THE HERMÈS BIRKIN BAG
Fashion Statement. Iconic Style. Savvy Investment.
Text by Fiona Clarke
The two travelers hadn’t properly met, so it wasn’t immediately clear that she was practically brainstorming a future product with Hermès chairman Jean-Louis Dumas. When the latter identified himself, he told the star that Hermès was prepared to produce the accessory of her dreams. A discussion followed that involved rough sketches on an Air France airsickness bag, and the Birkin was introduced three years later.
The Birkin has become an icon, no doubt about it. But it has also become something more surprising: a better investment than a painting by an Impressionist master. When the handbag first became available the cost of a basic model was approximately $2,000, and it has since increased 500-percent. Truth is, however, it’s a stretch to call any Birkin “basic.” Each is handmade by a single expert craftsperson. Price varies with size, hardware, color and type of leather. A limited assortment of leathers and colors is released each year.
“The Birkin’s value has consistently risen and never fluctuated downward,” says Reece Morgan, head of handbags and accessories for Xupes, citing the fact that “production has been highly limited to maintain its unattainable aura.” In fact, he adds, Hermès has been “scaling back production each year.”
“I’ve had a lot of men buy their first bag from me,” says Debra Kent, of Mighty Chic. “I’ve always told them that after this bag, there’s no turning back. The next step is you’re going to walk into a room with your wife or your girlfriend, and she’s going to be carrying the bag. Every woman in that room is going to want you and every man in the room is going to hate you.” In short, says Kirk, the Birkin “is the ultimate status symbol.”
“It’s a storied product,” says Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute. “That’s what makes it a great investment.” Pedraza considers Hermès “the pinnacle of luxury” and credits the house with excellent stewardship of the design. “It’s a classic case study in how to manage luxury — be meticulous in what you create, and manage the supply. The market will react on its own.”
Regarding meticulous workmanship, each tote is hand-sewn according to Hermès’ centuries-old saddle-stitching technique, and the exotic leathers — a variety that includes ostrich and crocodile — are subsequently painted and polished by house craftsmen in France. Owing to the artisan construction effort behind this globally adored accessory, it may take up to five days to produce a single Birkin bag.
Contemplating an investment in a Birkin? Consider color: New and seasonal ones are often in great demand; some recent hues include Rouge De Coeur (2019), Blue Azure (2018) and Toffee (2017). And look for rare materials — exotics such as lizard, ostrich, porosus crocodile and niloticus and crocodile.
But a Birkin has more going for it than its good looks. The brand itself helps to sustain sales, even through difficult times. “Hermès has a wonderful history of good purpose and good values,” says Pedraza, adding that the brand “will be valued even more after the pandemic. Hermès will definitely be one of those that will stand tall.”