One of the world’s most desired accessories, the highly coveted Hermes Birkin, was the outcome of a chance meeting in 1983 between actress and singer Jane Birkin and Chief Executive of Hermes at the time, Jean-Louis Dumas. It is believed that during a fateful flight from Paris to London, Birkin placed her straw tote into the overhead compartment, the contents of which fell out, including her Hermes diary.
Birkin confessed to Dumas that most leather bags were too structured for her taste and that she was unable to find one with suitable pockets. With the need for a bag more ‘boho’ in style, Birkin became the inspiration behind Dumas’s arguably most iconic creation. Transforming the original ‘Haut a Courroies’ bag, primarily used to hold equestrian kits, Dumas created a more spacious and versatile handbag that has changed little in style or function since its inception.
The Birkin proved an instant hit with celebrities and has remained a status symbol ever since. Victoria Beckham is said to possess over $2 million dollars’ worth of Hermes bags in her wardrobe. The Birkin has beaten both the stock market and gold as an investment class since its launch in 1984.
A study by Baghunter.com established that, on average, Birkin bags have realised an annual return of 14.2% since launching and remarkably, the bag is yet to experience an annual price decrease, even during an economic recession. Not only has the Birkin long been considered a must-have fashion collectable for the super-rich, it remains a high performing investment following stratospheric success at auction.
In May this year, a Hermes ‘Himalaya’ Birkin sold for an eye-watering $380,000 on the hammer in Hong Kong, becoming the world’s most expensive bag ever to sell at auction and beating a nearly identical piece that sold for $300,168 in 2016. The enduring appeal of buying a Birkin at auction resides in part due to the status of the auction house, trusted for its authenticity, as well as the Birkin’s exclusivity.
Aside from the fact that the production quota is stringent, there is also an average waiting list of 6 months that not everyone is invited to join. Retailers only keep a limited number in stock and they are kept discreetly hidden behind doors closed to all except their most elite clientele. At auction, however, a lucky buyer can bid in the room and walk away the same day, Birkin in tow.
A Gold Epsom leather Birkin sold last year at Chiswick Auctions for £5,400 (incl. Buyer’s Premium) and a rare Hermes Tosca Pink Epsom Birkin, an apprentice piece gifted to a Hermes staff member, realised £7,808 (incl. Buyer’s Premium) in May 2017.
A couple of Hermes Birkins are offered in the forthcoming Designer Handbags & Fashion sale at Chiswick Auctions on 26 September. Estimate: £5000 - £8000.