Fashion and Retail Association
The History of the Hermes Birkin
Updated: Mar 1, 2022
By: Alex Germain
With prices ranging as high as $380,000, the Hermès Birkin bag has become one of the most desirable and expensive handbags on the market. Known for its wide variety of materials and high price, the Birkin has been a cultural icon for over 30 years. With scarcity only increasing and increased relevance in popular culture, the Birkin is sure to stick around for many years to come. Here’s a look back at it’s origins and where it’s headed.
In 1984, Parisian actress Jane Birkin happened to find herself sitting next to the then CEO of Hermès, Jean-Louise Dumas, on a plane. He noticed the contents of her bag spilling out, and suggested she look for a bag with pockets. In response, Birkin told Dumas that the day Hermès designs a bag which can properly hold all of a woman’s belongings is the day she buys a new bag. Birkin grabbed a pencil and a paper sick bag, and sketched a design which would ultimately become the Birkin bag, named after herself.
Despite its current popularity, the Birkin bag was not an immediate hit, as Hermès had the reputation of being for the wealthy, old elite. However, in the 1990s, the trend of the it bag emerged, where limited distribution and celebrity culture combined to form a culture of obsession over particularly trendy handbags. This happened with bags such as the Fendi Baguette and the Balenciaga Motorcycle, however the Birkin was especially successful during this time period, eventually leading to a need for a waitlist in order to purchase the bag.
During the 2000s, celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Victoria Beckham could be seen with the bag, and the bag’s exclusive status was even immortalized in an episode of Sex and the City, in which Samantha is told she has to wait five years in order to purchase a red Birkin bag. This only further elevated the myth of the bag, and this has continued up into the present day. With celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez carrying the bag, artists such as Gunna and Cardi B mentioning the bag in their lyrics, and Hermès developing new leather alternatives such as a mushroom based fabric in order to modernize, the Birkin shows no sign of going away, and will only become a more exclusive and iconic luxury item.