Handbags - Buying Guides

Fashion history: The iconic Hermès Birkin

In all of fashion history, there may never be an accessory as coveted as the iconic Birkin bag by Hermès.

Ever since its release in the 80s, the Birkin bag has caught the gleaming eye of many tipping over their savings to get their hands on one of their rare bags. On Wednesday afternoon, 13th December, Christie’s sold an exceptionally rare 2005 metallic bronze Hermès Birkin bag for 100,000 euros, naturally the most expensive lot of them all. But just what makes the Birkin bag the most sought-after bag out there? Let us divulge into the beginnings of Hermès and how the Birkin bag came to fruition.

An introduction to Hermès

Hermès was founded by Thierry Hermès in 1837, specialising in many luxurious goods such as leather, watches, jewellery and home furnishings. The company originally began as a harness workshop in the Grands Boulevard quarter of Paris. The workshop produced high-quality wrought harnesses and bridles for carriages, raking in several awards for its craftsmanship. Eventually, the first leather handbags were introduced in 1922 after Emile-Maurice, the then owner of the company and grandson of Thierry Hermès, heard complaints from his wife that she could not find a bag of appropriate size. The bag was a smaller version of the ‘Haut a Courroies’, designed by Emile-Maurice himself. However, in 1935, Hermès launched one of their most notable goods, the Sac à Dépêches bag. Designed by Robert Dumas, the bag was worn by the Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly, who famously used the bag to shield her early pregnancy bump from paparazzi. The image made it onto the cover of Life magazine and put the Sac à Dépêches firmly in the public eye. The effect was so great that Hermès renamed the bag the Kelly in her honour.

The iconic Birkin bag

Whilst the Kelly bag brought Hermès into the spotlight, the bag that still continues to make headlines is their iconic Birkin bag, which like the Kelly, takes its name from a famous actress. French English actress Jane Birkin is known for her 10-year musical collaboration with Serge Gainsbourg, who she co-starred beside in the satirical romantic drama, Slogan. Born in London, Jane began her career in small roles in films such as Blowup (1966, Michelangelo Antonioni) and Kaleidoscope (1966). She was known for her classic but rock chick style in the 60s and was seen as a style icon for many during that era.

A chance encounter saw the creation, of the now iconic, Birkin bag named after Jane Birkin herself.

The iconic Hermès Birkin

Birkin eventually progressed into independent cinema in the 80s. It was around this time when she met Jean-Louis Dumas, the chief executive of Hermès at the time. The chance encounter occurred in 1983 on an Air France flight between Paris and London. The two creatives were sat next to each other on the plane when the contents of Birkin’s bag spilled out, sending scraps of papers flying from her diary. Dumas kindly helped her and after, Birkin voiced that no bag has been able to suit her needs thus far. After introducing himself, Dumas promised Birkin that he will create her the perfect weekend bag and after taking a few notes,  left the plane with a sketch. They later met up at the workshop in Paris, where craftsmen began their work. The bag finally came to life in 1983 and it only made sense to name it after Jane Birkin herself!    

The iconic Hermès Birkin

Jane Birkin sitting alongside her namesake handbag, of which she now only owns one after a charity auction.

Since the bag’s inception in the 80s, its production has been highly limited to maintain its unattainable aura. In fact, Hermès have been taking extra measures in scaling back production each year. The bag itself is a true status symbol amongst the elite, as it is a favourite amongst celebs like Kim Kardashian, Victoria Beckham and Kate Moss. Celebrities have been criticised in the past for using their Birkins to store baby nappies and using them as gym bags; whilst the usage of the bag is debatable, it is clear that the bag is the perfect mix of utilitarian and chic.

The Birkin officially made its foot through the pop culture door after starring as the lead role in an episode of Sex and the City in 2001. In the episode, Samantha uses one of her celeb client’s names in order to skip the 5-year waiting list. The writers for the episode weren’t far off when penning the script, as it is reported that you may wait as long as six years to get your hands on a Birkin bag. The long waiting list is perhaps due to the amount of meticulous craftsmanship taken in creating a single bag - it is rumoured to take around 48 hours to make one Birkin bag by hand, by just one atelier.

The iconic Hermès Birkin
The Hermès Black Porosus Crocodile Leather Birkin

A study conducted by Baghunter in 2016 noted that in the past 35 years the Birkin bag has been a smarter investment choice than stocks and gold, as the bag’s value has risen by 14.2 percent and has never fluctuated downwards. The Birkin bag broke records earlier this year when a white Himalayan Niloticus crocodile diamond Birkin bag, encrusted with 245 diamonds, sold to an anonymous buyer in Hong Kong for £208,175, making it the most expensive handbag ever sold at an auction. Crocodile is the most in-demand exotic skin for Hermès due to its unique and eye-catching aesthetic. 

Whether you’re considering taking a serious investment leap or are itching to get your hands on a piece of iconic fashion history, we currently stock a rare, gorgeous Black Box Calf Leather So Black Birkin bag in overall very good pre-owned condition. The effortlessly chic monochromatic colour palette on this makes it the perfect bag for any weekend away, great for pairing with any outfit. If you would prefer a pop of colour, opt for our Blue Paon Leather Birkin in excellent pre-owned condition. If Hermès’ use of plush exotic leather has enticed you enough, we currently hold a gorgeous Black Porosus Crocodile Leather Birkin from 2005, it is paired with gold hardware.

The iconic Hermès Birkin

You can also browse our complete collection of pre-loved Hermès handbags including Birkins, Kellys, Kelly Danse and more, online at Xupes now.