Why are Hermès Birkin bags so expensive? Beloved by Melania Trump, Victoria Beckham and Nita Ambani, the world’s most expensive bag is a US$500,000 Himalaya Birkin
Hermès Birkin bags are some of the most expensive bags in the world, ranging anywhere from US$9,000 to half a million dollars. The bags embody absolute luxury.
So what is it that makes Birkin bags so expensive?
Jane was known for carrying a wicker basket wherever she went and used it for everything from groceries to diapers. When she tried to fit her famous basket in the overhead compartment, the lid came off, spilling the contents everywhere. Jane complained to her seatmate that it was impossible to find a weekend bag she liked. Dumas introduced himself as the head of Hermès, and the pair spent the flight sketching possible handbag designs on the back of an aeroplane sick bag.
A year later, Dumas presented Jane with the Birkin bag, a spacious yet sophisticated leather design perfect for everyday use. The Birkin’s pockets made it highly functional, and the bag sealed to prevent anything from spilling. Hermès makes the bags in France using premium materials like calf skin, alligator skin and even ostrich skin. Each bag is made entirely by hand.
Although Birkins are one of the most exclusive and sought-after bags today, they actually weren’t all that popular when they first launched. It wasn’t until the 90s that the Birkin became one of the “It” bags of the era.
Now they’re the ultimate status symbol. Victoria Beckham reportedly has a collection of over 100 Birkins, estimated to be worth over US$2 million, and Singaporean socialite and entrepreneur Jamie Chua is considered to have the world’s largest Birkin collection with over 200 bags.
But you can’t just walk into Hermès and get one. While there used to be a waiting list, nowadays all you can do is hope to be important enough or spend enough to be offered a Birkin bag. And if you’re offered one, don’t expect to be able to choose the colour or size.
Hermès also places limits on how many Birkin bags a client can purchase per year. This dedication to preserving the exclusivity of the bag has certainly paid off, and the disparity in demand and access has created a thriving resale market.
A 2017 study revealed that the value of Hermès Birkin bags has increased 500 per cent in the last 35 years, an increase of 14 per cent per year.
“The high retail value and resale value is because these are pieces of artwork,” says Mason Howell, handbags and accessories consultant at Sotheby’s and former senior handbag and fashion valuation manager at The RealReal. “These artisans train years and years to make one of these bags, and they may even train 10 years before even they’re allowed to make a Birkin.”
Another reason for the bag’s high price, of course, is the limited availability. The total number of Birkin bags Hermès produces each year is a well-guarded secret, but it’s estimated that there may be around 200,000 in circulation. And for the luxury resale market, Birkin bags are a hot commodity. Online retailer Privé Porter uses Instagram and WhatsApp to sell the bags online, and luxury reseller The RealReal has hundreds of Birkins available at any given time, many of which are priced well above the original retail cost.
The holy grail of handbags
One of the most coveted models comes from Hermès’ Himalaya collection, which comes in three sizes. Often referred to as the holy grail of handbags, the white Himalaya Birkin bag features 18-karat white gold hardware and more than 200 diamonds. The 35cm model in particular is very rare and has sold at record prices year after year. Most recently in 2019, it sold for over half a million dollars. Professional sports betting consultant David Oancea, also known as Vegas Dave, made the record-breaking purchase.
Oancea said about his purchase: “The reason I bought the Birkin bag is I love breaking records. I broke all the sports betting records, I wanted to break the most-expensive-bag record. I’m all about raising the bar.”
The Himalaya Birkin bag is also made with white or albino crocodile skin, which is extremely rare. The costly skin is painstakingly dyed to emulate the snowy appearance of the Himalayan mountains.
It’s a good investment
“The Birkin bag does retain and sometimes exceed its value,” says Howell. “It really does depend on the leather, the colour, the size of the bag, you know, the hardware. There are so many factors that go into pricing a Birkin that it can really vary.
“However, if you do buy a Birkin, let’s say in 2004, and maybe the retail at that time was US$5,000, you most likely will be able to sell it, even if you have worn it so many times, for US$5,000, US$6,000.”
Even as resellers like The RealReal and Privé Porter have made more Birkins available than ever, the prices haven’t gone down.
“If you go to Hermès, you may not always get the exact colour or size that you want,” continues Howell. “[At TheRealReal], we have almost every single option, and if that means you have to pay a small premium, people and our clients are willing to do so. Even though that there has been such a saturation of these bags, not one bag is the same.
“So let’s say an Etain Birkin 35 with gold hardware, we only have one right now, and if it’s sold, we may not get another for a while, so someone’s looking for that, and they’d be willing to pay an extra maybe US$10,000 to get that bag as soon as possible, and all these bags are handmade with artisan craftsmanship. Not one is the same, not even one stitch.”
How to spot a fake
That same year, French police cracked down on an international crime ring that was manufacturing counterfeit Birkin bags. The crime ring reportedly included actual Hermès employees. Only two employees were arrested, but Hermès believed that several other employees could have been involved. And despite all their efforts, fake products continue to flood the market. The quality of counterfeit bags has also vastly improved over the years, making it difficult to tell whether a bag is real or fake. However, there are a few tricks to spotting a fake Birkin.
“The handle should never be too long,” explains Howell. “If they look too long, longer than the bag, then it is most likely inauthentic. The hardware shouldn’t be too shiny or protrude out, and the feet should never screw off. They are hammered in.”
And if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. While many other handbag styles have come and gone, it looks like the Birkin is here to stay. And the bag has become synonymous with status in a way that many other luxury goods have yet to.
Despite its popularity, the bag features no prominent logos and is only recognisable to people who already know what it is. In Birkin, Hermès has created something that feels inaccessible unless highly exclusive. As for whether the Birkin will always be so expensive, only time will tell.
- Fashion’s ultimate status symbol was created when actress Jane Birkin, the bag’s namesake, happened to sit next to Jean-Louis Dumas, the brand’s chief executive
- Some say the bag is a better investment than gold or the stock market and exclusivity has led to a thriving resale market – but how can you spot a fake?