How Was the Birkin Handbag Created?

Birkin bags are considered as the pinnacle of luxury when it comes to fashion. Several notable cultural and economic sources say that Birkin handbags are an even better investment than gold and less risky than stocks. It’s because the value of a Birkin bag increases each year. According to Invaluable, the Birkin bag’s average annual return is 14.2% for bags made between 1980 and 2015. And the prices on the secondary market can be around 50% above the retail price.

The most expensive Hermès Birkin bag was the 2014 Himalayan crocodile Birkin, which sold for $432,000. It has matte white crocodile skin, diamond-encrusted, 18-karat gold buckles, and strap loops. The bag itself is made of the Nilo crocodile, rendered in a subtle coloration that is meant to reflect the colors of the Himalayan mountains. The dyeing process to achieve the desired hue is painstaking and took many hours to complete. The bag itself features more than 200 diamonds for a total of 8.2 carats.

The Birkin bag became the symbol of wealth and exclusivity because of its high price and long waiting lists to buy one. It’s a popular item for handbag collectors, and it was once seen as the rarest handbags in the world.

History of the Birkin Bag

According to fashion lore, the idea for the Birkin bag came on a serendipitous plane ride from Paris to London when then-Hermès chief executive Jean-Louis Dumas was seated next to style icon Jane Birkin. Jane had just placed her straw bag in the overhead compartment of her seat. When the content of Jane’s straw tote spilled in the deck in front of Dumas, she scrambled to bring the contents back. Birkin explained to Dumas that it was hard for her to find a leather weekender bag that she liked. She expressed her grievances that designer handbags were never big enough to carry all the things that a young mom needs.

Dumas was immediately inspired to create a bag that would later become the Birkin. Dumas figured that Jane wasn’t the only one who encounters this problem, so he saw an opportunity to make something practical, unique, and fashionable. It was bigger than a Kelly bag yet smaller than a Serge’s suitcase.

In 1984, he created a black supple leather bag for her, calling it the Birkin bag. Based on a 1982 design, the first Birkin bag measured 35 cm. The tote construction of the bag had long handles, allowing the bag to be carried on the hands, wrist, or elbows. It came with the signature burnished flap that could be sealed using the attached lock and key so that the contents of the bag won’t spill out. It was large enough for travel, and the lock seals the bag to avoid spilling its contents on airplanes. Jane initially used the bag but later changed her mind because she was carrying too many things in it.

Nevertheless, the Birkin bag became a status symbol. Made from authentic and luxurious leather with saddle stitching, the Birkin was designed to be both fashionable and practical. It ushered a new chapter for Hermès as a brand, shifting it away from its more traditional and classic offerings to modern products that women wanted.

Hermès had a history of partnering with “it girls” to market their designs successfully. Another top-notch, bestseller bag from Hermès is the Kelly bag, naming it after the Princess of Monaco Grace Kelly. Placed next to the Kelly bag, the Birkin made the old Hermès look boxy, stuffy, and too ladylike.

However, the Birkin bag was not an immediate hit. It took another decade before Hermès’ most iconic bag would take its place as the ultimate, most coveted handbag. Since it was produced in a very limited number and was sighted on every major celebrity, the demand for the bag drove up and became the epitome of luxury.

While the first Birkin bag was priced at $2,000, today’s most basic version costs around $11,900. The value of the Birkin bag has increased by 14.2% each year. Time magazine even labeled the Hermès bag as a better investment than gold and less risky than stocks. If you want to invest in a Birkin bag, choose brightly colored ones, for they are the rarest and most valuable. Pink and purple versions of the Birkin fetch the highest prices.

Popular Birkin Bag Materials

As a designer brand, Hermès is known for its quality materials. Their leather is no exception. A few of the most popular leathers used for making Birkin bags include box calf, Clemence, alligator, Epsom, Togo, and ostrich leather.

  • Box calf – the oldest type of leather available. It’s a smooth type of leather, making scratches easy to see. It’s the type of leather initially used by the brand for the Kelly bags.
  • Clemence – comes from calf. It is scratch-resistant and offers a grainy, matte look.
  • Alligator – this material comes in either matte or lisse, which gives a shiny finish.
  • Epsom – another scratch-resistant material, but has finer grains than Clemence. It’s also easy to clean.
  • Togo – made from calf. It gives a soft, pebbled finish and is also scratch-resistant.
  • Ostrich – the most easily recognizable material due to the large pores protruding in the skin.

In July 2015, Jane Birkin asked Hermès to stop using her name for the crocodile version of the bag due to ethical concerns. PETA alleged that the crocodile farms supplying the hide to Hermès for manufacturing crammed their animals into barren concrete pits. They also reported that the alligators were shot with a captive bolt gun or cut while still conscious. The company responded by becoming even more strict with their ethical standards for the sourcing of materials.

Each Birkin bag is entirely handmade by an artisan. It takes at least 12 hours to make, but the time can be easily doubled depending on the unique features to be added to the bag.

If you’re interested in buying Birkin style handbags but not really willing to shell out a lot of cash for an authentic Birkin, check out these beautiful Hermès Birkin alternatives.