The Birkin bag is a handbag by Hermès, handmade in leather and named after actress and singer Jane Birkin. Hermès International S.A., or simply Hermès is a French high fashion house established in 1837, today specializing in leather, lifestyle accessories, perfumery, luxury goods, and ready-to-wear. Its logo, since the 1950s, is of a Duc carriage with horse.
The bag is a symbol of wealth due to its high price and elusiveness to the public. Its prices range from £6,000 to £100,000 ($9,000 to $150,000). Costs escalate according to the type of materials. The bags are distributed to Hermès boutiques on unpredictable schedules and in limited quantities, creating scarcity and, intended or unintended, exclusivity.
In 1981, Hermès chief executive Jean-Louis Dumas was seated next to Jane Birkin on a flight from Paris to London. She had just placed her straw bag in the overhead compartment of her seat, but the contents fell to the deck, leaving her to scramble to replace the contents. Birkin explained to Dumas that it had been difficult to find a leather weekend bag she liked. In 1984, he created a black supple leather bag for her, based on an 1892 design. She used the bag for herself then later changed her mind, due to the fact that she was carrying too many things in it: “What’s the use of having a second one?” she laughs. “You only need one and that busts your arm; they’re bloody heavy. I’m going to have to have an operation for tendonitis in the shoulder.” Nevertheless, the bag has since become an icon.
Birkin bags are sold in a range of sizes. Each one may be made to order with different customer-chosen hides, color, and hardware fixtures. There are other individual options, such as diamond-encrusting.
- The bag also has a variety of hides such as calf leather, ostrich, crocodile, and lizard. One of the most expensive is saltwater crocodile skin. Bags with smaller scales cost more than those with larger scales. The bag is lined with goat-skin. The color of the interior matches the exterior. Prices for the Birkin bag depend on the color, hardware fixtures, and skin.
- Sizes are 25, 30, 35, and 40 centimeters. The 50- and 55-centimeter bags are meant for travelling. It also comes in a variety of colors such as pink, red, brown, baby blue, navy blue, olive green, orange, white, black, and golden tan.
- The bag has a lock and keys. The keys are enclosed in a leather lanyard known as a clochette, carried by looping through a handle. The bag is locked by closing the top flaps over buckle loops, wrapping the buckle straps, or closing the lock on the front hardware. Locks and keys are number-coded. Earlier locks only bore one number on the bottom of the lock. In more recent years, Hermès has added a second number under the Hermes stamp of the lock. These numbers for locks can be the same for hundreds of locks as they are batch numbers in which the locks were made.
- The metallic hardware (the lock, keys, buckle hardware, and base studs) are plated with gold or palladium to prevent tarnishing. Hardware is updated regularly to maintain the top quality available in the industry at time of production. The metal lock may be covered with leather as a custom option. Diamonds are another custom addition.
- Hermès offers a “spa treatment” – a reconditioning for overly used bags.
- A “Shooting Star” Birkin has a stamp shaped like a shooting star adjacent to the “Hermès, Paris Made in France” stamp; this is in gold or silver to match the hardware and embossing. Rarely, the stamp is blind or colorless, if the bag is made of one or two leathers on which Hermes does not use metallic stamping. Birkins or other Hermès bags can sometimes be made by independent craftsmen for “personal use” once a year. Every bag bears the stamp of the craftsperson who made the bag. These identifications vary widely but are not different for every bag made. More than one craftsman’s stamp on a bag is not uncommon because the stamp is not a serial reference. Fonts and stamping orders may vary depending on the craftsman.
- Visible difference between the Hermes Birkin and Hermes Kelly handbag. The easiest way to identify the difference between the handbags is the handles. The single handle handbag is the Kelly, and the Birkin has two handles.
The bags are handmade in France by expert artisans. The company’s signature saddle stitching, developed in the 1800s, is another distinctive feature.
Each bag is hand-sewn, buffed, painted, and polished, taking several days to finish. An average bag is created in 48 hours. Leathers are obtained from different tanners in France, resulting in varying smells and textures. Because of the individual craftsmanship, other details of the bags may not all match. The company justifies the cost of the Birkin bag, compared to other bags, based on the meticulous craftsmanship and scarcity.
Although the Birkin bag is free of logos, it is one of the most recognized bags in the fashion industry and by the public.
It is highly coveted and, for several years, was reputed for having a waiting list of up to 6 years – the longest wait for any bag in history. As a result of the strong demand, the Birkin bag has a high reselling value in many countries especially Asia. In April 2010, Hermès announced that the waiting list would no longer exist, implying that it is potentially available to all