There are two “urban legends” that tell how this bag was born. What it certain and undeniable, still, is the fact that this bag bears the name of actress/singer Jane Birkin (English woman, who lives in France for decades already).
The first legend, which appears to be told by Birkin herself to the fashion journalist Dana Thomas, tells that back in 1984, during a Paris-London flight, she was sat next to Jean-Louis Dumas, the CEO of Hermes fashion house. While they were talking, she opened her Hermes agenda and tens of small paper notes flew out. Dumas took it, just to return it to Birkin a few week later with a pocket stitched to the back cover (it was a detail that became, later on, a standard). Afterwards, they two had a conversation about how difficult was for the actress to find a beautiful but practice handbag, which she could use both during the weekend and the week, to be spacious… never mind, as you know, when you fly business and get to sit next to the Hermes SEO. Shortly after, she received a bag that was identical to the one described to Dumas – this is how the Birkin bag was born.
A spicier version of the story was represented by the film director Andrew Litvack. He marked the year 1981 as the year of birth for the Birkin bag. It is said that Birkin was invited to Hermes to check on the bag prototype that was going to bear her name. The moment she wanted to leave with the bag hooked on her arm, the persons at Hermes asked her if she didn’t forget anything. She was surprised to notice that they were waiting for her to pay for the bag. Litvack also mentioned that, eventually, the money she paid was returned, and ever since then, she enjoys a 10% discount for any Hermes product she purchases.
In street fashion, the Birkin bag became one of the most known symbols of luxury. Although because it was excessively used, in an ostentatious manner, by numerous celebrities, wives of football players, and the likes, many people in the fashion domain speculate on the desirability of this bag. (The same happens in the case of Vuitton bags: the more visible they are and worn by everybody, the more you end up doubting about their quality and genuineness, which makes them loose their exclusive air). In the past years, the bag even became a secondary character in TV shows (see Sex and the City, The Gilmore Girls, Will & Grace), where full dialogs existed about this bag.
The list of celebrities that own not one but dozens of Birkin bags, is a long list: Oprah Winfrey, Nicole Richie, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lil’ Kim, Portia de Rossi, Victoria Beckham, Sandra Bullock, Mariah Carey, Sofia Coppola, Elle Macpherson, Lindsay Lohan, Martha Stewart, Demi Moore, Katie Holmes, Jodie Foster, Kate Moss. Sophie Albou, the founder of the Paul&Joe fashion house, said in an interview that she purchases a Birkin bag every season, for the past 10 years, which makes her bag collection “an exorbitant addiction, but part of her cultural inheritance as a French woman”. Whatever….
Usually, the price of an ordinary Birkin bag starts around 6,000 euro. But in the case of special editions or when that particular model is made from exotic leathers, the price can increase to several ten thousands or even hundreds of thousands. What everybody may know is that you can’t just walk in a Hermer boutique and simply buy a Birkin. Oh, no, you have to subscribe to a waiting list that can last from 2 to 6 years (!) In fact, Hermes shops have two types of lists: a waiting list and an order list, the difference being given by the type of client. The ones that, one way or another, became returning customers or befriended one of the salespersons are obviously privileged.
Putting aside the craze created by celebrities, the Birking bags really are worth their price. It is among the few brands of the world that has an increasing value or, at least, stays the same as time passes by. You cannot buy them online or from luxury shops, only from Hermes boutiques. One of the factors that contribute to their value is the fact that they are entirely handmade, by skilled artisans. The making of a bag needs about 50 hours of hand labor (which means, more precisely, weeks of painstakingly work). The bags are being distributed without a plan around the world, intentionally, and in minimum quantities – other factors that help the increase of the product’s exclusivity.
The exterior of the bag can be made out of many types of leather, one of the most expensive being the crocodile leather. The price depends on the size of the scales – the smaller they are, the more expensive the bag becomes. Usually, the interior is made out of goat leather, the color being selected to match the exterior. There is the possibility of placing an order – a certain type of leather, and a certain color – but this possibility is reserved only to some privileged clients and, even in this case, the bag’s manufacturing can take up to 2 years. The metallic parts of the bag (the lock, keys, buckles, supports) are usually plated with gold or other precious metals, like palladium. The lock can sometimes be covered in leather, if the client requests it. Other clients wished to embellish the lock with diamonds, like the case of a bag made out of black crocodile leather that was sold at an auction, in 2005, for the price of 65,000 dollars. All the locks and keys have numerical codes, which attest their authenticity.
A feature that is included in the price of a Birkin bag is the privilege of bringing your Birkin bag in any Hermes boutique so that it can be shipped to Paris for a “spa treatment”. For a few hundreds of euro, any bag – regardless of its age or how damaged it is – will be refurbished and brought to the best state as it is possible. There is one single type of bags that cannot be refurbished: the ones in the Shooting Stars category, which can be indentified with the help of a colorless stamp placed near the embossing „Hermes, Paris, Made in France” that is on the bag’s interior. These are bags that the Hermes artisans make only after receiving a special permission that is valid just in their case – they can make one single bag per year, for personal use or as a gift, which cannot be put out for sale.