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FEATURE

December 12, 2015

By Lauren Bradshaw

HANDBAG HISTORY: THE MOST ICONIC & INTERESTING BIRKINS OF ALL TIME

Hermès Birkins SHOP HERMÈS BIRKINS
When it comes to handbags, Hermès Birkins are the ultimate status symbol —  crafted of the finest materials, handmade by individual artisans over a period of two days, and highly exclusive with a long wait list that makes them ever-elusive. So it should come as no surprise that they’ve secured a place in history and pop culture, from sitting on the arms of celebrities to inspiring artists and songwriters (lest we forget the line “I keep you working that Hermès Birkin bag” from Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s hit “Bonnie & Clyde”). Here are some of the most memorable Birkins since the bag first debuted in 1984.

1. The Birkin That Started It All

Before the existence of Hermès Birkins there was, of course, Jane Birkin, the muse who inspired the signature style.
Jane Birkin

Birkin with her original accessory: a basket.

Story goes that the French model-actress was on a flight with former Hermès Chief Executive Jean-Louis Dumas when her go-to bag of choice — a basket — fell over, spilling all its contents. Lamenting that she needed a handbag with pockets that was “bigger than the Kelly but smaller than Serge [Gainsbourg]’s suitcase,” Dumas sketched a design on an airplane sick bag. The rest is handbag history.
Hermès Birkins Jane Birkin

Jane Birkin decorated her namesake bag with stickers — something we do not recommend for resale value.

 

2. The Birkin That Raised Eyebrows

Kim Kardashian's George Condo Birkin.

Kim Kardashian’s George Condo Birkin. Photo courtesy of @kimkardashian.

Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are no strangers to controversy — even when it comes to their accessories of choice. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when the rapper gave his famous wife a $40,000 Birkin two years ago for Christmas, it wasn’t any regular Birkin; it came painted with surrealist nudes by artist George Condo, the same man behind the imagery on Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album cover.

 

3. The Expensive Birkin That Broke Records

Hermès Birkin Hong Kong

The most expensive Birkin ever sold at auction. Photo courtesy of Christie’s.

In June, a crocodile Hermès Birkin bag with a diamond-studded 18K white gold clasp and lock made headlines as the most expensive handbag to ever sell at auction. The final sum: a whopping $221,846, sold in a Hong Kong Christie’s auction to an anonymous bidder on the phone. “When an extremely rare bag comes up, we’ve seen prices exceed all expectations,” says Graham Wetzbarger, Senior Director of Authentication. Why the hefty price tag for this one in particular? Besides the crocodile and diamond detailing, bright color Birkins are incredibly rare.

 

4. The Big Screen Birkin (And The Small Screen Birkin)

Hermès Birkins Royal Tenenbaums

Margot Tenenbaum carrying her signature Birkin bag.

Not since Jane Birkin has the Hermès handbag been so closely associated with an individual’s identity as it is with Margot Tenenbaum. The Wes Anderson ingénue’s choice accessory is as pivotal to her entire look — recreated at countless Halloween parties every year — as her fur coat. “The Hermès bag could have been her mother’s so I thought that was fitting,” says costume designer Karen Patch who created the looks in the cult favorite. “Plus, I couldn’t find anything I liked better. Who could, right?” Indeed.
And then there’s the scene in Sex and the City — we all know the one — where Samantha attempts to get her hands on an Hermès Birkin of her very own, even name-dropping Lucy Liu in the hopes of moving up higher on the wait list. (Someone should’ve told her she could’ve just bought a Birkin on The RealReal.)

5. The Birkin As Art

Hermès Birkins Jeff Koons

The Koons Birkin sculpture alongside the original inspiration by Picasso. Soup, Birkins — some things are just life necessities. Picasso photo courtesy of pablopicasso.org.

In many ways, the Hermès Birkin is like an art piece — carefully crafted, well designed, limited in number and coveted at auction — and then there are the times when it is art. Literally. Artist Jeff Koons designed eight different sculptures for charity last year using Birkins donated by famous names like Marc Jacobs and Diane von Furstenberg. His main masterpiece: a white sculpture inspired by Picasso’s “La Soupe.”
Interested in a Birkin of your own? Shop our 12 Days Of Gifting sale dedicated to the iconic bag here