What Actually Makes This Bag Worth $190,000?

Birkin Bag Prices: Tamara Kalinic carries a massive Hermès shopping bag



Welcome to our series, Survival of the Chicest. Here, we'll look at the world's most iconic fashion items, from Chanel pumps to the Breton top, charting their rise to fashion fame and decoding their allure. Ultimately we'll be investigating what it is that's made these pieces so popular and allowed them to stand the test of time. Today we're looking at the Hermès Birkin bag and how it continues to appear on the arms of fashion editors, celebrities and influencers alike.

From Hollywood to the FROW, the iconic Birkin bag has become a global symbol of status and wealth. Its easy-to-recognize shape and hardware can be customized in countless exotic materials, and it's handcrafted in a six-phase process over the course of 20 hours. Even with its jaw-dropping price tag, the Hermès Birkin remains one of the most difficult bags to get your hands on because of overwhelming demand. But what exactly has given this iconic piece of arm candy such enduring popularity? To understand how the Birkin bag became such a hot-ticket item, keep scrolling.

Birkin Bag Prices: straw and leather Hermès Birkin on the streets of fashion week


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A straw-and–tan leather version of the Hermès Birkin on the streets of fashion week.


Birkin Bag Prices: Jane Birkin with her quintessential basket bag


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Jane Birkin with a basket bag instead of her namesake creation.

Birkin Bag Prices: Jane Birkin with a black Hermès Birkin bag


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Jane Birkin with a very full Birkin bag.

In 1983, or so the story goes, Jean-Louis Dumas—chief executive of Hermès at the time—was seated next to Jane Birkin on a flight from Paris to London. When the actress's top-handle basket bag tipped over, pouring all of its contents on the floor, Dumas felt inspired to design the icon a bag that was equally as stylish as her signature style but would actually stay closed—so inspired, in fact, that he drew the initial design on an aeroplane sick bag (chic) right then and there. And soon after, the Birkin bag was born.


Birkin Bag Prices: Khloe Kardashian wears a black croc Birkin Bag on her way to Jimmy Kimmel Live


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Khloé Kardashian with a crocodile version of the Hermès Birkin.

Celebrities are no stranger to the Birkin bag—surely you've seen the Kardashian squad toting their Birkins on any highly papped gym run or airport outing. Kris Jenner is said to have a whole room dedicated to her Birkins, complete with a neon sign that reads "Need money for Birkins." A sentiment we can (kind of) relate to. Kim Kardashian West even let her daughter North customize one of hers in what has to be the most expensive arts-and-crafts session of all time. 

Birkin Bag Prices: Kim Kardashian with a black Hermès Birkin bag


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Kim Kardashian West with a smaller Birkin bag in black.

Ashley Olsen is another celebrity who is often seen dashing around with a Birkin in the crook of her arm, as is Victoria's Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio. However, it seems that no one is as big a fan of the iconic arm candy as Victoria Beckham. It's guesstimated that she owns upwards of 120 Birkin bags, though you're more likely to see her sporting one of her own designs nowadays.

Birkin Bag Prices: Ashley Olsen with a tan Hermès Birkin bag


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Ashley Olsen with a larger Birkin bag in tan. 

So just what is it about the Birkin bag that has garnered it such a cult A-list following? Exclusivity, of course. It's difficult to get nature and recognizability make it the perfect flashy piece for those who love the spotlight.

Birkin Bag Prices: Alessandra Ambrosio with a black Hermès Birkin bag


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Alessandra Ambrosio with a Birkin bag in black. 


Birkin Bag Prices: Alexandra Lapp pairs a pink Birkin bag with an all red look


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A cerise pink Birkin on the streets of NYC.

The luxury resale market has seen a massive boom in the past few years, with companies like Vestiare Collective and Xupes asserting that the Hermès Birkin bag retains around 130% of its retail value at resale. The reasoning behind this? Scarcity. It's widely known you can't just stroll into any Hermès shop and expect one of the pristine shop assistants to lift the red ropes and present you with a selection of Birkin bags to choose from. As Vestiare co-founder Fanny Moizant succinctly puts it, "Anything that is hard to get is highly coveted, and there's a mystery around the bags, which makes them even more sought-after."

On 12 June 2019, Christie's London hosted a handbag auction featuring some of the world's most exotic finds, including an Hermès Birkin bag that sold for an unbelievable $190,954. This was the second most expensive handbag ever sold at auction—the record was broken in 2018 when the Matte Himalaya Niloticus Crocodile Birkin 35 with 18k White Gold & Diamond Hardware went for a colossal $309,635. One has to wonder—when would a person wear a six-figure handbag? Certainly not when their personal security takes their annual leave. 

Birkin Bag Prices: Aimee Song carries a Hermès Birkin bag



Influencer Aimee Song carries a Hermès Birkin bag in camel. 

Indeed, it seems that a Birkin's worth just keeps going up. Baghunter shared that between June 2016 and 2017, the value of Birkins on the resale market rose by 16%. Since then, Baghunter has conducted a new report which finds a growing gap between demand and supply of Birkin handbags, leading to a “mini-Hermès drought” in the resale market. “With all indicators showing Hermès has not increased production of the Birkin bag, the value of the Birkin is set to spike soon,” said Evelyn Fox, CEO at Baghunter. 

We're no expert on investments, but we'd say the Birkin sounds like a pretty sure bet. This begs the question: stock market or bag connoisseur? We'll take the bags, thanks.


This post was published at an earlier time and has since been updated.

Looking for something a bit more realistic? Check out the chicest bags you could ever own.