Style

Birkin bags don't come cheap or easy

One of the biggest mysteries in luxury fashion finally has been solved.

As one eBay reseller found out, the Birkin might be the most coveted handbag of all time, but the scarceness is a brilliant ploy.

Michael Tonello tells his story in “Bringing Home the Birkin: My Life in Hot Pursuit of the World's Most Coveted Handbag (William Morrow, 272 pages, $25.95).”

The waiting list for the Hermes Birkin bag is legendary. Two years, it's said. Maybe less if you're a celebrity.

Of course, that's assuming you have $8,000 to plunk down for the French handbag. And that's just for one of the lower-end models.

The bag, which Hermes started selling in 1984, for years was known mostly by the truly fashionable and wealthy. Only recently, as more fashion trends are sparked by Hollywood celebrities, has the bag become more well-known.

Tonello, like so many people in America, had never even heard of a Birkin before moving from Boston to Spain in 1999. In the book, he describes discovering how much money he can make reselling his designer clothes. After realizing the demand for Hermes scarves, he starts hitting stores around Europe to stock up on hard-to-find patterns.

Soon he finds himself selling hundreds of Hermes items a week. A customer (a celebrity) asks about scoring a Birkin.

A Birkin? He gets educated fast on the bag – about the two-year waiting list, the staggering price (some cost more than $100,000) and the unprecedented demand.

He figures out how to bypass the so-called “waiting list” to get a bag. It's simple, really. And a classic case of supply and demand.

It boils down to this: You might have $8,000 to blow on a bag. But Hermes doesn't really care. It wants you to prove you're an even better customer by buying thousands of dollars in other Hermes merchandise and establishing yourself as a premier customer.

“They don't want to just sell the Birkin,” Tonello says. “They want to sell the other stuff they make. It's really brilliant.”

Once the customer hits that certain mark, she's then treated as a celebrity, he says, made to feel that she's somehow jumped in line over all the others.

In 2005, during the height of his Birkin eBay frenzy, he says he spent $1.6 million at Hermes. And from September until Christmas of that year, he bought and sold 135 Birkins.

The book goes on to tell about the ups and downs of buying Birkins and some of the customers who lusted after them. But is the bag really worth it?

“It's like anything else,” he says. “Is it worth it to you personally?”

But what women want from the bag is the same thing a man wants when he drives up to a restaurant in a Bentley.

“This little handbag has the exact same amount of impact to other women, especially other women who are in the know,” he says. “It's such a powerful tool.”

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