Perhaps it was destiny. After all, when two icons of chic dream up the perfect handbag, we shouldn’t be surprised that the result is another icon. Such was the case when Hermès chief executive Jean-Louis Dumas and the actress and chanteuse Jane Birkin met on that legendary 1981 flight and together conceived her namesake bag.
The Hermès Birkin has become an icon, no doubt about it. But it has also become something more surprising: a better investment than a painting by an Impressionist master. How did that happen?
When the Birkin first became available, in 1984, the cost of a basic model was approximately $2,000, and it has since increased 500 percent. Truth is, however, it’s a stretch to call any Birkin “basic.” Each is handmade by a single expert craftsperson. Price varies with size, hardware, color and type of leather. A limited assortment of leathers and colors is released each year.
The rarity of certain materials and hues is reflected in resale pricing: In 2019, “Vegas Dave” Oancea paid a record-breaking $500,000 for a 35cm niloticus crocodile Himalaya with 18-carat white-gold and diamond hardware. The skin is the rarest of the rare. The lock alone was worth $80,000.
“The Birkin’s value has consistently risen and never fluctuated downward,” says Reece Morgan, head of handbags and accessories for Xupes, citing the fact that “production has been highly limited to maintain its unattainable aura.” In fact, he adds, Hermès has been “scaling back production each year.”
“I’ve had a lot of men buy their first bag from me,” says Debra Kent, of mightychic. “I’ve always told them that after this bag, there’s no turning back. The next step is you’re going to walk into a room with your wife or your girlfriend, and she’s going to be carrying the bag. Every woman in that room is going to want you and every man in the room is going to hate you.” In short, says Kirk, the Birkin “is the ultimate status symbol.”
That wasn’t always so. The Birkin began to arouse mass consciousness (and desire) in the late 1990s, with the advent of the “It bag.” And nothing was the same after it made its prime-time debut on Sex in the City, in 2002. “Oh, honey, it’s not so much the style,” Samantha cooed to Carrie as they ogled a Birkin in the window of Hermès, “it’s what carrying it means.” Approximately 5.9 million viewers watched that week; it’s possible to imagine “BIRKIN!” suddenly scribbled on nearly as many wish lists.
“It’s a storied product,” says Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute. “That’s what makes it a great investment.” Pedraza considers Hermès “the pinnacle of luxury” and credits the house with excellent stewardship of the design. “It’s a classic case study in how to manage luxury — be meticulous in what you create, and manage the supply. The market will react on its own.”
And the reaction to the Hermès bag has been quite enthusiastic. A study of luxury investments in 2019 found that handbags had the highest returns — and the Birkin had the highest of the high. Birkin prices increased 13 percent over the course of the year; art, meanwhile, rose 5 percent.
Indeed, on a recent list of the 10 most expensive handbags, seven are Birkins, including an Exceptional Collection Shiny Rouge H Porosus Crocodile Birkin and a fuchsia porosus crocodile diamond-studded Birkin, which sold at auction, respectively, for $203,150 and $222,000.
Contemplating an investment in a Birkin? Consider color: New and seasonal ones are often in great demand; some recent hues include Rouge De Coeur (2019), Blue Azure (2018) and Toffee (2017). And look for rare materials — exotics such as lizard, ostrich and porosus and niloticus crocodile.
But a Birkin has more going for it than its good looks. The brand itself helps to sustain sales, even through difficult times. “Hermès has a wonderful history of good purpose and good values,” says Pedraza, adding that the brand “will be valued even more after the pandemic. Hermès will definitely be one of those that will stand tall.”