Hermes’ most popular bags have always been relatively out of reach and hard to get. 30 years ago, that was due to factors such as forbidding Sales Associates, stratospheric pricing, and the fact that there weren’t many boutiques.
Hermès expanded its footprint (and offerings) just as the internet was gaining ground; the explosion and influence of social media have certainly worked in its favor. However, not very much seems to have changed in the actual availability of its most-in-demand items.
Building Relationships through Birkin Bait
What has changed, however, is that instead of running up against a gatekeeping Frau Farbissina-type telling the hoi polloi that “the waitlist is closed” or “we don’t know if/when we are getting any (of whatever it is that you want),” customers (ahem, “clients”) are encouraged to build a relationship with an individual (and generally more accessible) Sales Associate and boutique; to make purchases across various departments; and to make those purchases on at least a somewhat consistent basis. In that regard, I suppose the process of acquiring one’s desired bag has become a bit more egalitarian: show us that you love us, Hermès implies, and we might show you some love back.
These purchases, for lack of a better (or more clickbait-y) descriptor, have become known, colloquially, as “Birkin Bait”: items purchased from various departments so that Hermès will offer you the bag that you want (of course, the right color and leather are a different story…). This is also ironically known as “pre-spend”: ironically, as it is money that you have spent so that you will be invited to spend more.
The Unspoken Pre-Spend Ratio
Clients sometimes talk about pre-spend in terms of a ratio; pre-COVID, it was often 1:1 or 1.5:1. That is, there is an unspoken expectation that a client will spend anywhere from the same amount to one and a half times the amount of the cost of the bag that client wants to buy, to be offered that bag.
More recently, as certain bags have grown exponentially in demand, the ratio has, in some cases, gone much higher, reaching 3:1 or even 5:1 depending upon the particular boutique and the desired bag.
While part of the intent behind this understanding is to dissuade customers from only purchasing Birkins and Kellys, it also serves several practical purposes: it helps manage client expectations, it keeps the most in-demand items hard to get, and it creates clients of various other métiers in the process.
A Personal Experience of Becoming an Hermès Client
As a broke law student in the 90s, I purchased all my good clothes secondhand and tied my workwear together with one of a few Hermès scarves which had been gifted to me. When I could afford to purchase my own scarves, I did – but I didn’t venture beyond scarves and a few SLGs for my first ten years of being an Hermès client. Finally, my SA began actively encouraging me to purchase one. What did I want – a Birkin, a Kelly? I eventually gave her a list with a few choices; 3 days later, my number one choice arrived in the boutique, and I brought home a 30cm Birkin (along with a new addiction to Hermès leather).
More than 15 years later, I still enjoy the bags very much, but as other Hermès métiers have grown and expanded, I always find things to love in every department. This is probably why I’ve never felt the need to keep track of how much I spend; every so often, I figure I have probably spent enough to put in a request, and my SA and I begin to discuss what bag is next.
Of course, everyone’s experience is unique; some clients keep a close eye on their purchases for their pre-spend ratio. What to buy, then? Are all non-bag purchases equal in the eyes of the Store Manager? Or are some metièrs more highly regarded than others?
Navigating the Hermès Departments for Pre-spend
There are, of course, no set rules, and all of this is anecdotal. Some believe that the more expensive departments – furniture and fine jewelry – are the most preferable if you’re hoping not to have to wait very long for a bag. That makes sense, as some of the pieces in these departments cost upwards of six figures.
More realistically (realistic being a relative term here), Ready-to-Wear, Housewares, Watches, and Shoes are also good departments to look at. However, you should only buy what you love and afford, so if, like me, you are addicted to the scarves, know that it all counts.
Expanding Your Hermès Wishlist
With that said, there are many very appealing offerings of late in every category. Whereas years ago, I only really liked the scarf and wallet designs, now I have a different problem: trying to convince myself that I don’t need all the temptations I find in every Hermès department.
That’s not a bad thing: no one wants to feel required to make a purchase – such as, say, an elephant paperweight that no one needs – just to seem like a serious client. Even better, there is a good enough range of price points and styles so that there really is something for a variety of tastes and needs.
Maximizing Your Pre-spend: Recommendations and Strategies
Here, then, are some suggestions to get your ratio going in various departments (“Good”), a less predictable and unique option (“Better”), and a few purchases that might even get a Store Manager’s attention (“Ratio Buster”).
The Hermès Shoes Department
Many clients start with this department, as the prices are relatively reasonable and are comparable to other fashion houses. Additionally, they have a lot of useful and/or appealing designs.
Good: Oran Sandals
Many clients buy at least one pair of Orans: they’re easy to wear; they’re a good price point for Hermès; they come in many different colors; and new embellished options (silk patterns, crystals, studs, fur) are offered every season. Most clients find them comfortable (I live in Orans most summer days), although it seems that those with a high arch or a narrow/wide foot may not be able to find the right fit so easily.
Of course, the Oran might not be your thing. They have many sandal styles, all in about the same price range: some have a block heel, others have a cork sole, and styles range from feminine to that ubiquitous “dad shoe” look.
My most worn shoe – not my most worn Hermès shoe, my most worn shoe, period – is a pair of white Dare sneakers, with gold fuzzy lining and a thick sole, which seem to go perfectly with anything from casual dresses and skirts to any style of jeans. For a similar, go-anywhere aesthetic, there is the Deep sneaker, which is offered in white with different accent colors; for a style that’s a bit more similar to the specific shape of the Dare but with a thinner sole, there is the Day sneaker.
Better: Jumping Boots
No item in the shoe department is more iconically Hermès than the Jumping Boot: a riding-style boot with a tall, elegant Boxcalf leather shaft accented with a Kelly-style buckle. It’s also one of the more expensive unembellished shoes Hermès makes, but it is a forever classic (and really, how many will you need?). Note that these are now produced in two shaft heights – 14.7″ (the Jumping) and 13.5″ (the Jumping Shorter) – to accommodate different leg proportions.
Ratio Buster: Exotic Shoes
Of course, if you really want to speed up your waiting time, shoes can sometimes be found in various exotic leathers, including Ostrich, Lizard, and Crocodile.
The Hermès Housewares Department
This is another good department with expanding options, even though everyone seems to just go for the Avalon Blanket. While the Avalon is a useful, iconic piece, of course, there is so much more.
Hermès produces a range of elegant patterns to fall in love with, and you can build a collection piece by piece over time within a pattern or be whimsical and mix-and-match. Of course, the ashtray has long outlived its original purpose, but the style has found new life, along with the change tray, as a pretty decorative piece or a catch-all for jewelry or small items.
Better: A Cozy Blanket (but not the Avalon!)
Hermès blankets are yummy and thick; most are 100% cashmere, and some have amazing designs featuring equestrian themes. Others are abstract, yet others have photo-quality prints. If you must get a blanket and really like the Avalon (53″ × 67″, $1,750) aesthetic, there is also the Ithaque (53.1″ × 68.9″, $1,775). The dimensions and the prices are about the same, and the Ithaque, which is made of wool and cashmere, is double-sided; it has a lighter and darker side, each featuring the same colors.
Ratio Buster: Samarcande Chess Set
While it’s not the first item that comes to mind when planning an Hermès shopping trip, Hermès does produce game sets, from various styles of playing cards to backgammon to chess. This is one of those items which will likely get an SA’s attention.
The Hermès Ready-to-Wear Department
Good: Cotton Dress
I love a good, easy cotton dress: it’s a throw-it-on-and-go piece that can be dressed up or down, worn layered or alone. Hermès seems to make two versions every season, each available in two or three different colors: one with a print and one in a single color with an embroidered pocket.
Hermès makes great knits: the sweaters always seem to hit the right spot for pants or a skirt and feature either a textured pattern in the knit or a silk panel (twillaine).
Of course, Hermès is known for its leather, and not just the bags: the leather ready-to-wear is solidly constructed and often very flattering. The Equestrian Jacket is a classic piece they make every season that will suit just about any wardrobe.
Ratio Buster: Outerwear
Hermès produces luscious winter coats of cashmere, shearling, and leather; prices tend to start in the five figures. Unfortunately, this is not the time of year to find tempting winter wear, but stay tuned!
The Hermès Watches Department
Good: Apple Watch Hermès
Hermès has had a very successful collaboration with Apple on the digital watch: it keeps all the bells and whistles of the unbranded version and adds special straps and Hermès-only watch faces.
Better: Cape Cod
Another classic Hermès design, the Cape Cod is a great everyday watch. There are sporty-chic versions with a simple single- or double-tour strap and dressier versions with a sprinkle of diamonds.
Ratio Buster: Exceptional Timepieces
At the (far) upper end of the price range are exceptional timepieces like the Faubourg Joailliere Watches, which are just as much jewelry as timepieces.
The Hermès Fine Jewelry Department
Good: Sterling Silver
Many of Hermès Sterling Silver pieces are reasonably priced and easy to wear; some designs, especially the multilayered Enchainèe and Punk pieces, have a big impact. The classic Chaine d’Ancre bracelet is versatile and comes in a variety of sizes.
Better: Gold Bracelets
The perennially popular Kelly and Collier de Chien bracelets go well in any stack or on their own; newer styles like the Chaine d’Ancre Chaos Bracelet have a more relaxed look.
Ratio Buster: Galop Hermès Bracelet
Lastly, The Hermès Furtniture Department
Furniture is the most challenging metier to suggest because even the most basic items are exorbitant, and many may only appeal to a certain modern-minimalist aesthetic (the least expensive item on the Hermes website is a seat cushion for $1,500; sofa prices are in the six figures).
Good: Les Trotteuses d’Hermes occasional tables
With that said, if you want to get on the inside track with your SA, you like the style, and you don’t want to go too crazy, there is the new Les Trotteuses d’Hermes line of occasional tables (in 3 sizes with varying height-width combinations) which utilize a round painted porcelain tray atop a leather-and-wood base that is a bit more universally appealing.
Ratio Buster: Les Necessaires d’Hermes folding desk
However, if you really want to go crazy and get that bag of your dreams right away, may I suggest this super-cool fantasy piece?