The Holy Grail of handbags is the Birkin from HERMÈS. After all, it is worn daily by its namesake and travels everywhere.
What makes Birkin’s HERMÈS Birkin truly exceptional, though, is the condition it’s in—which is to say, not much of a condition at all: Stickers from her adventures are unceremoniously slapped onto the leather; the exterior’s roughed up; talismans hang from the handle.
A Birkin bag is a perfect rain hat; just put everything else in a plastic bag” is only the first.
Birkin, however, has owned only four Birkins since Jean-Louis Dumas named it after her in 1984. (She’s donated the last two to charity auctions as well.) She is a religious wearer—so much so that the bag sometimes serves as an extension of her physical self. One rainy afternoon in Paris, just before hopping in a taxi, Birkin rang up Vogue with her thoughts on her sartorial legacy. “A Birkin bag is a perfect rain hat; just put everything else in a plastic bag” is only the first.
On personalization: “There’s no fun in a bag if it’s not kicked around so that it looks as if the cat’s been sitting on it—and it usually has. The cat may even be in it! I always put on stickers and beads and worry beads. You can get them from Greece, Israel, Palestine—anywhere in the world. I always hang things on my bags because I don’t like them looking like everyone else’s.”
I hate changing bags, so I never have the thing of having ten bags.
On restraint: “I never have more than one bag at a time. I think one is already quite enough. Also, I hate changing bags, so I never have the thing of having ten bags. Any bag with me will take the same course as mine. It will take the same airplanes, be squashed in the same way, and be used as a cushion in the airports.”
On the Birkin she’s carrying now: “It’s black, but it’s not dirty enough, and it hasn’t gotten any stickers on it. It’s rather bumpy than the other one, but the surface will soon get scratched about.”
What she carries in her Birkin: “I’ve got my agenda, my phone, photos of all the children [daughters Kate Barry, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Lou Doillon], and my makeup, which is all upside down. It’s the nice mess that I always like.”
But if people want to go for the real thing, fine. If they go for copies, that’s fine too. I don’t think it matters.”
On the popularity of the Birkin—both real and fake: “It’s very nice that everyone’s got one or wants one. I keep saying to Hermès to make it out of plastic or, even more fun, make it out of cardboard. Then it wouldn’t be so heavy. But if people want to go for the real thing, fine. If they go for copies, that’s fine too. I don’t think it matters.”
On handing them down: “My daughter Lou does not have one. I think it would be a horrible thing to have a Birkin bag from your mother.”