Monday, June 20, 2011
Bringing Home the Birkin
If you are looking for a good read for summer, I highly recommend Michael Tonello’s 2008 Bringing Home the Birkin: My Life in Hot Pursuit of the World’s Most Coveted Handbag. It’s a hilarious account of Tonello’s life once he moved to Spain for a job offer that fell through, started selling high-end merchandise out of his own closet to pay his bills, and once those things ran out, turned to hocking Hermès scarves on eBay. Once he developed a “formula” for obtaining them, he began trading in the ne plus ultra of handbags—the Hermès Birkin.
It’s great fun to read how Tonello outsmarts Hermès at their own game of the infamous wait list for Birkins and to follow him as he encounters the various con artists, Hermès addicts and employees during his years as a “Birkin boy.” There are also wonderful descriptions of places around the world his unique job allowed him to visit—my favorite is his chapter on Capri, which he says has the world’s smallest Hermès store—so this book is especially good to read while you’re on a lounge chair, sipping a cool drink.
There’s more happening here, however, than just the seemingly insatiable lust for one of the world’s most expensive handbags. There is also Hermès before their goods were available online, an old French company trying to reposition themselves for the 21st century, gaining tighter control over their means of distribution and getting rid of franchises they’d started back when they were unsure of how successful they could be as a global company. I guess we all know how that turned out. Hermès is now so attractive as a luxury juggernaut that it’s easy to understand why Bernard Arnault, chairman of LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton), sneakily found a way to buy a 20.2% stake in the company last year, which Hermès—a family-held enterprise—does not like at all. Arnault also believes in complete control in the marketplace, keeping prices high and promoting the aspirational aspect of luxury items. Wouldn’t he just love to add Hermès to the list of brands LVMH owns.
Tonello has included a helpful glossary in the back of his book to teach you the specifics of the Kelly or the Birkin, and between him and the ladies at the Purse Forum, I learned everything I know about both bags. Disgustingly expensive yes, but a Birkin is also one of the most well-designed bags ever made and you may just wish for one yourself after reading Tonello’s entertaining book.