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The Amazing Story of The Iconic Birkin Bag

Featured image of Jane Birkin with Birkin handbag

Discover the complete story behind the Birkin Bag. How it became an iconic ladies handbag. Check out the list of expensive and rare Birkin Bags that collectors go crazy over!

In the ruthless world of fashion, Hermes is one of the few names that has lasted. And while other fashion brands have chased trends, Hermes has stayed true to its roots. Their refinement and unparalleled craftsmanship make them one of the most respected names in the industry. Their popular products include the Kelly, Constance, Scarf, Oran Sandals, and the iconic Birkin Bag.

So, what sets Hermes apart?

Hermes has always eschewed mass production, and every item is hand-made. In fact, every product is signed off by the Creative Director, Pierre-Alexis Dumas, before leaving the workshop. 

While other brands want to target younger customers, Hermes is more rooted in tradition. They are a family-run business that commands a strong emotional bond with its customers and boasts generations of saddlers.

Hermes ad showing a man stitching.

Hermes items are known for many things, one of which is craftsmanship. The brand’s product-centric approach makes them different from others. The Creative Director was quoted saying:

I think Hermès objects are desirable because they reconnect people to their humanity… Our customer feels the presence of the person who crafted the object, while at the same time, the object brings him back to his own sensitivity because it gives him pleasure through his senses.

The brand prides itself on its ability to bring a unique experience to each customer. After all, every product is custom-tailored and undergoes a lengthy quality check. The whole construction process is rigorously controlled and checked, leading to an immaculate item. When you buy a Hermes product, you are receiving something special.

An ad for Hermes Kelly bag with sketches of the demo.

Hermes has a vast catalogue of products ranging from saddlery to handbags. Their leather goods and saddlery category contribute to 50% of total sales. Within this segment, 25–30% of its total sales come from two ladies’ handbags: the Birkin Bag and Kelly Bag.

We will talk about the Birkin specific, its production process and variants. So, read on as we discover more about the Birkin Bag.

Story Behind The Iconic Birkin Bag

To learn about the bag, let’s talk about the Jane Birkin Bag story.

A photo of jane Birkin with her wicker basket leaning against the wall.

Jane Birkin, at the time, carried a large wicker basket around with her. In 1981, she onboarded a flight and found herself seated next to Jean-Louise Dumas, Chief Executive of Hermes, also the father of Pierre-Alexis Dumas. 

There are many variations to this story, but each one revolves around Jane dropping the contents of her bag — including her Hermes diary — onto the floor of the cabin. 

Dumas suggested that Jane Birkin buy a bag with pockets.

She lamented the lack of practical and stylish options available for ladies’ handbags. So, she remarked that: the day Hermes made a large enough bag suitable to carry women’s belongings, she would give up her basket bag. 

An animated illustration of the Birkin bag.

Dumas took the request wholeheartedly and got an aeroplane sick bag. The two sat down to sketch the design for the now-famous Birkin.

5 Iconic Birkin Bags and Their Price Tags

  • Himalaya Birkin 
Himalaya birkin with grey and white tones

It is the rarest and most iconic Birkin bag. In fact, it is considered the Holy Grail of ladies’ handbags. It is made from matte Nilo crocodile leather, rendered in a subtle colouration that evokes the images of the snowy peaks of the Himalayas. The dyeing is a painstaking process and takes many hours to complete. It comes with or without diamonds.

The variant with diamonds is called the Diamond Himalaya Birkin. Its colour pairs well with the 18-karat white gold hardware studded with hundreds of white diamonds. Last year, Sotheby’s sold a Diamond Himalaya Birkin 30 for over $450,000 USD. 

  • Diamond Birkin
Diamond birkin with grey and white tones

It is a favourite among Hermes fans. It is the sister of the Diamond Birkin Himalayan and only differs in the treatment of the exotic skin. These bags come in a range of colours including pink, red-brown, black, and many other choices. These range from $190,000 USD to $260,000 USD based on colour and size. This is the most expensive Birkin Bag out there.

  • Sac Birkin Faubourg
Sac Birkin Faubourg showing the storefront designed on the face of the bag.

This Birkin was released in 2019 and is one of the most sought-after limited edition Birkin bags. It was created as a homage to the Hermes storefront on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore in Paris. This tiny 20-centimetre Birkin comes in various colours and can cost around $200,000-$300,000. Definitely an iconic Birkin bag!

  • Birkin So Black
Birkin so black with black hardware

Introduced in 2010, it is a limited-edition version of the Birkin Bag. It has an all-black profile along with leather, hardware, and stitching. The hardware is coated in black which gives it an edgy and modern look intended to match the theme. This iconic Birkin bag can fetch some extremely high prices in secondary markets. 

Construction of The Iconic Birkin Bag

So why are Birkin Bags so expensive?

The process of building a Hermes Birkin Bag from the ground up is a complex and painstaking task. That’s one of the reasons why it is so valuable. Here are the steps that go into making one:

  • Leather Selection

Craftspeople select exotic skins and the leather must be free from any imperfections.

  • Cutting & Stitching

The pieces are cut out by hand. Their edges are bevelled and polished. Then, stitched together using a saddle stitch.

  • Assembly

It is assembled and shaped using special tools and moulds. 

  • Finishing 

Other metal hardware is added, including the lock, key, and other metal details. The bag is lined with high-quality leather or other materials, and the edges are finished with a painted-on burnished edge.

  • Quality Control

Each handbag is checked for any defects. This last step includes Pierre Alexis-Dumas signing off on every product leaving the workshop.

The Birkin Bags Many Shades and Skins

Hermes ladies’ handbags have an exclusive range of exotic skins and leather that they use for their pieces. Sourced from locations such as Zimbabwe and Australia, Hermes uses only the finest material to create their handbags. 

Here is a quick look into the exotic skins they use:

  • Crocodile
Niloticus crocodile skin Birkin bag with metallic green hue

It is one of the most popular exotic skins as it is vibrant and a complete standout. The large scales are instantly recognizable, making them an object of immense value. It is also particularly durable but it must be kept away from water. 

Hermes crocodile handbags come in two styles: porosus and niloticus. The difference is that niloticus has larger scales while the porosus skin has fine and symmetrical scaling. Remember the iconic Birkin Bag- the Himalaya Birkin- was made from matt niloticus crocodile skin with palladium hardware.

  • Alligator
Alligator skin Birkin bag with beige color.

Another luxury skin that Hermes uses is alligator. Alligator is often sourced from Florida in the United States, and their scales are more patterned than crocodile. Alligator pieces also come in both matt and shiny varieties. 

  • Lizard
A lizard Birkin bag with metallic red color

It is one of Hermes’ most delicate skins, and it requires a lot of special attention to avoid drying and peeling. Thus, it needs to be kept at a suitable temperature. Since the African monitor lizards are small, these skins are used for smaller handbags.

  • Ostrich
Ostrich Birkin bag with polka dots.

This skin is recognizable by its multiple pores giving it a suave polka dot look that expresses femininity and is a favourite among luxury crowds. This is definitely material for an iconic Birkin bag.

Now, here’s a complete look at their range of leather options:

  • Tadelakt
A tadelakt Birkin bag with bubblegum pink color

It has a smooth and soft finish to it. It is a grain-less leather with a slightly matte finish.

  • Box Leather
A brown Birkin Bag made from box leather.

This leather is very hard to come by and a rare find in the resale market. It will have a hefty price tag if you come across one. 

Its beautiful silk-like appearance makes it highly sought after. Box leather is grainless and has a sheen. It is one of the first leathers, Hermes ever produced.

  • Epsom Leather
A purple Birkin bag made from Epsom leather.

This leather is very flat and light due to the compression process it goes through. Also, it is one of the cheaper leathers among Hermes’ options. It has more structure to it also like a box and Tadelakt, but it is also one of the most delicate leathers. These bags hold their shape really well and maintain their structure.

  • Chevre Leather
A grey Birkin bag made from Chevre leather.

This leather is made from goat skin, which typically showcases a line through the middle of the leather piece. This mark is because the skin has sat on the animal’s spine. Chevre has a slight shine to it and absorbs colour readily. 

Therefore, it depicts the most saturated and flawless colourful pieces. It should be your choice if you are going for a brighter tone. The leather is grainy and flexible, leading to fewer scratches.

  • Clemence Leather
A raisin colored Birkin bag made from clemence leather.

It is known for its larger grain and softer feel. Such bags are usually less structured and have a more relaxed chic to them. This leather is more flexible and floppier, which some people prefer to the more structured look of the other leathers. 

It is a very durable leather because it is quite resistant to scratches against hard surfaces. As a result, maintaining is less hectic.

  • Togo Leather
A lemon yellow Birkin bag made from Togo leather.

It has a grainy effect similar to Clemence, but its markings are slightly smaller and the leather showcases some veins throughout. 

Togo leather keeps its shape very well, even for large-sized bags. This leather is high in demand among Hermes customers.

  • Swift Leather
A Birkin bag made from Swift leather.

This leather is one of the flexible leathers, meaning it is more resistant to scratching. But its grain-less texture leads to scratches showing up readily. It is a comfortable leather to use and wear. Also, it absorbs colours really well.

What is The Legacy of The Birkin Bag?

The legacy of the Birkin bag with jane Birkin holding her bag.

The beauty of the Birkin bag is that while it is an exclusive item, it offers a lot of utility. Also, it is a chic bag with a lot of history tied to it with an undercurrent of deep cultural legacy. The construction of this bag is a meticulous process. With the finest material sourced for the Birkin bag, it is a great bag for investors. 

From top-to-bottom, the Birkin bag showcases quality craftsmanship and rigorous standards for perfection. With its wide range of leather and skin options, it covers the tastes of a large section of women but is also a one-of-a-kind piece. While the Birkin is not among the choices for everyday ladies’ handbags, the process followed for building one can be immensely useful to exist handbag vendors.

The complete dedication towards building the consummate product is something any designer can learn from. Also, the Birkin Bag has pretty much stayed the same throughout its illustrious history. When you look at the handbag some standout features are making it easy to describe it.

Hermes calls it a supple and spacious rectangular holdall with a burnished flap and saddle stitching. This line beautifully sums up the traits of this bag. It can hold a lot of items and also has an unmistakable aesthetic to it. 

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