The Most Famous Bag in the World: The Hermès Birkin

By: Dara Vandor

Lot 340

Born somewhere in the air between Paris and London, the iconic—and we don’t use that word lightly—Birkin bag consistently tops the lists of couture with the highest resale value. The Birkin bag was conceived in 1981, when British actress Jane Birkin, flying from Paris to London, complained that she couldn’t find a bag that fit her needs as a fast-paced young mother on the go. The man she was confiding in was none other than Jean-Louis Dumas, the Executive Chairman of Hermès from 1978-2006. Dumas immediately sketched a design for a spacious rectangular bag—with a dedicated space for baby bottles—which would become known as the Birkin 40. This signature design was a sportier version of the established Hermès Kelly bag, and featured two rolled handles, a flap top, clou “feet,” and a lock closure, and was first made in calfbox leather. The Birkin was released in 1984, and the rest is history.


The Birkin bag is typically referred to with a number corresponding to its size. A “Birkin 40” refers to the length in centimetres across the base. The bag is famous for this sturdy bottom, which holds its shape even after years of usage.

Quality and exclusivity

Any fashionista can tell you that it’s exceedingly hard to get one’s hands on a Birkin bag, even in an age of online shopping. To construct a single bag, expert artisans require a minimum of 18 hours. Only a very limited run of these top-quality bags is produced each year, a number which Hermès does not release. Every bag is marked by its maker, and its labels indicate in which workshop it was constructed, its year of creation, and, as with most masterpieces, the individual who made it. Waitlists can stretch as long as six years, depending on the materials used.

Prices for a Birkin bag in a Hermès boutique range from around $10,000 to over $200,000—depending on whether it’s made from leather, or something more extravagant such as ostrich, lizard, crocodile, alligator and/or diamonds. There’s a catch, however: would-be buyers must have a purchase history with the brand, and clients need to be invited to buy (or wait for) a Birkin by a Hermès salesperson. It is rumoured that around $10,000 must be spent on other Hermès items before an invitation into this elite inner circle is extended.

Additionally, Hermès boutiques rarely know the inventory—size, colour, materials—of the purses they will be allotted bi-annually. While Hermès has made Birkin bags in a wide spectrum of shades, the company only releases the bag in select colours annually, meaning that clients must often patiently wait for a particular bag should they have a specific one in mind.

Limited editions and special orders

After several years of exhibiting a strong purchase history, ultra-VIP clients are allowed to customize their own bags, known as Special Order or HSS Birkins. While the bags used to be extremely modifiable, Hermès has limited the scope of the customization to only two colours, which may both appear externally, or alternately, one may be used for the lining while the other is used on the outside. Predictably, these HSS Birkin bags are extremely coveted on both primary and secondary markets.

Secondary market

Birkins are so sought after that they often sell on the secondary market for sums far higher than their original boutique price. Limited editions are particularly sought after, as are customized bags. Bags with great provenance are also highly desirable—one of Jane Birkin’s Birkins was sold in 2021 for £119,000 ($162,000 USD).

Loved by celebrities—fans include Kate Moss, Kim Kardashian, and Victoria Beckham, the latter who is rumoured to have a collection worth over $2,000,000—Birkins have increasingly begun to be collected and worn by men. Floyd Mayweather, Kanye West, Travis Scott and Marc Jacobs have all been spotted with the instantly recognizable bag. The Wall Street Journal notes that male shoppers’ interest in Birkins has grown two times faster than that of female shoppers, perhaps “driven by a combination of social-media flexing, an uptick in man-bag adoption and an investment-obsessed fashion resale market.” Hermès has taken note, and will introduce the heftier “Rock” model later this year, a bag it debuted on the runway in January 2022.

About the auction

Not interested in a six-year waitlist? We’re pleased to offer a classic black Hermès Birkin Togo 40 handbag, lot 340, in our Silver & Costume Jewellery and Luxury Accessories auction, online from July 9-14.

Looking for more luxury accessories? The rest of the auction is a selection of over 350 varied lots of accessories and jewellery featuring numerous examples of Mexican silver jewellery including works by Spratling, Margot, and Pineda; plus Scandinavian silver by Jensen, Warmind, and Michelsen. Look for rings, bangles and a necklace by various Navajo and Haida artists, as well as modern silver items by Hardy, Tiffany, and Yurman. A selection of costume jewellery includes necklaces by Coppola e Toppo and pieces by Miriam Haskell, Sherman, and Rafael. Rounding out the auction are luxury accessories including Hermès scarves and ties, a Burberry trench coat, vintage pens, and designer sunglasses.

We invite you to browse the full gallery.

Please contact us for more information.

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