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HISTORY OF THE BIRKIN BAG
The Birkin Bag is perhaps the most coveted product in HERMES’ history, but its success came about 167 years after HERMES was founded and 19 years after it was introduced to the market (in 1984). Hermes has been in business since 1835 and the Birkin bag became a fashion and status icon in 2002. ( Click here for the full history of Hermes ).
The Birkin Bag was named after an English-French singer and actress famous during the 60s to 90s named Jane Birkin.
Several stories circulate as to how this happened but the name of the bag originates from a chance encounter between her and the then CEO and director of Hermes, Jean-Louis Dumas (the great grandson of Hermes’ founder Thierry Hermes Jr.). This happened in 1983 according to Hermes’ website, (although some places cite this as happening in 1981), Jane Birkin was supposedly a coach passenger on a flight from Paris to London, she was promoted to first class and while she was trying to place her whicker bag inside the overhead compartment the contents of her bag flew all over the place and one of the passengers in first class helped her gather the contents to put them back in the bag, that person was Jean–Louis Dumas, after the incident they got to talk during the flight about how she could never find a bag that fit her needs and that is why she was forced to carry with her that whicker bag. She explained how she thought there should be a bag with compartments, very large in size and capacity and the design should be elegant but at the same time versatile so it could be used during the day as well as for the evening.
With her ideas it is said Jean-Louis Dumas took notes and even drew a sketch of what he thought would be a bag like she envisioned. The sketch was supposedly done in a barf bag from the airplane.
With the idea in mind Dumas went back to the workshop in Paris and worked on some versions, eventually he came up with what met all the criteria and gave a sample to Jane Birkin, it was a 40cm version of the bag, Jane Birkin’s ideal bag.
The bag was introduced to the market in 1984 but it was not an instant success.
Hermes was already well known for over a century for their high quality leather products. It was known among the elites worldwide as a top fashion accessories name and the “Kelly” bag, which had been by then on the market for almost 50 years, was already one of the most expensive handbags in the world. But sales of the Birkin and Hermes products where not so significant.
A popular TV show (Sex and The City) lifted the bag and Hermes to iconic fashion status worldwide.
By the 90s the bag was selling more but not at significant numbers, the claim to fame for the bag came in 2002 when it was featured in the TV show Sex and The City by the character Samantha Jones (played by Kim Cattral) saying the now famous phrase “It’s not a Bag, it’s a BIRKIN!”. In the conversation in that episode the character explains the high price of the bag ($4,000 at the time) and a five year waiting list, the other character in the dialog asks puzzled (referring to the price and waiting list) for a bag?, and the answer is it’s not a bag, it’s a Birkin, implying the bag is not a simple handbag but it is something far more special with almost a legendry status. That TV show turned that bag into the “it” bag for the rich fashionistas and for the past over 20 years ultra rich women have the Birkin Bag in their list of must have items, constantly filling the waiting list of Hermes boutiques worldwide.
The fact that there is regularly a waiting list of 5 to 6 years to get one and that the list includes some of the most famous and richest people in the world also helps make the bag the icon it is.
The huge popularity of the bag among the elites all over the world has made it far more expensive today and some limited editions fetch stratospherically high amounts of money. Some bags have now become fantastic investment instruments aside from being a favorite fashion accessory.
Although the bag is very hard to get directly from Hermes fortunately there is a very big market of pre-owned and even unworn bags. You can browse our Birkin gallery for a huge selection of Birkin bags from the best sources worldwide. We offer one of the most complete selections available online.
RELEVANT THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT BIRKIN BAGS
Through the years the bags have been offered in 4 different sizes: the Birkin 25, the Birkin 30, the Birkin 35 and the Birkin 40. There is also a limited edition Birkin 20 (Birkin Faubourg) and 2 larger Birkins that are not so common, the 42 (which is not a tall bag but a horizontal bag with long handles) and a Birkin 50.
The name comes from the width of the base of the bag measured in cm (25cm, 30cm, 35cm and 40cm).
There is a tall Birkin derived from the legendry “Haut-a-Courrroies” and it is called the HAC40. That bag is offered in regular and weekend version and it is used more as luggage, not as a daily use bag.
The most common materials used for Birkin bags are these leathers: Togo, Epsom, Clemence, Swift and Box Calf
This simple guide we have prepared will help you to distinguish the confusing terms used in Birkin bag names. Typically the name will have these elements: the size (it will be the number in the name), the stitching type (Retourne or Sellier), the leather used (see our leathers & materials chart below), the color (typically in French and Hermes colors) and the Hardware Material.
SIZES AND MATERIALS OF BIRKIN BAGS
Dimensions of Birkin bags
Dimensions: 10″ x 8″ x 5″ (25 x 20 x 13 cm)
Handle Drop: 3″ (7.62 cm)
Dimensions: 11.5″ x 9″ x 6″ (30 x 22 x 16 cm)
Handle Drop: 4 (10 cm)
Dimensions: 14″ x 10″ x 7″ (35 x 25 x 18 cm)
Handle Drop: 4″ (10 cm)
Dimensions: 16″ x 12″ x 8″ (40 x 30 x 21 cm)
Handle Drop: 4.5″ (11 cm)
Dimensions: 16.5″ x 9.5″ x 7″ (42 x 24 x 18 cm)
Handle Drop: 7″ (18 cm)
Dimensions: 17.7″ x 12.2″ x 7″ (45 x 31 x 18 cm)
Handle Drop: 4.7″ (12 cm)
Dimensions: 19″ x 17″ x 10.5″ (50 x 45 x 27 cm)
Handle Drop: 5″ (12.7 cm)
Birkin Bag Exterior Materials
- Barenia Fauborg
- Box Calf
- Buffalo Dalmatian
- Buffalo Gala
- Buffalo Sindhu
- Chevre de Coromandel
- Chevre Mysore
- Doblis Suede
- Grain d’H
- Peau Porc
- Taurillon Cristobal
- Taurillon Novillo
- Vache Hunter
- Vache Liegee
- Vache Trekking
- Veau Grain Lisse
- Hermes Lainage
- Herringbone Linen
- Toile Chevron
- Toile GM
- Toile H Canvas
- Toile Jean
- Toile Officier
- Toile So H
HOW TO DISTINGUISH REPTILE LEATHERS
Hermes uses a symbol system, look for the symbol next to the HERMES PARIS stamp above the clasp.
Reptile Leather Symbols
Niloticus Crocodile: look for ● ●
Porosus Crocodile: Look for ^
Alligator: Look for ☐
Varanus Niloticus Lizard ⚊
Varanus Salvator Lizard ⚌
Hermes uses a very limited number of possible hardware finishes. Here is a chart.
PALLADIUM: Polished Palladium Plated finish, often called “Silver”
GOLD: Polished 18K Yellow Gold Plated finish
ROSE GOLD: Polished Rose Gold Plated finish
BRUSHED PALLADIUM: Brushed Palladium Plated finish, often called “Brushed Silver”
BRUSHED GOLD: Brushed 18K Yellow Gold Plated finish, often called “Brushed Silver”
PERMABRASS: Mix of Palladium and Yellow Gold Plating finish, a darker gold color than yellow
RUTHENIUM: Ruthenium is the rarest metal on earth, it has a darker gunmetal grey tone used in more exotic versions of the bag
PVD: A coating used for colored satin finishes in metals, used in black hardware
LACQUERED: Paint on top of the metal
BIRKIN BAG SPECIAL EDITIONS
SPECIAL ORDER / CUSTOM MADE PROGRAM
Hermes offers a program for VIP customers where they can special order the colors and materials of the bag, those bags are commonly referred as “Horseshoe”, “HSS”, “Craftsman’s Personal Product” or “PSO”. Some of the most collectible bags on the market are Horseshoe bags, one of a kind.
Hermes uses a symbol system for out of the ordinary products, look for the symbol next to the HERMES PARIS stamp above the clasp.
Special Edition Symbols
HSS (Special Order): Look for an inverted horseshoe to the left of HERMES PARIS
Craftsman’s Personal Product: Look for a comet symbol under HERMES PARIS
VERSO: A bag with a different color on the interior to the exterior
RECENT BIRKIN NON SPECIAL ORDER SPECIAL EDITIONS
Hermes offers every once in a while special editions with different design features, materials and color patterns. Some of those versions are highly collectible and fetch stratospherically high prices in the pre-owned market.
Recent Special Editions
- Shadow Birkin (2009)
- Himalaya Birkin (2010)
- So Black Birkin (2010)
- Club Birkin (2012,2022)
- Ghillies Birkin (2012,2016)
- Touch Birkin (2017)
- Tressage Birkin (2018)
- Faubourg Birkin(2020)
- Sunrise & Rainbow Birkin (2020)
- Cargo Birkin (2020)
- Picnic Birkin (2021)
- Fray Fray Birkin (2021)
- Birkin 3EN1 (2021)
We encourage you to look at our listings for offers of such editions, we constantly have them available from many several of the most prestigious stores and sales venues.
RETOURNE & SELLIER
Retourne are the regular designs of the bag with the stitching hidden inside, The Birkin Sellier (2010,2014 and after 2020 now permanent offer) was a special edition of Birkin bags with the stitching done outside the bag, by popular demand they became part of their regular line up in 2020. Sellier bags are characterized by having the stitches done externally and stiffer leathers that make the bags a little stiffer as well.
BIRKIN BAGS AS AN INVESTMENT AND PRICES
The reason Birkin bags are a good investment is the fact that there is a big waiting list for them and very limited production and over time the high demand has pushed prices for pre-owned bags up, a lot of buyers want to have a bag immediately and they are willing to pay exorbitant prices for them and even higher prices for the more exotic versions.
Common versions of pre-owned bags fetch prices similar to a brand new one. That is very unusual in other kinds of items and markets. The market for Birkin bags behaves in a way that resembles the trade of art, where the desirability and the great performance as an investment make the item ideal to buy and keep, a Birkin bag is very liquid as well, they sell very easily and fast.
Birkin retail prices range from $10,400 to $150,000 with resale values much higher than that.
Base retail prices in 2023 (Togo Leather)
Recent Record Prices for Birkin Bags
- Ginza Tanaka Birkin sold for $1,900,000
- 2014 Himalayan Birkin sold for $432,000
- Fuchsia Crocodile Birkin with white Gold and Diamonds hardware sold for $226,555
From 1980 to 2015 the average annual return of a Birkin bag would have been around 14%, so this poses an interesting question: should you buy a Birkin to enjoy it and then sell it in the future making money?
Very few things in life allow us that, buying something to enjoy and then make money in the future with it.