What’s So Special About Iconic Hermès Birkin Bags?

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The Birkin is the most coveted bag in the world. No other bag comes close – nothing from Dior, Prada, or even Chanel. If you looked at the vision board of the most ambitious young women, you’ll see a photo of a Birkin bag.

The bag has transcended beyond the fashion world to become a cultural icon and a status symbol. You know you have made it in life when you can carry a Birkin bag. The Birkin is a piece of fashion history, and it’s not something that you can buy off the shelf.

It’s a favorite amongst royalty and celebrity alike, proving to be one of the most secure investments you can make.

We’re going to tell you everything you need to know about Hermes’ legendary Birkin and what made it the most desired bag for women everywhere.

The History of the Birkin Bag

The Birkin began its life in 1984 as a happy accident for Hermes. Thierry Hermes’ original clients were not royalty and celebrities, but horses.

He founded Hermes almost two hundred years ago. The French fashion house began in 1837 as an equestrian brand, selling saddles, before they ventured into the world of leather goods and fashion.

Their logo of a Duc carriage with a horse is as recognizable as their signature orange boxes.

Crafted from coral red and khaki beige leather, this Hermès Birkin bag has the classic thin sangles with a frontal twist-lock fasteningCrafted from coral red and khaki beige leather, this Hermès Birkin bag has the classic thin sangles with a frontal twist-lock fastening

Before the Birkin, Hermes’ signature bag was the ‘Kelly’ which became popular across the world as the handbag of choice for Princess Grace of Monaco.

The bag was first released in 1930 as the ‘Sac-a-Depeches’ with a top handle, slim silhouette, and a flap top with a belted turn-lock closure.

It would have its moment in the sun in 1955 when it was given to Grace Kelly to carry during the film ‘To Catch a Thief’.

The bag became so connected to the actress-turned-royal that they changed the name to ‘Kelly’. It became Hermes’ most famous bag and dominated the industry until the Birkin came along.

Like all good things, the Birkin came around by accident. The British actress Jane Birkin was on an Air France flight with Jean-Louis Dumas, who was the Chief Executive of Hermes.

Singer and actress Jane Birkin reportedly rarely uses the famous handbag that bears her nameSinger and actress Jane Birkin reportedly rarely uses the famous handbag that bears her name

She was sitting next to him when the contents of her bag fell out. The pair started up a conversation about what her dream bag would be like. Jane sketched the design on the back of a sick bag, describing it as bigger than a Kelly bag but smaller than a suitcase.

Just like that, the Birkin was born. Jean-Louis Dumas took Birkin’s suggestions on board and altered the brand’s ‘Haut a Courroies’ bag, which held equestrian gear.

It was more contemporary than the Kelly, which came to epitomize lady-like elegance, and brought the dawn of a new era for Hermes.

They created the Birkin as a bag to carry by the hand or in the crook of your arm, with four studs on the base and a slouchier structure than the Kelly. The Birkin is the only other Hermes bag named after a celebrity.

The Popularity of the Birkin

The Birkin wasn’t an instant hit upon its release. It jumped in popularity towards the end of the 1990s when consumer culture changed as the age of ‘it bags’ began. The Birkin became one of the few bags that you couldn’t go in and buy off the shelf.

This only added to the luster of the Birkin, making it a status symbol. While it developed a waiting list, it wasn’t your traditional waiting list.

Just because your name was on a list, there was no guarantee you’ll ever get a Birkin. In recent years, the waiting list has come to an end, making it an even more mysterious process.

Khloé Kardashian carries a beige crocodile Hermès Birkin handbagKhloé Kardashian carries a beige crocodile Hermès Birkin handbag

Only a certain number are made every year, with fierce competition to get one. Clients spend years developing relationships with Sales Assistants at Hermes, buying anything from the brand that they can, in the hopes of one day being offered a Birkin.

In 2014, it was estimated that Hermes was producing 70,000 Birkin bags a year, making it a rarity compared to other luxury goods and ‘it’ bags.

The Birkin has transcended from being a handbag to being a status symbol. It exists in the world of Ferraris and luxury watches as a way of telling the world that you had ‘made it’.

No other bag comes with the same social status that a Birkin does, not even a Chanel 2.55 or a Lady Dior.

Crafted from feminine decor red leather, this trapeze-shaped tote from Hermès has a smooth finish and silver-tone hardwareCrafted from feminine decor red leather, this trapeze-shaped tote from Hermès has a smooth finish and silver-tone hardware

When it comes to collecting handbags, the Birkin is a popular choice. You’ll rarely find a celebrity without a Birkin in their collection, and it’s the signature of popstar-turned-designer Victoria Beckham.

Victoria is estimated to own more than 100 Birkin bags, purchasing her first bag in 2004 and being spotted carrying one for every occasion until she released her brand.

Beckham’s pink Ostrich leather Birkin is valued at over $150,000, one of the most expensive styles offered by Hermes. Jamie Chua, a Singapore socialite, is rumored to own over 200 Hermes bags, primarily Birkin and Kelly bags.

Kylie Jenner shows off her electric blue Hermes Birkin bagKylie Jenner shows off her electric blue Hermes Birkin bag

Today you can spot everyone from the Kardashian-Jenner clan – including North West – to Cardi B and Lady Gaga carrying a Birkin bag.

Where to Buy a Birkin Bag

The difficulty involved with purchasing a Birkin directly from the store has led to a lucrative pre-loved market. Much like the world of luxury watches, Birkin bags have become an investment that you make a pretty profit off further down the line.

For anyone who wants to walk into a store and leave with a Birkin, you’ll have to visit a specialist second-hand store.

It has become easier in recent years to track down a pre-loved Birkin. Thanks to websites like Vestiaire Collective, Farfetch, and The RealReal, you can purchase a Birkin from the comfort of your own home.

The pre-loved market is the most accessible way of purchasing a Birkin bag, although you’ll pay a premium for the bag. In the long run, it will probably save you money if you don’t intend to purchase other items from Hermes to build a profile with the brand.

Constructed from togo leather, this Birkin 35 tote bag from Hermès will steal your spotlight fairly easilyConstructed from togo leather, this Birkin 35 tote bag from Hermès will steal your spotlight fairly easily

As well as potentially saving you some pennies, you can be more particular about the Birkin that you want.

In a Hermes store, you’ll likely only be offered a few styles, whereas the online pre-loved catalogs are more extensive, letting you choose a bag that fits your budget and aesthetic.

If you want to buy a Birkin as an investment, try to buy one ‘off-peak’. While everyone is looking for the smallest Birkin possible to jump on the ‘mini’ bag trend, you might find that the larger Birkin sizes can be cheaper because of lower demand.

Not even a global pandemic could slow down the popularity of the Birkin. During 2020, Vestiaire Collective saw a 185% increase in search for the bags, which may be in part due to Hermes stores being closed.

Crafted from elegant black veau Epsom leather, this Birkin tote bag from Hermès is finished with modern silver-tone hardware and a 35cm trapeze bodyCrafted from elegant black veau Epsom leather, this Birkin tote bag from Hermès is finished with modern silver-tone hardware and a 35cm trapeze body

The Birkin has been introduced to a new generation thanks in no small part to the Kardashian-Jenner clan. All the sisters, and Kris Jenner, have a collection of Birkin bags.

The tradition is even being handed down to their children, with both North West and Stormi Webster having Birkin bags.

How Much is a Birkin?

A Birkin bag can set you back more than a car – for an ‘entry-level’ style. The price of each Birkin is determined by the leather or animal-skin used, along with the hardware and color.

It’s almost impossible to give you a standard price tag for the bag. Like other luxury houses, Hermes has several price increases throughout the year, meaning that the price is ever-changing.

Along with being incredibly expensive, it’s also very difficult to get your hands on one. The demand for a Birkin means you’re likely to pay a premium to pick one up pre-loved.

A PETA supporter is body painted to look like a crocodile lying in a pool of blood outside the London Hermes store at The Royal ExchangeA PETA supporter is body painted to look like a crocodile lying in a pool of blood outside the London Hermes store at The Royal Exchange

If you have a Birkin, you can expect to sell it for around 130% on the second-hand market. There seems to be no sign of the Birkin market slowing down, with the value of the bag increasing by 16% between 2016 and 2017. If you want to invest, don’t buy stocks, buy a Birkin!

The price of a Birkin varies enormously, especially when you purchase the bag and from where.

From 1980 to 2015, a Birkin bag would give you an average annual return of 14.2%, meaning you can make a pretty penny by selling the bag a few years after purchasing it. In 2019, there were estimated to be around a million Birkin bags in circulation around the world.

The Birkin has continuously set records for the most expensive bag in the world. In 2017, a white Himalaya niloticus crocodile Birkin with 18-carat white gold hardware complete with 245 diamonds sold at Christie’s in Hong Kong for almost $400,000.

Each bag is handmade using Hermes’ saddle stitching that it has been using since the 1800s. It takes two years of training for a craftsman to be able to make a Birkin, and six years to learn all the different styles. It takes over 12 hours of work on the leather to create the bag’s shape, with each piece sewed together by hand.

As each Birkin is a piece of unique craftsmanship, taking several days to produce, they come with an exclusive price tag.

When buying a Birkin pre-loved, you can expect to pay around $10,000 for a ‘standard’ style in excellent condition. If you’re in the market for exotic leather, then you’ll need to have a budget upward of $100,000.

Kate Upton shows off her classic Hermes Birkin bagKate Upton shows off her classic Hermes Birkin bag

When it comes to buying a Birkin directly from the store, there are two things to keep in mind. Traditionally, you’ll need to build a relationship with a Sales Assistant to be offered a Birkin.

You should expect to spend several thousand dollars before you’re given the chance to purchase a Birkin.

However, it’s not unheard of for Birkins to be offered to people who are in the right place, at the right time. You might save several thousand dollars by purchasing your bag in Europe instead of the United States.

Kris Jenner carries a bright yellow Hermes Birkin bagKris Jenner carries a bright yellow Hermes Birkin bag

A Birkin 30cm in Togo leather – a standard style – will set you back around $11,000 in the United States, while you could pick it up for less than €8,000 in Europe, saving you almost two and a half thousand dollars.

Different Sizes of Birkin Bags

When the Birkin was first released in the 80s, it came in a standard 35cm size. While this is still the most common size of the Birkin, it can now be found in every size from miniature to travel.

The Birkin is commonly available in 4 sizes, including 25cm, 30cm, the original 35cm, and a 40scm travel version.

What makes each Birkin style different is its leather and hardware. You can get everything from Epsom leather to exotic crocodile skins.

The hardware ranges from silver palladium through to diamond incrusted. You can now even have your Birkin custom painted, just like Kanye West had a Birkin painted by George Condo for his then-fiancée Kim Kardashian.

Boasting its famous twist-lock fastener and enough room inside for everything you wish to carry, this Birkin 35 tote bag from Hermès is for those with a refined fashion palateBoasting its famous twist-lock fastener and enough room inside for everything you wish to carry, this Birkin 35 tote bag from Hermès is for those with a refined fashion palate

Each Birkin comes with its own lock and keys, which hide in a leather holder that is called a ‘clochette’, which is looped around the handle.

The main difference between the Kelly and the Birkin is the handles, the former has one while the latter has two. The Kelly also comes with a detachable shoulder strap.

While the Kelly is Hermes’ ladylike bag, the Birkin is its playful younger sisters. It’s a bag that looks better with age and is considered to be more carefree than the Kelly. Hermes offers a ‘spa’ service for bags that have aged over time to have them reconditioned.

Although the Birkin came decades after the Kelly, it’s become the symbol for the Hermes brand. No other bag is known by its name or as recognizable as the Birkin.

It’s become a pop culture reference and a way of showing the world that you have ‘made it’. As Samantha Jones once said in Sex and the City, “it’s not a bag, it’s a Birkin”.

Credit: WENN / Will Alexander

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