What fits your personal belongings and can cost a full year’s salary — or two, or three? In the 1990s, you might have said “a house,” but today a valid answer could also be a Hermès Birkin bag, the capacious saddle-stitched status symbol that has become A-Listers’ accessory of choice.
Though Birkins have often been seen on the arms of celebrities and the fashion industry’s elite, the bag’s reputation is undoubtedly one of an elusive luxury staple: It’s not sold online, Hermès is intentionally hush-hush about its availability, and it often makes headlines for price tags reaching the tens — or even hundreds — of thousands of dollars.
Jane Birkin, the actor and singer who famously inspired the coveted bag, died last weekend aged 76 after a nearly six-decade-long career during which she, despite her British background, became the It-girl for Parisian style.
In 2020, Birkin told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that after the bag’s fame skyrocketed, she wondered whether it might — rather than her movies or hit song “Je T’aime… Moi Non Plus” — become what she was best remembered for. “Bless me, when I’m dead… (people) will possibly only talk about the bag,” she joked.
How did Jane Birkin inspire the Birkin bag?
The Birkin’s unmistakable silhouette — a wide, flat bottom, flap enclosure and handles — was born from the actor’s need, as a mother of three, for a spacious bag. On a flight in 1984, Birkin found herself seated next to Hermès’ then-chairman Jean-Louis Dumas; they struck up a conversation in which she said she wanted a bag “half the size of my suitcase,” she recounted to Amanpour.
“He said, ‘Well, draw it for me,’ and so I drew It one of those sick bags — the vomit bags — in the airplane,” Birkin said. After Hermès produced the bag, Dumas offered to name it after her; she reportedly donated the royalties each year to charities.
The actor was often photographed with her namesake bag, but she famously only used one at a time, preferring to wear them out over the course of years rather than keeping them pristine.
Who buys Birkins?
Over the years, the handbag’s exclusive reputation has lent it a sense of mystique and grandeur (in a 2001 episode of “Sex and the City,” Samantha used a famous client’s name to skirt a five-year waitlist), but has made its designs obvious collectibles for celebrities. Beyoncé has sung about Birkins in storage, Drake collects them for his future life partner, and known collector Cardi B recently posted a photo of her daughter celebrating her 5th birthday with a classic matching pink bag. During Kanye West and Julia Fox’s headline-grabbing relationship speed run in early 2022, West reportedly bought Fox and her friends multiple Birkins. “I don’t know if you know about owning a Birkin when you’re not a rich person, but it’s like the most anxiety-inducing thing ever,” Fox said in an interview with People magazine. “You’re checking on the Birkin, making sure it’s still there, that it didn’t magically grow wings. It’s scary to have a Birkin. It’s a lot of pressure.”
Why are Birkins so expensive?
A 2022 report from Credit Suisse and Deloitte disclosed that Birkin sales spiked 38% in 2020, as luxury collectibles soared in value during the Covid-19 pandemic, and resellers reported record premiums in 2021. That November, Christie’s sold a crocodile-skin version for nearly $390,000, the second-highest price ever paid for a handbag at auction at the time, topped only by an Hermés Kelly bag (named after Grace Kelly) at $437,000.