Everything You Need and Want to Know
Thierry Hermes opened his first shop in Paris, ironically during the same year that Charles Lewis Tiffany opened the New York based Tiffany & Co. in 1837. Hermes started out specializing in horse harnesses and saddles. During that time there were no handbags to covet, however there was still a wait list. Only it was for horse carriages and accessories. Just as today, the Hermes brand was considered a status symbol.
Over the course of 6 generations, Hermes has been a family run company, only allowing a small portion to be sold publicly. In 1978, Jean Louis Dumas took over as CEO when his father Robert Dumas, the great grandson of Thierry Hermes, died in 1978. It was Jean Louis who created the Birkin Bag after sitting next to actress and singer, Jane Birkin on a plane in 1981 as she fumbled with her straw bag in the overhead compartment. During that flight from Paris to London, Birkin explained that she'd had trouble finding that perfect bag.
A few years later in 1984, the Birkin Bag was actually produced and given to Jane. While she did use it for a while, Jane complained of it being too heavy when all of her things were in it. Little did she know, that infamous black bag created with her in mind would be the most sought after handbag in the world.
You may have seen or heard of the Kelly bag, which of course was renamed in 1956 after the iconic Grace Kelly. While the Birkin and Kelly look similar from afar, they are two totally different bags. The easiest way to tell the difference right off is the handles. The Kelly has one handle while the Birkin has two. Some skeptics and analyst believe that the bag is too saturated into mainstream and is losing its appeal and the Kelly is taking it's place. The Birkin still is and always will be a status symbol whether people want to acknowledge it or not.
The way that Hermes has been countering those claims of the skeptics is by restructuring their policy for obtaining a Birkin. While Jean Louis Dumas retired in 2007, ironically he passed away in 2010; the same year that the "Wait-List" was dissolved. Well not really or did it ever really exist? To this day, there are many items that are not kept in stock that you’ll have to “WAIT” for. Which means you're placed on your sales associate's list for that item.
Saving up to get a Birkin is the easy part of actually getting your hands on one. Even though the process has lightened over the past few years, there’s still very much a science behind getting one into your closet. As apart of the new policy, you are strongly encouraged to shop with one associate and at one store to show your loyalty. After you’ve made a few other non-Birkin purchases, you may then qualify to receive a Birkin… Which will run you anywhere between $9,000 and $150,000+ depending on size, skin and materials you request.
There is one unknown way to getting your hands on a Birkin without waiting. Walk into an Hermes store and DO NOT ask for a Birkin right off, but instead purchase 2 or 3 thousand dollars worth of other Hermes products and THEN nonchalantly ask if any Birkins are available in stock. It’s not guaranteed that there will be any available, but your odds increase by almost 100%. Worst case scenario, you will have already met the requirements of their policy and should be receiving a phone call from your sales associate informing you that your bag is in. You may ask, “Why would I spend an extra 2 or 3 grand just to get a Birkin?” Well if you plan on skipping the shenanigans and going to the internet or visiting a “vintage” store, you’re still often times going to pay more than the retail price for a gently used to perfect condition bag. Not to mention the chance of being scammed.
Places over in Asia and Italy have managed to make some unbelievable knock offs that can fool just about any ordinary eye. The main thing to look for when trying to identify a knockoff is the quality of leather or skin. Hermes has access and first right of refusal to the best and most perfect skins available anywhere in the world. Only 2% of the skins they see actually pass inspection. The stitching is a dead giveaway. Hermes hand stitches every bag while knock offs are usually 100% of the time machine stitched which leaves room for noticeable errors. The other thing is the stamp. Hermes has it’s own letter font and often times the stamp is poorly recreated. The lining is a very telling part of the masterpiece. Every single bag that leaves an Hermes workroom is flawless all the way down to every stitch in the lining. Most of the lower end (non exotic skin) Birkins have a leather lining and not a linen one. Some of the crocs have a linen lining upon request because the bag is pretty heavy with a croc lining.
Did you know it takes anywhere between 18-25 hours for one Birkin to be crafted? Only the master artisans are allowed to produce them from start to finish. Less than 10 bags are made per week in the workrooms. Depending on the actual number of workrooms, that’s how few Birkins are supplied per week to all 283 stores!
Fun Fact: The renowned controversial designer that took Madonna’s fashion game to new heights, Mr. Jean Paul Gaultier, is even tied to the House of Hermes. He was asked to join the company in 2003 to head up their ready to wear line.