Part of an ongoing series of stories from 29Secrets that delves into the history of legendary beauty products and iconic moments in fashion and pop culture...
Por Christopher Turner
Illustration by Michael Hak
The Hermès Birkin bag is the must-have fashion accessory. The luxury bag isn't the only coveted model from the legendary French fashion house, but due to its high price tag and long waiting lists, it's considered a symbol of wealth and the ultimate status symbol in the confectionery gamble. Drake collects them for his future wife. Kate Moss once used them as diaper bags. The Kardashians have amassed an impressive Birkins collection. Kanye West gifted Kim Kardashian an exclusive Birkin featuring a painting by contemporary artist George Condo in 2013, while the couple's daughter North was spotted wearing a white mini Birkin. Victoria Beckham is rumored to own more than 100 of them. Did we mention that in 2021 the retail price was around C$13,000, while bags made from exotic animal skins and precious metals have sold at auction for almost half a million dollars in recent years? Some even say that the Birkin bag is a better investment than gold or the stock market, and its exclusivity has led to a thriving resale market.
But how did the Birkin bag become the most coveted item in the luxury fashion industry? This is the story behind the bag's creation and how its existence was a happy coincidence, the result of an exchange between former Hermès CEO Jean-Louis Dumas and Paris-based British actress Jane Birkin in an Air France flight in the early 1980s.
The history of Hermes
First, a little history of the family fashion house. In 1837, Thierry Hermès founded his namesake shop in Paris as a harness shop dedicated to serving European noblemen. Hermès (pronounced Air-MEZ) won numerous awards in the late 18th century and built a reputation as one of the best manufacturers of horse leather goods, making everything related to horsemanship, from saddles to bags to boots. and hats. . Later, his son Charles-Émile moved the Hermès flagship store to 24 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in 1880, where it remains today.
In the 1900s, under the direction of the founder's grandson, Émile-Maurice, Hermès became the official saddle of the Russian Tsar and the first brand to introduce the zipper on leather goods in France. After making golf clothes for the British Prince of Wales in 1918, Hermès began its first foray into leather bags in 1922.
Who is Jane Birkin?
Jane Birkin was born on December 4, 1946 in London, England. She began her career as an actress, appearing in minor roles in films directed by Michelangelo Antonioni.Blow(1966), zkaleidoscope(1966), but her career took off in France in 1968, when she met the bad boy of French pop music, Serge Gainsbourg, while co-starring in the filmSlogan. The two struck up a romantic relationship that captivated the public: he with his scandalous behavior (he once burned a 500-franc note on live television to protest income tax) and she as an icon of the fashion scene. french new wave.
Their turbulent relationship dominated European headlines during their 13-year affair, which launched their controversial duet "Je t'aime... moi non plus" (I don't love you... neither do I), which Gainsbourg originally wrote. for Brigitte Bardot. The recording was condemned by the Pope and banned from British radio for being "sexually explicit".
After parting ways with Gainsbourg in 1980, Birkin continued her successful career as a singer and actress in British and French cinema. She has appeared in more than 70 films and made more than a dozen albums, but for many she will always be the muse of the Hermès bag, which has become an indelible part of pop culture despite trends and seasons.
The eponymous inspiration for the bag.
The idea for the Birkin bag was born somewhere over the English Channel on an Air France flight from Paris to London in 1983. Birkin was transferred to first class, and as she stuffed her wicker bag into the overhead bin, the contents spilled out. spilled on the seat and in the aisle below. As if by fate, Birkin sat next to the then head of Hermès, Jean-Louis Dumas. Birkin began complaining to Dumas that the best bags were never big enough to carry all her belongings, and Dumas, realizing that Birkin might not be the only woman facing this problem, was inspired to create something unique, modern. and I practice. like she saidThe TelegraphIn 2012, after a lengthy discussion about her ideal design and Dumas's bag recommendation, Birkin finally penned her specifications for "a bag bigger than the Kelly [the brand's iconic bag, named after the actress-turned-princess]. Grace Kelly], but smaller than "Serge is [Gainsbourg's] suitcase" in a motion sickness bag.
A year later, Dumas Birkin introduced the original 14-inch Birkin bag, a sturdy, deep rectangular design made of supple black leather. It was roomy yet sophisticated, sealed to ensure nothing leaked out and with functional pockets.
She was "flattered to death and said yes, yes, yes" when Dumas asked if the company could put her name on it. Suddenly, everyone was "walking around with her bags," she added.
Soon after, the bag was released to the public and became the second Hermès bag to bear the nickname of a celebrity. His Sac à Dépêches (first created in the 1930s) was renamed the Kelly Bag in 1956 after Grace Kelly was photographed using it to protect her pregnant belly after first handling the item on the set of the film. Alfred Hitchcock.catch a thief(1955). However, the Birkin was meant to be different from the Kelly bag: the brand hoped it would make a fresh, modern statement from a fashion house known for its traditional, classic attitude. Until then, the Kelly bag, smooth, stiff and angular in comparison, embodied the world of Hermès.
The Hermès Birkin bag is a roomy, elegant and sporty bag with two top handles (as opposed to the similar Kelly bag which has one top handle) and is designed to be carried in the hand or on the wrist. There are four prongs at the bottom of the bag and the top has a folding flap that can be secured with a key and padlock. Today, Birkin is commercially available in various sizes, including 25, 30, 35 and 40 centimeters, travel bags in 50 and 55 centimeters.
The bag has no flashy logos and each bag is made entirely by hand in France using quality materials such as calfskin, crocodile skin, and even lizard and ostrich skin. One of the most expensive skins used is saltwater crocodile skin (bags with smaller scales cost more than those with larger scales). Each bag is lined with goatskin with the color of the interior matching the exterior. The metal accessories (lock, key, buckle accessories and rivets) are gold or palladium plated. Of course, embellishing with diamonds is another individual option. Finally, each Birkin bag has a numerically coded lock and set of keys. The keys are attached to a leather strap known as a clochette, which is carried by a handle. The bag closes by closing the top flaps over the buckle loops, wrapping around the buckle straps, or closing the latch on the front hardware.
The prices of Birkin bags depend on the type of leather, the color and the hardware accessories.
"When we create a bag, it has to last a long time," says Catherine Fulconis, general manager of métier leather goods saddlery at Hermès since 2015. "We want it to still be desirable 20, 30, 40 years from now."
To put it in numbers, it takes a Hermès artisan between 15 and 20 hours to create each individual bag, but all artisans must train with the brand for at least 18 months, regardless of previous experience. Their credo is “One Craftsman, One Bag”, which means that each bag is made by a single artisan from start to finish. Some artisans have been known to see their crafts displayed in shops or on people's arms.
"The high retail and resale value is due to the fact that these are works of art," says Mason Howell, Sotheby's handbags and accessories consultant. "These craftsmen train for years to make one of these bags and may even train 10 years before they are allowed to make a Birkin."
Another reason for the high price of the bag is of course the limited availability. The total number of Birkin bags that Hermès produces each year is a closely guarded secret, but it is estimated that around 200,000 are in circulation today. Total.
Reach icon state
The Birkin was not an instant success. In fact, it only started in the late 1990s, at the beginning of the it bag era. However, the limited production at the time meant that eager buyers sometimes had to wait years to get their hands on the coveted creation.
NOsex and the cityIn the episode "Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda", Samantha drops Lucy Liu's name to avoid the five-year waiting list for a Birkin while in thewill and graceIn the episode "Last Ex to Brooklyn", Grace receives a Birkin from Diane, her husband Leo's ex-girlfriend, who works atWay...when Will finds out, he angrily says that he is on a two-year waiting list for the scholarship. These starring television roles come along with other appearancesgilmore girlsmihow I Met Your Mother, and the bag's perceived exclusivity helped cement the Birkin's place in fashion history in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Since then, the demand for Birkin has increased steadily. It's whispered (though Hermès insists it's possible to walk into a store and buy a Birkin, the waiting lists for in-demand styles are legendary); rapping about it (Migos has a song called simply "Birkin"); and constantly being remembered on social media (especially the "It's not a bag. It's a Birkin" scene fromsex and the city). A search for #birkin on Instagram returns more than 5.6 million results.
Hermès and his relationship with Jane Birkin
The relationship status between Hermès and the muse behind its best-selling bag is, well, complicated. Initially, Birkin embraced his namesake bag, but later said that he rarely wears it because it fills it up too much, making it "very, very heavy."
Despite this ambiguity, she has been regularly photographed over the years wearing a variety of weather-worn Birkins, often tailored and covered in stickers, safety pins and pearl necklaces. She commented that the bags have been "useful" over the years because she sold them and donated the proceeds to charities she supports, including Amnesty International. So, in 2015, Birkin asked Hermès to remove her name from the bag. The bad blood followed a PETA report alleging atrocities at a crocodile farm linked to the fashion house. After Birkin's very public statement, the brand was contacted byAn Associated Pressand responded that he "respects and shares [Birkin's] emotions" and was "shocked by the recently aired footage." Hermès stopped working with the accused farms and promised to punish them accordingly if the allegations were true.
Birkin has reportedly owned just four Birkin bags since Jean-Louis Dumas appointed her in 1984 (she has donated three to charity auctions, the last auction was in 2011). Still, she said she's amused that people still associate her with scholarship, especially after a career that has spanned half a century.
Her latest statement on the legendary bag and its popularity? she saidWay: “It's great that everyone has one or wants one. I keep asking Hermès to make it out of plastic or, what's more fun, out of cardboard. So it wouldn't be that hard. But if people want something real, that's fine. If you're looking for copies, that's fine too. I really don't think it matters.
Hermès probably cares.
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