As the story goes, Hermes chief executive, Jean-Louis Dumas was sitting next to Jane Birkin on a flight from Paris to London in 1981. She was carrying a straw travel tote and as she was placing the bag in the overhead compartment, the contents fell everywhere leaving her to replace them back in the bag in a frenzied manner. She then was said to have explained to Dumas that it had been difficult to find a leather weekender that she could admire. In 1984, the Birkin bag was created in her honor (the original designs were sketched in 1982). It was said that she was a fan of the bag originally and then changed her mind because of the size and inevitable weightiness. Nevertheless, since then the bag has become a status symbol for the wealthy and distinguished.
Each Birkin bag is handmade in France by expert artisans. They are hand stitched, buffed, painted and polished taking several days to complete. The average Birkin is created in 48 hours. The bags come in a variety of hides including calf leather, lizard, ostrich and most costly, the saltwater crocodile. Each bag is lined with goat skin. Prices range on the bag anywhere from $11,550 to $150,000 retail. Costs escalate by the type of leather or skin used. Bags are distributed to Hermes boutiques on unpredictable schedules and in limited quantities creating exclusivity and artificial scarcity.
According to an estimate from 2014, Hermes produced 70,000 bags within that year. As the bag is highly coveted, for several years there was a reputed lengthy waiting list. And as a result of the strong demand there is a high resale value in many countries, most notoriously in Asia. The Birkin is a strong social status symbol, instantly recognizable and always worth it.
“My mother was right: When you’ve got nothing left, all you can do is get into silk underwear and start reading Proust.”