Important National Handbag Day alert: we’re giving away an Hermès Birkin. Yes, a Birkin can be yours sans the famous waitlist and traditional plunking down of a sizable investment, all with just a few taps on Instagram (head there and look for the post with this image to learn the details and how to enter). To celebrate this rare opportunity and iconic bag, we’re doing a deep dive into the details of heritage and craftsmanship that go into the exact Birkin we’re giving away. We asked our authentication team to give us the intel on this bag’s colorway, which marked a shift in Hermès’ creative direction, why the handles are key to telling real from faux and much more. Read on and get to know the Hermès Togo Birkin 35 that could be yours.
First, can you tell us a bit of Birkin history? The first Birkin became available to the public in 1984. It’s rumored to have been illustrated on an airplane cocktail napkin when Jane Birkin had her storied encounter with then Hermès artistic director and CEO Jean-Louis Dumas. Her belongings spilled out of her trademark wicker basket, and Dumas became convinced he could build a better wicker basket — et voilà, the Birkin. But, maybe surprisingly, the Birkin wasn’t instantly popular. In fact it was a bit of a sleeper style until the late ‘90s when those in the know started sporting the bag in bright colors and exotic skins. After SATC devoted an episode to Samantha trying fruitlessly to acquire a Birkin from Hermès, the word was out and Birkinmania was born.
Let’s talk leather. What is Togo and what sets it apart from other Birkin materials? Togo leather has been used to make Hermès bags for decades. The leathers Hermès uses can be soft or rigid, smooth or grained. Togo is soft and grained. It is one of the most common and most popular leathers used by the house. Because it doesn’t show a lot of wear it ages well it, and it can also be reconditioned easily and takes color very well. Togo is very similar in appearance to Clemence, another popular Hermès leather, but Togo’s pebble texture is more raised and round in shape than that of Clemence. Overall, Togo is a heavy and durable leather, but because it’s softer, it does relax over time and lose its rigidity.
This Birkin is a 35. Can you tell us more about Birkin sizes — are some more coveted than others? Birkins come in four standard sizes: 25, 30, 35 and 40, all measured in centimeters from bottom corner to bottom corner across the front of the bag. The 35 was the original size created for Jane Birkin and is still the most common. But, fashion is a pendulum — at one time the larger two sizes were most popular, right now it’s the smallest sizes that are most popular, but there’s a lot of talk about how the 35s are making a comeback. Victoria Beckham was just spotted carrying one, and Vogue proclaimed that oversized bags are a trend for SS 2020. Lady Gaga’s studs and Sharpie-customized Birkins are both 35s. The one Samantha wanted on SATC was a 35. It’s practical and it’s a workhorse – it fits a laptop, A4 paper, your extra shoes. It’s a great first Birkin.
Let’s talk about the colorway: Etain. Etain is a classic Hermès color going back years. Like black and gold (which is really more of a camel color), it’s a popular neutral. Birkins come in over 25 shades of browns and greys, and on the spectrum, Etain is darker than Etoupe while maintaining more brown undertones than Graphite. It’s really a magical color — under different light, and in proximity to certain hues, it can read more brown or more grey, complementing almost any ensemble.
And what about the hardware? On this Birkin it’s palladium. Birkins traditionally come in two hardware options, gold or palladium. Palladium is a precious white metal in the platinum family. It doesn’t tarnish like silver nor does it require rhodium plating as white gold does. The tint almost has a tan warmness to it, as opposed to nickel which reads more blue in tone. This makes palladium very versatile, which is why it is paired with both warm and cool tones of Hermès leathers. Many people consider palladium hardware to be more casual, modern and versatile. Gold hardware can look like jewelry on a bag where palladium almost disappears, allowing the bag itself to shine.
The turn lock and key is directly inspired by the Haut à Courroies bag, the bag the Birkin was inspired by. The HAC, as it’s known, was a bag designed to carry riding equipment and allow the wearer to lock possessions securely. Jane Birkin used her namesake iteration of the bag when traveling and didn’t want her stuff spilling everywhere (like out of that iconic basket) so this remained a practical element, and it has become an Hermès signature still iconic to the brand today.
This particular Birkin is from the 2011 collection — what is the significance of this year? In early 2011 Jean Paul Gaultier departed Hermès and Christophe Lemaire was appointed Artistic Director. In his debut show for fall 2011, Lemaire released a new color — Etain — and showcased it on the runway in wool suiting, cashmere capes and lambskin accessories. Lemaire has become renowned for his take on refined, minimalist luxury, and this Birkin is a wonderful example of that from his early days as Creative Director of Hermès.
The craftsmanship is really revealed in the fine details of a Birkin. Can you tell us more? The handles are the hardest part of the Birkin for craftspeople to construct. They are made of many layers of material, and it takes a new craftsperson many tries to perfect the technique before they are ready to construct them for a finished Birkin. The handles can be a big tell on counterfeits. Often those handles are too stiff, too floppy or too lopsided — they just don’t feel right.
The four protective feet at the bottom of the bag are all applied by hand. A telltale sign on many inauthentic Birkins is that the feet will spin or unscrew. A genuine foot is not screwed in at all, but rather nailed in, meaning it should never spin. Ninety-five percent of all Birkins are lined in Chevre leather, and this one is no exception. Chevre is used as a lining material because it is extremely durable yet lightweight.