Birkin: Why Is It So Coveted? (Part 1)

We’ve seen in it everywhere: magazine spreads, movies and other popular culture avenues.  Then some of us have the guts to walk up to the boutique just to find that the Birkin is not available for purchase.

*Images via Heritage Auctions

How Hermés Started as a Luxury House

Don’t fret, I will not attempt to make this a history class by overwhelmingly listing all the dates of House of Hermès milestones.  Hermès started as a luxury store in France with a strong equestrian root; that is: the culture of horse riding.  Equestrian culture is influenced by quality and durable leather.  Expensive saddle backs, riding hats and boots were (and still are) status symbol for affluent horse riders. The values of their initial high-end equestrian clients became the vision of Hermès: luxury and durability.

How the Birkin was Conceived

Look at the iconic picture of Jane Birkin and her Birkin above. She looks so laid back, in her casual attire, letting her legs hanging loose. The bag is just carelessly placed on the pavement, next to her dog. I personally think this is the true soul of a Birkin – the workhorse, flamboyant bag. It is really different with the bag’s current image – the “it” item we have seen toted around in formal events by Asian celebrities, socialites and debutantes.

The Birkin was released in 1982. The story goes that the actress Jane Birkin sat next to the then-CEO of Hermès, Jean-Louis Dumas, on a Paris-London flight. She complained that it was hard to get a leather bag that she liked. Taking on this conversation, Dumas created the Birkin bag, taking notes from an earlier model, the Haut à Courroies (HAC). The HAC is the predecessor of Birkin – you can tell the resemblance between the two; HAC is the one with the taller body, and narrower handles.

Oh, by the way, Jane Birkin auctioned her original Birkin bag on eBay last  year. Jane Birkin’s Birkin raked US$ 163,000, and the proceed went to benefit Japan Earthquake Relief.

Image source via PurseBlog

The Craftsmanship

Hermès employs around 2,000 craftsmen and craftswomen. So, you ask, with 2,000 people employed, why do these bags seem impossible to get? The reason is simple: these ‘impossible-to-get’ totes each takes tens of hours of highly-skilled hand work to produce. Hermès, in numerous occasions, has stated that it is not interested in producing “masstige”, or mass-made prestige items.  It prides itself on making most of the goods by hand, painfully stitched by skillful Hermés craftsperson.

The Leathers

Hermès claims to procure leathers of the highest quality. It will be a whole other different story write about the different Hermes leathers: lambskin, bull, calf, lizard, alligator, pig skin (in vintage pieces), ostrich, goatskin, crocodile (do note that it is different from alligator) and so on. This listing is not comprehensive; for goat skin, as an example, they have more than just one variations of ‘Chevre’. The most expensive one is the Himalaya, crocodile skin that untreated with colors, exhibiting an ombre gradation.

No leather is ‘perfect’, so to speak. Even within the same type of leather, some ‘veining’ variations may exist. Some leathers (Togo, Chevre and Clemence) are more durable than other; some are easier to refurbish (boxcalf) than other (Epsom). Some of the most expensive leathers cannot be carried under the rain, or be in contact with water. The leather could swell or exhibit permanent water mark.

If you are carrying Birkin in exotic leather across country boundaries, it is recommended to bring along the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) certificate (included in your purchase) denoting that the leather good is not a production of an over-exploitation of endangered species (or so it claims, at least).

The Hardware

The hardware of a Birkin is parts that make up the buckle, the feet, and the closure. They are palladium (silver), gold, ruthenium (like silver, but darker and pewter-ish in color), and of course: the diamond hardware. Aside from the diamond hardware (which I think, carat-for-carat, is grossly overpriced), no hardware is better than the other. It is just a matter of taste. I personally love ruthenium, my mother loves gold, and my best friend doesn’t care which one. They’re equally beautiful.


Want to know more? Stay tuned for the Part II. We are going to spill our experience on getting of the Birkin. No myths here!