Birkin Bag: The History Of Hermès' Staple Fashion Piece, Explained

The Birkin bag may be the most iconic handbag in global high-end fashion. Sold as a trademark handbag by the haute couture fashion house Hermès, a brand internationally renowned for its curated, exceptionally exclusive French luxury items, the Birkin bag is undeniably the most well-known luxury product the French atelier has ever made. With four classic sizes and limited availability lines of additional styles which are sold for exclusive periods of time, the Hermès Birkin bag has been diffused in name from the Hermès Birkin bag to the Birkin bag, or even more simply, the Birkin. The name now speaks for itself and has been a staple of international exclusivity and fine luxury for nearly 40 years, according to Sotheby's, the auction house known for its selective specialization in elite, exclusive items. If an item is written about by Sotheby's, then you know it's found its way to global acclaim. 


Birkin bags are the epitome of French vogue, the pinnacle of the elegant, sophisticated French finesse. With practical origins and beginnings nearly unrecognizable to the majestic and palatial status of the handbag today, some Birkin bags have sold literally hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction (per DuJour). 

The most fateful flight in the history of French fashion

Birkin bags are items so elusive and so sought after that most people only hopelessly wish for the iconic French accessory. The most pivotal moment of Parisian fashion fittingly took place up in the literal clouds with a stylishly serendipitous encounter of two French style icons, the then-CEO of Hermès of Paris, Jean-Louis Dumas, and French actress, muse for the mode, and the bag's namesake, Jane Mallory Birkin, on a plane in 1984. En route to London from Paris, Birkin's straw bag ripped apart and rendered a fashion faux pas as her belongings fell to the floor, explains Global Boutique


Speaking to Dumas, Birkin expressed her desire for a purposefully practical bag of perfect sizing, strength of well-made materials, and aesthetic beauty. Her description de rigueur planted the seed for Dumas to manifest the first Hermès Birkin bag just a short while later. The chance conversation between the two French icons became the chicest chat upon the most fateful flight in fashion's history. Jane Birkin, who recently passed away, embodied the mesmerizing Birkin bags which have yet to go out of style nearly 40 years after their inception.

The basics of the Birkin bag

Birkin bags have barely flinched in pattern and means of manufacturing since the elite bags were introduced in 1984. Town & Country shares that Birkin bag manufacturing is a design science, as each Birkin is produced within 48 hours. Despite being made in just two days, each Birkin bag manufactured by Hermès of Paris is crafted by designers who have undergone at least two years of rigorous leatherwork and craftsmanship training to guarantee the well-made consistent quality of Hermès leather items, including the enviable Birkin bags which won't fall apart like Jane Birkin's straw bag did, states Martin Roll


One little-known fact is that annual collections of limited Birkin bags are designed with a theme hallmarking that moment in time, meaning that a Birkin will have its own distinctions from a particular year. Among the selection of spectacularly dyed leather and luxury materials serving as the foundation of finery for each Birkin bag, there are four classic sizes in which the style is consistently available for retail purchase. They are appropriately titled in ascending order of size, featuring the varieties of the Birkin 25, Birkin 30, Birkin 35, and Birkin 40. Limited edition super-small Birkin 20 styles come along from time to time, offering enhanced, ultra-elevated exclusivity. 

Birkin bags are the essence of Paris, particularly paired with complementary French ateliers

Although Birkin bags have been sold by the ultra high-end atelier Hermès for nearly 40 years, there have only been about 200,000 bags ever made, reports Town & Country. In the world of couture, elite fashion, 200,000 bags may seem like a lot, but Hermès maintains the essence of French exclusivity and elite luxury by only making between 4,500 to 5,000 new Birkin bags per year.


French icons stick together and collaborate for creative innovations, as originally discovered on the plane from Paris to London decades ago when Jane Birkin confided about her handbag hassle. So it should come as little surprise that Birkin bags and other leather items from Hermès are paired alongside the iconic aesthetics of other Parisian ateliers, like Karl Lagerfeld's Chanel designs of pink tweed overlays with fringe details and pearl bijouterie. Hermès and Chanel have a long French friendship built on their complementary high-end couture offerings, reports The New York Times. Tweed interwoven fabric, pearl adornments, and the leather luxury of a Birkin bag are a French trifecta of blends for the essence of Parisian ensembles embodying that flawless 'je ne sais quoi'.


The price of the perfect Parisian purse

Many fashion fans have questioned the price of the bag and whether it's truly made with the level of craftsmanship and textiles that justifies the pricing, but the simple answer is that Birkin bags are made of the utmost quality of materials while transcending time and eras, becoming more valuable as they age into vintage models. Upon its release in 1984, the first Hermès Birkin bags were sold for the equivalent of $2,000. Today, that amount may merely cover the tax on some Birkin bags. To price a Birkin now, numerous factors are calculated, including the condition of the accouterment, materials, size, color and dye requirements, and whether the Birkin came from a short-lived capsule collection before returning to the vintage vault, says Sotheby's. 


Deciding the price to pair with a modern Birkin bag depends on sometimes subjective criteria when it comes to ascertaining condition and other elements. However, if you want to make a valuable investment in expensive haute couture, vintage Birkin bags are worth several times more than the current collections sold each year from Hermès. They're nearly foolproof fashionable investments that will stand the test of financial time and fashion trends, according to Who What Wear. Hermès Birkin bags in neutral solids and versatile colors, rather than bright neon and textured crocodile textiles, are optimal Birkin investments.

Birkin bags have been worn by fashionistas worldwide

Elite, chic Birkin bags have appeared on the arms of fashionable icons of both the 20th and 21st centuries. From Kate Moss upon her majestic '90s height as runway royalty to royal relative Pippa Middleton whose effortless English ensembles pair with French flair, a Birkin bag is a veritable classic. Noted fashionista and massive Birkin enthusiast Victoria Beckham has made multiple memorable moments with Hermès Birkin as well. As soon as a chic connoisseur of French fashion adorns their arm with a brilliantly colorful or classic nude hue of a Birkin bag, they're instantly washed over with the confident aesthetic of unattainable luxury.


To mingle amongst settings walked by fashionistas from Princess Diana to Jane Birkin herself, who indulged in donning her namesake handbag throughout her lifetime, you can experience the grandeur of the French flagship Hermès location at 24 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré by making a pre-scheduled appointment to see Birkin bags brought to life in front of your eyes, per Purse Blog. Although the namesake of this bag is tragically no longer with us, it's obvious that the legacy of the iconic model and her incomparable bag will be around for decades to come.