Old Bag, New Tricks?

A modern take on the timeless Birkin bag

     Hermés’s Birkin bag, inspired by British supermodel and muse Jane Birkin, has acquired a reputation of the highest honour over the past thirty years since it’s birth.  Most anybody who knows anything about Hermés’s Birkin bag would say that just holding one will boost your status tenfold.   Hermés’s feature product demands attention by remaining exclusive and shrouded in mystery.  Rumours of waitlists and selected clientele continuously add value and intrigue to a handcrafted tote, which ultimately, is not worth the hype it receives.  It’s the story that sells.

     Although most of society can only imagine ever touching a Birkin bag with white-gloved fingers, many of the fashion icons who actually own one - or two - say otherwise.  It seems almost cringe-worthy that this piece of art, with a starting price of no less than a small $8,500 fortune, has stooped to the level of Kate Moss’s diaper bag and a Kardashian sister’s game tote; however, the bag

is

made to be used.  After all, the idea came to designer Hermès chief executive Jean-Louis Dumas on an Air France flight, when Jane Birkin’s purse inconveniently dumped all of her possessions on the floor.  Dumas responded to the traditional confines of the Kelly bag by creating a functional fashion statement that still embodies the classic aesthetic of the brand.  And his product, the Birkin bag, has proven itself to this day.  

     It’s clear that Birkin bags are retaining and even gaining value unlike anything else in the world of handbags.  Even the top fashion houses cannot logically compete with the outrageous prices that Birkin bags are fetching.  There is only a very

very

small niche of people who are willing to pay up to $150,000 for a single purse.  It is entirely a league of its own.  But the interesting thing is that although Hermès attracts a relatively small market, the Birkin bag retains massive influence over the fashion world, including all of those who do not - and will never - own one.  

     Slightly dormant in recent years, perhaps due to the recent inflection point in fashion away from classic conservatism and towards an edgier, provocative aesthetic, the Birkin bag has re-emerged on the scene with a new face.  So what is up with the new trend of defacing Birkin bags?  

The ‘trend’ of “defacing” bags refers to the act of intentionally painting and artistically expressing oneself on the handbag with various media.  Have Kanye West and Lady Gaga started a new movement in luxury handbags?

     The last time I formally heard of this idea was in Candace Bushnell’s The Carrie Diaries, a series of novels preceding Sex and the City, where Carrie Bradshaw takes an accident and turns it into the new feature piece for Interview magazine.  Carrie Bradshaw took the magazine by storm, taking individualism in fashion to the next level but she didn’t need a Birkin bag to do it.  

     Louis Vuitton has somewhat emulated “the Carrie bag” with its vibrant seasonal collections, including the Graffiti collection and the Roses collection to name a few for a much lower price than it would take to achieve the same result with an Hermès.  Louis Vuitton’s funky patterns are big sellers and will indeed increase in value with time, since their production is, by nature, limited to a brief era.  However, one could argue that this trend of defacing Hermès bags in particular is more about making a statement than anything else.  The act comes across as a way of turning one’s nose up at the fashion label, implicitly proclaiming that although the bag is worth a small fortune, its owner does not feel that it is really worth much in its original state and that if throwing paint on it doesn’t produce an attractive outcome, a new bag can easily replace it.  

Louis Vuitton Roses Neverfull

Louis Vuitton Graffiti Neverfull

     The whole topic can spark provocative conversations.  Perspective is such a major component to this debate.  Is it as stated?  Is it really a low blow at the Birkin bag?  Or is the trend of defacing a fashion label’s work simply a contemporary form of individual expressionism?

     Whatever form the Birkin bag appears in, it will always retain the structure that made it so famous in 1984.  The bones of the idea will forever be the same and will forever grow in value regardless of the material or the colour or the print.  But with time, its place in the context of society is bound to transform.  Without a doubt, Hermès has created a story that contains many chapters and many chapters are yet to come.