Since its creation in 1984, the Hermès Birkin has gradually become the most exclusive bag in the world, propelling the French luxury brand to its elite status in the fashion world today. Though not an immediate hit, the bag grew in popularity throughout the ’90s to become more coveted than any other handbag in history.
It all began with the product of a chance meeting between Hermès CEO Jean-Louis Dumas and actress Jane Birkin on a flight from London to Paris in 1983. Birkin’s preferred travel bag of choice at the time wasn’t ideal for travel, and her need for a good quality medium-sized leather weekend bag sparked Dumas to create the popular handbag named after her. Since then, it has become synonymous with both timeless style and extravagance.
The world has established the status of the bag, but what makes it so much more desirable than other iconic designer creations? The answer is simple — it is the only bag that can be worn (or sat in the closet) and still increase in value as years go by. We explore the reasons why there is much more to the Birkin than meets the eye.
What’s the big deal?
So scarce is the bag that there is no longer even a formal waiting list — instead a long-standing relationship with an Hermès sales associate is the requirement to obtain a new one. Each store manager worldwide is responsible for buying for their own store. Seasonal orders for the bag are placed twice a year, which are generally received 6 to 12 months later.
Why then, has the bag surpassed all others to become the last name in ultra-luxury? Firstly, consider the craftsmanship involved — each bag takes between 18 and 25 hours to complete by hand, with delicate materials such as crocodile skin taking even longer. A bag is constructed by a single artisan craftsman, who must train for three to four years before they are even able to touch the hide. The quality of the materials also sets the bag apart, with the lining inside being made of the same leather used for the outside – unlike other luxury designer collections. And, with a lifetime repair guarantee, the bag truly becomes an heirloom to pass down to future generations.
What’s the bottom line?
The limited supply of bags and difficulty in obtaining one has only served to drive the demand, and consequently price, higher. The list price for a new bag starts at around the US$7,000 mark — a figure that increases year on year.
However, the resale market has grown enormously, especially by those who have been turned away by Hermès or are unwilling to endure the wait. Despite the downward trends in the retail sector over recent years, the ultra-luxury market is still booming — with Hermès secured firmly at the forefront, and the Birkin leading the pack.
This has surged up the demand (and as we all know from economics, the price) of the rare and exclusive Birkin. Throughout the years, it has never dropped in value, only increased, even during times of economic downturn and recession.
What are the returns?
Recent high-profile sales of the bag have ensured that the value continues to skyrocket. The European record for the most expensive bag sold at an auction was set two years in a row at Christie’s auction house by two Birkin bags. Special mention goes to the most expensive of these which was the matte white Himalaya Niloticus crocodile diamond Birkin, sold in Hong Kong in 2017 for HK$379,261.
The numbers back up these trends. Birkins provided a better return on investment than both gold and the S&P 500 during the last 35 years. The annual return on a Birkin was 14.2%, while the S&P 500 average was around 8.7% and gold trailed behind on 1.5%.
How can I become an owner?
As mentioned, it’s partly luck and partly the relationship you share with the brand. With luck on your side, you may be able to acquire a Birkin. No, you aren’t able to select which size, which hide, or which colour — you are given a chance in store, and it’s a take it or leave it transaction. If the hassle of building such network with the French maison isn’t appealing, the most efficient and secure route would be to purchase at an auction house in Hong Kong.