Tale of an Icon: The Birkin Bag

For many the colour orange has come to epitomise luxury and iconic designs thanks to Hermès’s striking packaging. The iconic brand initially began crafting fine leather saddles and equine accessories, opening their first shop in Paris in 1837. It wasn’t until almost 100 years later Hermès began to craft luxury handbags – their first being designed in 1922. To this day, Hermès still facilitate traditional manufacturing methods to ensure that their goods remain of the highest quality. All bags are constructed by a single artisan and take approximately a week to create, totalling 48 hours working into a single handbag.

One of their most iconic designs is the Birkin Bag. The bag design came to life nearly 40 years ago when the then chief executive of Hermès, Jean-Louis Dumas, met Jane Birkin on a short airplane flight. During which Jane’s belongings spilt from her bag, scattering about the floor of the plane, causing her to complain that ‘bags never have enough pockets.’ Luckily for her, Dumas was there to design a bag that would suit the needs of the mum of two. Birkin, an actress and singer famous for her outrageously erogenous song Je t’aime, became renowned for her Parisian style and unique straw tote bag, which had unexpectedly been run over and destroyed by her husband two nights before the fortuitous flight. Four years later the Birkin bag was officially created from the design sketched on the back of an airplane sick bag.

Jane Birkin. Deauville. 12 September 1985.

Jane Birkin. Deauville. 12 September 1985.

Initially, in exchange for the use of her name Jane accepted a free bag, but because she uses a single Birkin until it is no longer wearable, she now receives an annual payment that is donated to charities of her choice – which has been estimated at £30,000. Jane loves to auction her old Birkin’s for charity, many of which are personalized in keeping with her free spirited French style.

The Birkin bag may be a mark of style and status in today’s culture, but the bag was not an overnight success. At the time Chanel dominated the luxury bag market with their iconic designs, including the 2.55 flap bag. Hermès’ collaboration with Birkin didn’t make icon status until the mid to late 1990s, when the ‘it-bag’ era truly began, and until then the only exposure the bag received in Vogue was an Hermès advertisement. Following an episode of Sex and the City, in which Samantha Jones uses a celebrity client’s name to skin the ‘five year’ waiting list, the Birkin’s actual waiting list tripled in length.

In order to keep their exclusivity, Hermès tightly control the attainability of their luxury goods by refusing to release the actual amount of Birkin bags that they produce each year. This has helped to elevate the brand to iconic status and allow them to be a dominant figure in the luxury market. According to a recent study the value of the Birkin bag increases by roughly 14.2 percent each year, making them a better investment than stocks or gold.

Let us know if you’ve ever fantasied about owning a Birkin bag, and what your favourite iconic bags are.

Text: Sophia Watson

Images: Moonik, Wen-Cheng Liu, Roland Godefroy, Hermes Bags for You

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