The famous bag’s origin story is even weirder than most people know
The Hermès Birkin is the most iconic and sought-after handbag in the world (even if you don’t like it, it’d be hard to argue otherwise), and that means most fashion lovers have already absorbed a lot of information about how it was conceived, how it’s made and how hard it is to get one. There’s always more to the story, though, even for those of us who spend many of our waking hours thinking, talking, reading and writing about luxury bags.
Below, we’ve unearthed some fun facts that are likely known only to the most ardent of Hermès lovers. Even if you fit that description, check it out–you never know when you might learn something.
[This post was originally published in 2016]
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1. It all happened because Jane Birkin’s husband purposefully ran over her signature basket.
The 1981 story of Jane Birkin sitting next to Hermès CEO Jean-Louis Dumas on an airplane and all her things falling out of her bag is by now the stuff of well-known fashion legend, but the detail about why she was carrying that bag often gets left out. In 2012, Birkin told the London Telegraph that it was because her husband, Jacques Doillon, had gotten in his car and deliberately run over the woven basket she usually carried two days prior. I guess jerk husbands are good for something after all.
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2. The original Birkin design was sketched on a barf bag.
I guess that’s what happens when an idea is born on an airplane.
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3. Jane Birkin only uses one of the bags at a time; she’s on her fifth.
Although the Birkin became a symbol of old school, old money wealth for women who collect them like coins or postage stamps, the woman it was named after has an entirely different view on the bag. Jane uses a single Birkin in a neutral color until it is wrecked; only then does she get a new one and auction the used bag for charity. While in her possession, she decorates the bags with patches, charms and other personalizations to make the bag less formal and “snobbish” (her word) and more in line with her very casual French style.
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4. Hermès gives Jane Birkin a nominal royalty for the use of her name per year, which then goes to charity.
Originally, Birkin accepted a free bag in exchange for the use of her name. Although she’s still not a paid ambassador or face of Hermès, the brand does now give her an annual payment for use of her name, which she donates to charities of her choice. In 2012, the Telegraph reported that amount at £30,000.
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5. Birkins have been made in more than 20 shades of blue alone.
When you envision a Birkin, your mind might go directly to the bag’s popular neutrals, but the bag has been made in a veritable rainbow of colors. According to the BBC, in the 31 years since its debut, the bag has been produced in at least 25 distinct blues, including popular classics like Blue Jean, Mykonos and Bleu Roi.
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6. A Birkin takes 48 work hours for one artisan to make.
All Hermès bags, not just Birkins, are constructed by a single artisan in one of Hermès’s ateliers; it’s a more traditional approach to manufacturing than the one used by most brands, which have different people to work on different aspects of handbag construction. And although “48 hours” may sound like just two days, that’s 48 work hours–more than a week for a single bag on a regular full-time schedule.
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7. Each Hermès artisan has a personal set of tools.
Because of the range and depth of skill needed to work at Hermès and the personalized nature of its handbag manufacturing, the brand’s artisans don’t use just any ol’ tools when they arrive at the shop in the morning. According to the Telegraph, every artisan employed by the brand has his or her own set of tools, which the person takes with them when they retire. A little bit different situation than you and the pens at your office, eh?
The Kelly tote has only as glamorous a tale behind it. Originally made as a saddle-bag in about 1892, it is named after the movie star Grace Kelly, wife of Prince Rainier of Monaco, because she fell in love with one used as a prop during filming of Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief.She set the large bag to good use in 1956, when, not yet ready to announce her pregnancy, she kept up one to hide her emerging baby bump from the paparazzi. A movie found itself on the cover of Life magazine. With that, the bag was immediately synonymous with Grace and it had been re-named the Kelly.The Hermes website boasts: ‘A Kelly is a rare and precious thing’ and a week, a spokesman for the company stressed that the number of luggage it can create is limited because only a small number of craftsmen have the necessary abilities to make them.They pointed out a single employee takes 18 to 25 hours to make each Kelly bag by hand, while the Birkin takes much longer, saying: ‘Our production remains highly determined by the know-how of our artisans.’
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8. The most expensive Birkin ever auctioned cost almost a quarter million dollars.
The bag in question is made of fuchsia porosus crocodile with diamond-encrusted, 18k white gold hardware. It was sold to a phone bidder at a Christie’s auction in Hong Kong for $221,844 in June 2015, according to the Wall Street Journal.
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9. Birkins are a little more available than you think.
Tales abound of interminable wait lists and customers who buy other Hermès products in hopes of building a relationship with a sales associate at a boutique and being offered a bag, but sometimes you can walk right into a store for the first time, ask nicely and get lucky. (Megs did!)
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10. The name of the elusive “Himalayan” Birkin refers to a color, not an origin.
You could probably have figured this one out if you thought through it, but a surprising number of people think the name of the super-rare, extremely covetable Hermès Himalayan Crocodile Birkin is somehow tied to the origin of the crocodiles from which it’s made. Crocodiles tend to like warm weather, though, and the Himalayans are, uh, quite cold. Instead, the name refers to the bag’s unique colorway; it’s said to look something like a snow-topped mountain. Judge the one below for yourself.