains a certain level of secrecy regarding its availability. News headlines often feature jaw-dropping price tags, with some bags fetching tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The inspiration behind this iconic bag comes from the world of art and celebrity. Jane Birkin, the renowned actor and singer, became the muse behind the bag's creation. Tragically, she passed away recently at the age of 76, leaving behind a legacy that extended beyond her British roots and turned her into the epitome of Parisian style.
Jane herself joked that, due to the bag's overwhelming fame, she might be remembered more for it than for her movies or hit song, "Je T’aime… Moi Non Plus." The Birkin's unmistakable silhouette, with its wide, flat bottom, flap enclosure, and handles, was born out of the actor's need for a spacious bag as a mother of three. In an interesting twist of fate, she met Hermès' then-chairman Jean-Louis Dumas on a flight in 1984, where she shared her desire for a bag "half the size of my suitcase." She even drew the design on an airplane vomit bag. Hermès brought her vision to life and honored her by naming the bag after her. Jane generously donated the royalties from the bag's sales to charities.
The Birkin bag comes in various designs, including the classic oversized Birkin 35, the smaller 25, and the 3-in-1 30, which features a removable clutch. Made with heritage leather and metal hardware, these bags are also offered in limited editions with unique embellishments like embroidery, color-blocking, denim, crocodile skin, trompe l’oeil illusions, and even diamonds. Some unauthorized digital creations called "MetaBirkins" have surfaced as NFTs (non-fungible tokens), but a court ruled that they infringed on Hermès' copyright.
The exclusivity and mystique surrounding the Birkin have made it a coveted collectible for celebrities. Beyoncé sings about Birkins in storage, Drake collects them for his future life partner, and Cardi B recently shared a photo of her daughter celebrating her 5th birthday with a classic matching pink Birkin. Even during Kanye West and Julia Fox's headline-making relationship, West gifted her and her friends multiple Birkins.
Owning a Birkin, however, is not without its challenges. Julia Fox revealed that it can be anxiety-inducing, especially for non-rich individuals, who may find themselves constantly checking on the bag to ensure it's safe. Despite this, the Birkin continues to rise in popularity and value. A 2022 report revealed that Birkin sales spiked by 38% in 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic, and resellers reported record premiums in 2021.
The bag has become known as a long-term investment piece, with its value appreciating faster than the S&P500 and gold. However, compared to other luxury collectibles like jewelry and watches, Birkin bags exhibit higher market volatility, making them akin to hedge-fund investments.
As for the production cost of a Birkin, it is estimated to be about 15% to 20% of its retail price, taking into account the materials and craftsmanship. Each bag takes 18 to 20 hours to make and is completed by a single skilled craftsperson. However, the exact number of bags produced each year remains a closely guarded secret.
Obtaining a new Birkin bag has evolved over time, with waiting lists no longer in existence, and availability varying based on location. Luxury resellers now offer second-hand Birkins through various online platforms, but buyers must beware of counterfeit "superfake" replicas that can be almost indistinguishable from the authentic ones.
For lucky owners of a Birkin bag, Sotheby's has provided a guide to maintaining its value. Storing the bag in a dustproof storage bag and loosely stuffing it with paper when not in use can help retain its shape. Additionally, using a scarf to protect the handles and rubber caps for the feet is recommended.
Jane Birkin's own Birkin bags may not be in pristine condition, given her preference for using them over the years. However, owning a bag that was once owned by the icon herself could make it even more valuable and cherished among collectors.
Leah Dolan and Parija Kavilanz contributed to this insightful piece, shedding light on the allure and fascination that surrounds the iconic Hermès Birkin bag.