The Hermès Birkin bag is the ultimate status symbol in fashion, renowned for its exquisite craftsmanship, exclusivity and sky-high prices. With waitlists years long and limited availability, purchasing one requires substantial money, connections and patience. Here is Pursuitist’s insider guide to everything you need to know to buy this iconic and elusive luxury Hermès handbag.
The Legendary History
Created in 1984 and named for actress Jane Birkin, the Birkin was designed as a versatile, daily-use bag. Its creation arose serendipitously from a chance airplane encounter between Birkin and Jean-Louis Dumas, Hermès’ chief executive at the time. Upon complaining of not being able to find the ideal weekend bag, Dumas created a black leather handbag for her on the spot, and the Birkin was born.
It entered the fashion canon as the most exclusive, well-crafted leather bag in the world. Everything from the premium materials like calfskin, crocodile and ostrich leather to the refined, hand-stitched details instantly made it a coveted marker of wealth and status. Though initially designed practically, it quickly became a celebrity favorite, carried by the likes of Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian, Victoria Beckham and Jane Birkin herself.
Today, Birkin bags range from $10,000 to an astronomical $200,000. They retain and even gain value, becoming comparable to investments. In 2021, a Hermès Himalaya Niloticus Crocodile Birkin with 18k white gold and diamond hardware sold at auction for over $500,000. The astronomical prices and elusive availability only fuel the Birkin’s mythical status as the ultimate holy grail handbag for serious collectors.
- The Hermès Birkin is renowned as the most exclusive, sought-after handbag in fashion. Originating in 1984, it has gained cult status among celebrities and collectors.
- Thanks to painstaking craftsmanship and premium materials, Birkin bags range from $10,000 to $200,000. Many even gain value over time.
- Given limited availability and high demand, getting a Birkin involves long waitlists, building purchase history, and in some cases paying significantly above retail.
- Having an existing relationship with an Hermès sales associate is the best way to get access to Birkin inventory and special orders.
With no signs of decreasing demand, Birkins continue to be an expensive investment. The entry-level Birkin 30 in basic leather starts around $10,000. From there, prices skyrocket depending on size, materials and personalization.
The two main determinants of price are material and size. Materials like exotic leathers and finishes like diamond and gold hardware drastically boost the price. Crocodile Birkins can command well over $100,000. Meanwhile, smaller sizes tend to have higher price tags, as do special limited editions.
When purchased directly from Hermès, consumers can expect to pay the standard retail prices. However, the extreme scarcity of these bags leads many to purchase pre-owned or through resellers, often for two to three times the retail price. At luxury consignment sites like The RealReal, Birkins frequently auction for $60,000 to $100,000. The enormous demand makes acquiring one for retail price a coup.
For the majority of shoppers, a Birkin remains an aspirational dream. But for those willing to invest the money and persistence, the payoff is owning an iconic piece of fashion history.
The Waitlist Game
Due to tightly controlled production and distribution, getting a Birkin involves joining the legendary waitlist. The queue involves submitting your information to a sales associate and waiting months if not years for the offer to purchase your ideal bag.
Jumping to the top of the waitlist requires significant purchase history. Hermès does not release exact numbers, but experts estimate spending $10,000 to $20,000 on other items can accelerate Birkin access. Building a purchase history and relationship with a sales associate is key.
For the most desirable leathers, sizes and personalization, wait times can stretch over two years. Limited edition bags are even more selective. Hermès’ strategy of scarcity and selectivity is purposeful. But for the customer, it means playing the long game. Checking in periodically with your sales associate about waitlist status is advised.
Turning to resellers always expedites access, albeit at premium prices. Sites like Privé Porter offer rare, pre-owned specimens, while luxury consignors like The RealReal hold auctions allowing users to bid on bags. Whether new or pre-owned, the Birkin is never easy to obtain and requires determination.
Having personal connections within Hermès gives you the inside track. Sales associates hold enormous sway over waitlists and first dibs on new shipments. Fostering relationships with SAs and store managers can help position you closer to the top of the queue.
Positioning yourself as a serious spender and collector is key. The more you shop the brand, the quicker the path to a Birkin. Store managers also have some ability to bypass rules for their best clients.
Outside the brand, you can also leverage fashion industry connections. Stylists, influencers and editors may have links for procuring bags.
While less orthodox, utilising the secondary market through resellers is the surest route to fast access. Be prepared to pay premium prices, but sites like Privé Porter acquire inventory faster than consumers.
Joining Hermès enthusiast Facebook groups and online forums is another route for tips and intel. But your best liaisons remain Hermès SAs themselves.
The Customization Process
Purchasing your dream Birkin directly from Hermès allows for a bespoke experience. Each bag takes 48 hours of skilled artisan labor to create.
During your first appointment, you’ll browse leathers and discuss your preferences with your SA. Touching and smelling leather samples is encouraged. You’ll choose hardware finishes, leather type, size, and any personalizations. Iconic sizes include the smaller Kelly sizes, the popular 30cm and 35cm Birkins, and oversized travel 40cm.
Six to ten months later, your special order will be ready. At your next appointment, you’ll finalize details like precise color and inspect the final product. Hermès artisans will even hand-stitch your name into the interior if desired.
Given the costs and wait time, ordering is an investment. But the result is your signature, one-of-a-kind Birkin that perfectly suits your lifestyle.
While nothing compares to an authentic Hermès, more accessible options exist. Designers like Mansur Gavriel offer high-quality leather bags at lower price points. Or luxury brands like Moynat and Victoria Beckham create bespoke bags for a fraction of Birkin prices.
Pre-owned Hermès from sites like The RealReal and Fashionphile is cheaper than retail. While you’ll still pay five figures, it saves purchasing directly from Hermès.
For those simply wanting the look, seeking out inspired designs is wise. Brands like Coach create “dupes” imitating the Birkin style. Or sites like Etsy offer artisan-made Birkin lookalikes.
Owning an authentic Hermès Birkin ultimately requires money, persistence and patience. But the hands-on process and ownership of such a legendary bag make the pursuit worthwhile for serious collectors and fashion devotees. Though acquiring one is complex, there are avenues from building Hermès relationships to pursuing pre-owned. For the majority, admiring from afar may have to suffice. But like any elusive luxury, the Birkin only grows more desirable with its scarcity.
NYC fashion writer blogging about all things lux. Attending New York University, future Fashionista.