Abirpothi

India’s only daily art newspaper

Only Bagwati Can Fix You: This is the Story of the Hermès Birkin

When it comes to handbags, the Hermès Birkin continues to be the ultimate status symbol and the most sought-after piece of jewellery for the wealthy and famous. This is the story of the iconic Birkin and its Indian connection. 

How did it all begin?

On a transatlantic journey in 1983, actress Jane Birkin and Hermès Creative Director Jean Louis Dumas happened to cross paths by coincidence. Interested to learn more about Birkin’s choice of a plain straw tote over conventional leather bags, Dumas struck up a discussion with her. She said she wanted a purse that was more carefree and bohemian, which sparked an unplanned creative session on the back of an airsickness bag. The result of this partnership is the Birkin bag, an enduring classic renowned for its unassuming style and unmatched craftsmanship.

Since its launch, the Birkin’s appearance and usefulness have mostly not changed, yet it has come to represent exclusivity and luxury. Bids at auctions are frequently so high because of the scarcity of exotic skins and accessories like hardware adorned with diamonds. A $440,000 deal at Sotheby’s and a £237,000 sale at Christie’s are just two recent noteworthy sales that highlight the bag’s ongoing appeal and prominence as a sought-after collector’s item. The 76 Birkins from a Hong Kong billionaire’s private collection that were up for auction recently brought in $3.2 million, cemented the Birkin’s status as a masterpiece of design and desire in fashion history.

Jane Birkin with her iconic birkin. Courtesy:edition.cnn.com

The Birkin’s Road to Iconic Prestige

The Birkin wasn’t immediately popular at first. It became well-known in the late 1990s when the It-bag craze began to take off. The customary waiting list for Birkins has been eliminated, as demand for the brand has increased significantly over the course of its nearly 40-year existence. “This is not an order list; it’s a wish list. “You just have to hope; they don’t take orders anymore,” says Lalande, who calculates that there are roughly 200,000 Birkins in use. Its success at auctions has increased due to its scarcity. According to WWD, a crimson Porosus crocodile Birkin with 18-carat white gold and diamond hardware sold for $203,150 (£129,355) at a Dallas auction in 2011—making it the most expensive Birkin ever sold.

According to Collector Square’s research, the rarest styles command the highest prices, while vivid colours are the least prevalent on the used market. Top of the list are pink or purple Birkins, which normally retail for 12,000–16,000 euros (£9,000–£12,500) in leather.

Jane Birkin with her over-used Birkin. Courtesy:business-standard.com

The Timeless Design and Adaptation of the Birkin Bag

The original Birkin design has not changed much, even with the addition of animal skins and a kaleidoscope of colours (there are almost 20 shades of blue, ranging from blue-green to indigo). Lalande observes that the only changes that have been made are small ones, such as tinkering with the lanyard that holds the lock key. But over time, the Birkin’s size has changed from its original 35cm to include micro and travel variants. Basic leather variants and exotic crocodile versions are priced very differently. For example, a Porosus crocodile Birkin fetches five times the price of a bag made of lizard skin.

Victoria Beckham, pictured here in 2007, is rumoured to own upwards of 100 Birkin bags Courtesy: Getty/telegraph.co.uk

It’s ironic since Birkin was the one who initially roughed up the bag, covered it in stickers, badges, and worry beads, and lamented that it caused tendinitis.  “There’s no fun in a bag if it’s not kicked around, so that it looks as if the cat’s been sitting on it – and it usually has. The cat may even be in it!” Birkin told Vogue.com. “I keep saying to Hermès to make it out of plastic or cardboard, then it wouldn’t be so heavy. But if people want to go for the real thing, fine. If they go for copies, that’s fine too. I really don’t think it matters…”

Birkin is an Investment

According to Art Market Research, handbags became a more profitable investment in 2020 than rare artwork, automobiles, and whisky. Specifically, the price appreciation of the Birkin was 42 percent, which outpaced the 23 percent growth in the value of Banksy’s artwork. According to Euromonitor International, the US and China will account for the majority of the growth in the luxury handbag industry, which is expected to reach $100 billion by 2027 from $72 billion in 2022. Although the Birkin is hailed as the ultimate “it” bag, the Kelly also fetches extraordinary sums at auction. According to Koffsky, the most collectible bag in the world is the matte white Himalaya Crocodile Diamond Retourné Kelly 35, which has diamond hardware and 18k white gold accents. Auction prices for this purse can reach up to $500,000.

Despite costing at least £9,000, money alone is not enough to secure a buyer a Birkin Courtesy: Heathcliff/telegraph.co.uk

The Birkin Bag and Indian Connection

A highly recognisable and ostentatious portrayal of the Birkin bag in modern times was in the Bollywood production “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.” As a gift for Kabir’s fiancée, Arjun purchases a €12,000 Hermès Kelly handbag, dubbed “Bagwati,” in the film. When Imran wears a hat and sunglasses and playfully protects the bag from the sun, it takes on a life of its own. In India, the word “Bagwati ” has become synonymous with Hermès Birkins and Kellys thanks to this lighthearted representation.

Bagwati in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Courtesy: timesofindia

Many Bollywood celebrities are known for their collection of Birkin bags, which are often seen as symbols of luxury and status. The bag’s association with high fashion and exclusivity aligns with the glamorous image often portrayed in Bollywood. Celebrities like Kareena Kapoor Khan, Sonam Kapoor, and others have been spotted carrying Birkin bags, further elevating its status in the Indian fashion scene.

Sonam Kapoor and Anand Ahuja’s matching Birkin bags| Courtesy: Vogue

It was also believed that Renowned Indian politician Mayawati, who formerly served as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, has also been connected to the coveted Hermès Birkin purse. Her possession of a Birkin bag has been frequently emphasised in the media, demonstrating her taste for luxury even if her political platform is one of standing up for the underprivileged. Discussions and arguments concerning the discrepancy between her public persona and lifestyle decisions have been triggered by this relationship.

Birkin and The Controversy

Two California residents have filed a proposed federal class action suit in San Francisco, accusing the brand of violating antitrust laws by restricting access to Birkin handbags to customers with a “sufficient purchase” history. The lawsuit claims these are unlawful tying arrangements, where buying one Hermès item is linked to purchasing others. Sales associates allegedly pressure customers to buy additional items to gain permission to purchase a Birkin bag. The plaintiffs seek class action status on behalf of thousands of U.S. citizens who have previously purchased the brand’s goods.

Since its launch, the Hermès Birkin bag has maintained its position as the pinnacle of exclusivity and elegance. It started off slowly but gained popularity in the late 1990s and is still a highly sought-after accessory. Its timeless style, sporadic redesigns, and the addition of different sizes and unusual materials have all served to increase its allure. With amazing price increases and auction sales that break records, the Birkin’s investment potential has surpassed that of more conventional luxury goods like rare artwork and automobiles. Even if the market for luxury handbags is expected to rise significantly, the Birkin continues to be a beloved investment and a symbol of elegance among collectors and fashionistas throughout the globe.

References

  1. https://www.fortuneindia.com/enterprise/rare-birkin-bag-to-go-on-sale-in-hong-kong/104860
  2. https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20150116-the-ultimate-status-symbol
  3. https://www.financialexpress.com/life/lifestyle-remembering-jane-birkin-from-bagwati-in-znmd-to-nora-fatehis-bag-collection-7-iconic-appearances-of-the-birkin-bag-3176297/
  4. https://www.businesstoday.in/magazine/goodlife/story/hermes-birkin-to-the-gucci-jackie-iconic-bags-and-the-stories-that-shaped-them-373454-2023-03-15

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *