Ballpark estimate: $12,000 to $150,000+
If status is especially important to you, you may want to carry an Hermès Birkin handbag. Many fashionistas consider investing in a Birkin bag a way to tell their peers that they have “arrived.” That’s why flocks of well-known celebrities can be seen in fashion magazines sporting a Birkin on their arms. The design of these bags is easy to recognize, featuring a tapered rectangular shape with a little pouch (called a “clochette”) that is attached to the handles by a strap and holds the lock.
An Exclusive Handbag
While the silhouette remains consistent in all Birkin bags, they can come in an array of materials, elements, and sizes that impact the price, depending on how rare the materials are and how much workmanship is involved. But in fact, regardless of the bag’s materials, purchasing a Birkin bag involves much more than simply being able to afford the bag’s high price tag, though, which is some cases can equal the cost of a high-end vacation or even a car. Before you can buy a Birkin bag, rumor has it that you have to get your name on a waiting list, or “wish” list, since the brand won’t take formal orders, unless you are a very well-known celebrity or V.I.P. Further, the wait to be able to purchase a Birkin bag can be quite long. As a result, this exclusivity has helped to fuel the handbag’s popularity, although some Hermès insiders say that there really isn’t a true waiting list but rather, the brand won’t sell the bags to people who didn’t spend enough money on other Hermès items. This means that the Birkin is simply reserved from the brand’s best customers.
In fact, the boutiques seem to call people who meet certain criteria and offer to sell them a Birkin bag when one becomes available. This means that most purchasers don’t get to select the size, color, material, or price point for the bag they get but rather, have to take what is being offered at that time.
While some people have to wait up to a year before a Birkin becomes available, others never even get the option to purchase one from an Hermès boutique (the only place that sells new ones) and so they have to look to other sources if they have their heart set on owning a Birkin bag.
It can take up to year to be offered a simple Birkin, while for a more extravagant Birkin bag made of exotic skins or other precious materials, you could wait as long as six years (or perhaps never even get an opportunity to own one at all). Part of the reason for the wait is the extensive workmanship that goes into crafting each handbag. The process of creating a Birkin is time intensive—some say it can take between 18 and 48 hours to create just one bag, with one craftsman handling the whole process from start to finish. There is a level of crafting and detailing that you don’t find in a more mass-marketed item. For instance, Birkin bags are made from very finest leathers and other materials that have been carefully tanned and prepared to make them especially soft and smooth. Bags may be made from goat, calf skin and ostrich skins, as well as from alligator and crocodile hide. Each bag features elegant details, including a stamped “H” on each bag, a lock and key, and a signature dust bag to protect the handbag when it’s not in use. Special designs also have extras like a clasp featuring pave diamonds and other jeweled accents that really make them stand out. As a result of all of the work that goes into creating each handbag, this means that customers are kept waiting for long amounts of time to be able to purchase the bag from an Hermès boutique. When you do finally purchase your Hermès bag, you can expect it to be securely nested in special Hermès tissue paper that’s molded to keep the precious bag safe and sound while you transport it home.
Tracing the History
While today, the Hermès name probably conjures up images of the iconic Birkin bag with its two handles and very identifiable hardware, you may not realize that the Hermès label actually goes back 200 years and was originally associated with equestrian saddles. Over time, the brand broadened to include fine jewelry, scarves, linens, fragrance, and handbags, among other specialty items.
In the 1980s, the first Birkin handbag came into existence, thanks to an airplane flight that had Jean-Louis Dumas, who at the time was the Hermès chairman, seated next to British-born actress Jane Birkin, who resides in France. Birkin accidentally spilled the
items in her handbag onto the floor, sparking a conversation between Dumas and Birkin about what the “ideal” handbag would look like, and how it would function. Birkin sketched out her vision of a handbag that would adequately contain all of her possessions. Later, Dumas created this prototype and named it “the Birkin.”
This bag came on the heels of the Hermès Kelly bag, which was named in 1956 after Grace Kelly, an American-born actress who later become the Princess of Monaco. She was carrying the handbag that was later renamed for her when she was pregnant and she placed the bag in front of her stomach during a photo shoot for a magazine cover.
Avoid Getting Duped
When in the market for a Birkin bag, it’s important to be sure that you are investing in an original. This is because there are many fake Birkins in circulation today and many are very good imitations of the real thing. Therefore, if you purchase a Birkin from anywhere besides an Hermès boutique, you’ll need to know how to authenticate the bag before you invest in it.
Some tell-tale signs of a knockoff include uneven stitching (Birkins have even stitches that are at a subtle angle), a leather zipper tag that is perpendicular (a Birkin always has the tag positioned parallel to the handbag’s hardware), and leather that feels rough instead of buttery soft.
A genuine Birkin handbag also has a few important identifying features to look for (although some fakes also try to copy these elements.) The real deal should have a stamp on the inside saying: “Hermès Paris, Made in France.” There is also a code on the handle of the bag that includes the craftsman’s initial and the date the bag was made. In addition, the locks and keys are also identified with a special code on them. Finally, the Birkin handbags that are made from the most coveted materials such as reptile skins come with their own certificates of authenticity.
Cost of a Birkin Bag
The cost of a Birkin bag continues to rise on a regular basis, in part because of the huge popularity of the bags and the fact that so many women are willing to wait as long as they must, and will spend whatever it takes to have their own Birkin. The basic Birkin
handbag starts at $12,000 today and goes on up depending on the size (larger bags cost more) and more exotic materials and detailing used. (This has risen by about 50 percent in just a few years.) This means that the most extravagant bags can sell for $150,000 or more for designs made from the rarest crocodile skins. The smaller the scales on the skin are, the more expensive the bag is. In addition, adding diamonds to the clasp will also increase the price a great deal, depending on what is used.
Further, if you don’t get invited to buy a Birkin bag directly from an Hermes boutique, you can look to resellers for a Birkin bag. Just be prepared to pay an extra 20 to 30 percent or more for the markup of the bag, since they are so highly coveted.
The most expensive Birkin bag sold at auction to date was was made from pink crocodile skin with diamond accents in gold. This went for $223,000.
If you’re lusting after a Birkin but can’t swing the price tag and/or manage the long wait to get one, you can look online for a used bag (just keep in mind that you will stay pay a premium, even for used. In some cases, you may even pay more for a used bag, depending on the color, size, and material). You can look to Ebay and other websites that carry high-end previously used items. Even the smallest, simplest resale bags start at $5,000 or more used and can go up to $150,000 or more in auction.