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Column: The Birkin effect: Why the Birkin is more valuable than gold 

Photo credit: Stephanie Cheng Mork
This beautiful 2000 Togo leather brown Birkin is part of a family friend’s cherished collection. With gorgeous silver hardware, this beautifully handled bag is just one of the classic and timeless bags.

It’s season four of  “Sex and the City,” and Samantha Jones locks eyes with an elegant red Birkinonly to find out the wait list for the bag is five years. “For a bag?” she questions. The sales associate replies, “It’s not a bag, it’s a Birkin.”  

While this line is part of a fictional storyline, it certainly holds today. The Birkin bag, more realistically called an investment, is the holy grail of bags. This column was a treat to write because, frankly, this accessory was something of a mystery to me. How did it end up at a Sotheby’s auction, selling for $450,000? Why did highly successful actress and writer Julia Fox describe owning one as “scary” or “a lot of pressure?” If you are familiar with fashion in the slightest, I’m sure you’re asking yourself similar questions.

It’s fitting I began writing this column 10,000 feet in the air because the Birkins’ journey began similarly. As actress and director Jane Birkin sat in her upgraded seat on Air France in 1981 with a bag her husband had recently crushed with his car, she found herself sharing a row with a man. As she recalls, “When everything fell out of whatever bag I had,” the man told her she “should have some with pockets,” to which she replied, “The day Hermés makes one with pockets, I will have that.” The man replied, “I am Hermès.”

Astonishingly, her seatmate happened to be the chief of Hermès, Jean-Louis Dumas. So after she scribbled a prototype on her “sick bag,” as she called it, the Birkin was born and named after its “mother,” Jane Birkin.

The bag grew to fame due to its exclusivity, high demand and exquisite craftsmanship. Each Birkin is fashioned by a single artisan, from the first stitch to the last, and takes around 40 hours in total to create. With carefully picked leather and highly skilled “pearling” techniques, the Birkin is truly a work of art. It is even said if you send your Birkin to Hermès for repair, it will be fixed by the same artisan who crafted it. It’s safe to say even if you take away the glamor and exclusivity celebrities bestow on the bag, the Birkin itself is an insanely well-crafted piece and a huge reason why this bag rose to fame. 

After the bag’s countless appearances on A-listers’ arms, the Birkins’ worth has “grown faster than the price of gold, with a return on investment of more than 500% over 35 years.” 

While Jane unfortunately passed in July 2023, her legacy will live on forever. She was unique in how she wore the Birkin: stuffing her Birkins with any everyday items and customizing it with chains and charms, a style many now call “the Jane Birkin effect.”  Most who are lucky enough to purchase a Birkin will never let it see the light of day; some purchase them as investments, not even interested in the craft of the bag. Jane brought the Birkin back to its roots; in its rawest form, it’s a bag meant to be worn and loved. 

Decades of Birkin owners went to many lengths to keep them intact and preserve their value; however, it was only recently that many began to catch on to how the mother of Birkins herself styled the piece.

From the runways of Louis Vitton, Miu Miu and Bottega Veneta, the Birkin effect has spread far past Hermés with these brands featuring, “large carry-all bags with keys, trinkets, personal effects and stuffed full” These all resemble the late Jane Birkin’s style, paying homage to her true appreciation for the piece’s craftsmanship and purpose.

Often, I imagine the Birkin as a mystical creature of sorts, rare to observe. As a teenager with $50.60 in her bank account, I, too, am guilty of watching “Guide to Taking Care of Your Birkin,” fully imagining I have the means to purchase this $15,000+ bag. 

To many, spending $15,000 and five years on a waiting list “for a bag” as Samantha says, seems ridiculous, and trust me, I understand. Nonetheless, this column helped me, and I hope you, as the reader, understand the talent that goes into creating an iconic piece like the Birkin. It’s not just fashion; it’s art.

“Good” art should be appreciated, loved and understood, which is why I feel the Birkin effect will give the original meaning back to this bag. From a working mother spilling her belongings on the plane, desperately trying to board a flight, to a Sotheby’s auction, the Birkin has become a symbol of wealth rather than fashion’s original intention: the accentuation of your individuality. 

I usually leave you with suggestions of where to purchase the item I discuss in my columns, however, the Birkin is unfortunately far out of my wheelhouse to do so. I will end this rollercoaster of a column by saying many don’t see fashion as art — people can have different definitions of what fashion looks like, such as an investment or merely necessity. However, the Birkin is a piece of fashion history that helped me realize clothing can be purely transactional — like any traditional commodity — but also artwork filled with memories, and above all, a purpose. 

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About the Contributor
Olivia Miro, Columnist

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