Carrie: “The Birkin bag? That’s not even your style!”
Samantha: “Oh honey, it’s not so much the style; it’s what carrying it means.”
The above conversation that ensues in the fourth season of Sex and the City marks the emergence of what many deem the very first Holy Grail bag. Millions of fashion-lovers all over the world, most of whom had little to no clue about the bag’s existence, let alone understanding of the importance this bag would have in the coming decades, looked on as this cultural, artistic, and economic phenomenon shot into popularity.
But since its television debut, the Birkin’s status has only risen, cementing itself in our collective mindsets not just as a purse but as a symbol of one’s achievements. As Samantha elaborates, “When I’m tooling around town with that bag, I’ll know I’ve made it.”
Had the house of Hermès envisaged that the Birkin would revolutionize the art, commerce, and fashion scenes respectively, and place the brand itself at the convergence of the three? Perhaps not; after all, the Birkin was merely meant to be a regular-sized carryall that doubled as a diaper bag for singer and actress Jane Birkin. And the story of the bag’s inception, on a sick bag on that fateful Air France flight, is common fashion folklore by now.
Somewhere along the way, therefore, the world-famous luggage manufacturer and saddlery not only entered the mainstream of the fashion conversation but also became the most coveted brand of the modern-day. And throughout its evolution, its client list has gotten as impressive as it has become expansive – boasting the names of celebrities, presidents, and first wives, alongside some of the wealthiest individuals on the planet.
So, now that we’ve established that the brand itself has undergone a massive evolution, has the perception of the ideal Hermès buyer evolved as well? Or has its unwavering commitment to quality always been meant for… well, not quite the masses? Let’s dig into some of the characteristics of Hermès buyers.
The Hermès Person Lives the Hermès Life
Most brands nowadays sell not just a product but the notion of a lifestyle – achievable by using a said product(s). But success with different brands comes in varying degrees – how many of us have seen others use, let alone have used ourselves, a Louis Vuitton teacup set, or a Chanel bicycle, even though both are very much present among these brands’ lineups?
Hence, just because a brand is giving buyers the chance to indulge in more items aside from their well-known products, it doesn’t guarantee that anybody would actually make these purchases, except, perhaps, only its most loyal customers.
For the clients of Hermès, however, the brand has built a full-fledged ecosystem, one which most customers have no choice but to enter if they wish to make big-ticket purchases at retail, like the Birkin, the Kelly, and more recently, the Constance. We evidenced this in stories and books, in which many describe with striking honesty how. in order to get their hands on a Birkin, there was a requirement (not expressly, of course, but you get the point) to spend a minimum amount on various miscellaneous paraphernalia before requests for a Birkin from the fabled “back room” yielded results.
This goes to show how “proving one’s worth” (sometimes known as “building one’s buyer profile”) to Hermès plays a major role in determining who gets to be Hermès’ most valued clients. In other words, only those willing to live the fully realized Hermès lifestyle get to take home the big orange boxes.
The Hermès Person is Très Diplomatique!
While the premier handbags of Hermès are usually what everyone has in mind, just speaking about the Birkin doesn’t do justice to the sheer range of items Hermès has to offer, and no, I’m not speaking of the beach towels. What I’m really referring to are the silk scarves.
You probably already know of their importance (and their regal significance) from The Princess Diaries. Still, besides that, the scarves are one of the most exquisitely detailed (and meticulously crafted) Hermès products. One that is actually wearable on a day-to-day basis. Alongside those are watches, bag charms, footwear, bracelets, and a wide range of knick-knacks which I’d never be able to nonchalantly drop more than $300 on.
Still, the Hermès person would (I mean, what’s a couple of hundred compared to a Birkin with a five-figure starting price, right?). To get their hands on their desired selections of non-purse accessories (thus showing that they’re serious purchasers of the brand who aren’t just interested in the handbags) and to eventually get offered the handbags in question, there’s one force in play at Hermès that simply cannot be denied – the sales associates.
Now the discussion on SAs is a lengthy and controversial one. We’ve heard about how to build relationships with one, and we’ve also heard back from an SA. And the truth about the Hermès (and, more recently, Chanel) SAs is that they’re vested with considerably more power than other fashion houses or retailers. As such, they not only have the ability to procure exactly what you want but also sometimes surprise you with things that you never knew you needed.
In other words, an SA is like a friend who’s also an insider at Hermès. So it becomes all the more important that you treat them like one, i.e., don’t start asking about a Birkin immediately, because frankly, they get that a lot already. Diplomacy, therefore, is key.
Another cardinal rule that most Hermès veterans seem to agree on: it is advisable to accept your first offered bag, even if it isn’t exactly what you wished for – not only does it increase the chances of getting more offers in the future, but rejecting your first offer might potentially mean you won’t get others for quite some time.
The Hermès person is patient (and maybe wealthy).
“It’s four thousand.”
“And there’s a waiting list.”
“For a bag?”
“It’s not a bag; it’s a Birkin.”
Was the waitlist concept ever real, or was it just a clever product placement strategy to keep the brand’s legions of fans at bay for many years?
We may never know, but we know that one does not become an Hermès VIP overnight. Rather, they might be required to wait any length of time, from as short as a month up to a few years, to build a spending profile worthy of such status. And the prerequisite that comes with the lengthy wait-time is patience – not just because one has to spend an inordinate amount of time manifesting their Holy Grail bag, but also to decide on their selections out of the extensive range of leathers, colors, and hardware Hermès has up its sleeve.
And perhaps this wait time isn’t very unusual either. After all, Baghunter’s 2016 study revealed that the Birkin’s investment value rose by more than 500% over the course of the last 35 years, and a 14.2% annual return on a Birkin is even better than the gold standard! So, just like one would like to take their time investing in the market on stocks projected to have the highest returns, one is also required to spend some time deliberating on the Birkin of their choice.
So, now that we’ve seen what the ideal Hermès VIP is required to have, it might seem less confusing, albeit no less easy, to start planning for a Birkin. In fact, I’m sure by now, we’re all mentally feeling quite prepared to drop a few tens of thousands on a Birkin (that is, if we theoretically had the cash to spare). In reality, though, speaking from experience, I have way too many (relatively) lower-priced bags on my wishlist and not an ounce of the patience required to save up for one (kudos to fellow PurseBlogger Alejandra, who recently started her journey of acquiring one!)
Speaking of the big bucks one must drop to get their hands on a B or a K, it’s not an easy pill to swallow either. For a brand to gain the desired position in the minds of fashion’s fickle consumers, and convince them to spend upwards of a thousand dollars on their products in a market flooded with the offerings of fellow competitors, is no easy task. Even more difficult is trying to move to a more elite clientele, as we see in the case of Mulberry and Coach.
Hermès, by comparison, has not only positioned itself at a higher price point from the very beginning of its elite luggage-making days (for reference, at the time of the filming of the aforementioned Sex and the City episode, the Birkin in question retailed for $4,000, whereas a Chanel Classic Flap went for $1,500), but its buyers have actually become accustomed to paying the premium for quality and perhaps even come to expect to pay the extra costs to obtain the greater sense of status it confers.
Then, who is the ideal Hermès buyer? Well, perhaps the truth is that the ideal Hermès customer is a mix of many things – they’re bespoke individuals appreciating the finer things in life, and Hermès’ rich heritage and craftsmanship feed their need for quality and aesthetics. They’re status-conscious people eager to buy into the Hermès name, perhaps to gain social acceptance, like the ladies on Nothing But Thirty, or as a display of power as author and anthropologist Wednesday Martin describes in her book, ‘Primates of Park Avenue.’
Conversely, they might not even be looking for a recognizable purse in the first place – many Hermès bags like the Jypsiere, the Herbag, or the Evelyne are perfect for minimalist fashionistas looking for a high-quality purse that’ll last them a lifetime (plus, the concept of the bag spa is so exciting)!
At the end of the day, what makes all these separate individuals with different motives into Hermès people is the thrill of the hunt for something which can only be afforded by the very few and isn’t easily obtainable – described by Hermès itself as an “ultra-premium luxury.” And in a luxury market that the brand’s former CEO Patrick Thomas says “is built on a paradox: the more desirable the brand becomes, the more it sells, but the more it sells, the less desirable it becomes.” The balance that Hermès strikes resonates with its buyers the most.
So, do you think you’re an Hermès person?