Opinion

Why Does Everybody Want to Be the New Hermès?

When brands compete for prices, everybody loses...

Few people possess the ability to send the entirety of the fashion world into a veritable frenzy. One (or rather, two) of them are the Olsen twins. Case in point: when Miss Mary-Kate stepped out of a salon one evening, the internet collectively went crazy (as it does). The object of its obsession? Not her gorgeous, all-black outfit, complete with a decadent, full-length, black fur-trimmed coat. Not the fact that she’d squarely donned oversized sunglasses well after sundown. Rather, it was her trusty Hermès Kelly that sent the Karens of high fashion clutching their pearls in abject horror.

Similar in its sorry state to Ms. Olsen’s equally derelict Balenciaga, formerly senior fashion writer at Vogue, Liana Satenstein, describes it best, “Though the bag costs upwards of $10,000, she treats it like the overstuffed briefcase of a used-car salesman.” But despite a certain segment gasping at the dilapidated carryall like it’s the ultimate fashion faux pas, a growing group of fashionistas are seeking solace in the handbag’s distress. And why shouldn’t they? More often than not, what makes a piece truly luxurious is that it can be lived in AND look cool, and few brands have that covered as well as Hermès.

The Olson Twins

Thus, for the first time in the history of the house, we’re living in an era when beaten-up Birkins, not their pristine, coddled counterparts, are in vogue, as the recent NYT article suggests. But while this new trend has the Land of the Big Orange going sideways (if ever so slightly), it now appears that every other brand is also trying to “up their game” and follow Hermès footsteps. And we all know what that means – price increases!

Playing the Hermès Game

The phenomenon isn’t all that puzzling when you think about it. In an industry that’s all about gratification, Birkin lookalikes at price points, both low and high, have long existed within the luxury pantheon. And despite the large number in circulation (some estimates put it at over a million pieces), the Birkin has successfully managed to hold onto its rarefied air of exclusivity. Almost makes you think that at the end of the day, it’s Hermès that everybody wants. So, why shouldn’t other brands emulate the storied house?

But filling in the market gaps deliberately left open by Hermès is easier said than done. In fact, luxury manufacturers, both within and beyond fashion, have always taken a certain pride in the alleged gamification of their shopping process. Enzo Ferrari even having famously said, “Ferrari will always deliver one car less than the market demand.” Consequently, this has vested considerable power in their sales associates, who may often force buyers to spend generous amounts on pieces they’re likely to earn commissions on before granting access to the mythical backroom inventory.

For Hermès-buyers, of course, all that is a standard thoroughfare. Its brand equity is built on such secretive tactics. What often comes as a surprise to customers, however, is that houses like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Celine are also now attempting the model, hiking prices over increasingly shorter spans of time, thus, distancing themselves from entry-level buyers. There are plenty of justifications for this too, ranging from maintaining margins amidst raw material crises to, as seen in Vuitton’s case, placing greater emphasis on the high-end segments.

But perhaps most enticing among them all is the unprecedented post-pandemic surge in demand for Hermès goods when the world was on lockdown and fashion as a whole was counting its losses, which has convinced its peers to adopt similar strategies.

LV Vertical Trunk

But Not So Fast!

Now, if brands were to think that merely raising prices across the board, thereby placing themselves at a more premium price point, would get them on par with Hermès, they’d certainly be mistaken. A true example of the fabled “Veblen goods” in Economics, Hermès, unlike its contemporaries, restricts its supply to protect its exclusivity, in turn, letting the market (or, at least, the secondary market) determine prices. And when there are simply fewer Birkins to go by, buyers must either satiate themselves with Hermès’ various consolation prizes, like scarves and beach towels or pay multiple times the premium on the secondary market.

In short, Hermès has developed an entire ecosystem that forces its buyers to “live the lifestyle” before getting their hands on a Birkin or a Kelly. Add to this its storied ateliers, meticulous craftsmanship, and the overall notion of the elegant Parisienne Hermès lady, and you see why the brand can stir up the perfect storm among fans every time.

On the other hand, competitors are faced with a twofold challenge. With the expansive production capacities of the likes of Louis Vuitton and Gucci, not only does rationing supply become unfeasible, but very often, enough attention can’t be devoted to the final product either. And few buyers would be willing to drop the big bucks on a purse if it lacks the refinement that commands the price tag. Plus, too many price increases, at the end of the day, are a major turn-off, driving buyers towards resale platforms.

The New Gateway Drug

In fact, with most brands either withdrawing or incessantly marking up their formerly entry-level pieces (*coughs* Louis Vuitton card cases), it is on the pre-loved market that buyers are finding their first luxury acquisitions, especially for the premier brands, like Hermès, Chanel, Vuitton, and Prada. And one of the hottest selling categories, at least, for The RealReal, are items in “fair condition” that Ms. Olsen certainly would approve of!

“We realized there was an opportunity just below good and before rejecting something,” notes the senior fashion lead of TRR, Noelle Sciacca. Priced on average 33% below mint-condition handbags, the site’s annual Luxury Consignment Report, 2022, indicates rising demand for pieces marked as “fair,” signifying a preference for their relative longevity, quality, and worn-in chic over their pristine counterparts. The trend has even taken to TikTok, where Alex Pardoe of @birkintrash recently documented himself “peeling the stickers off the hardware so I can beat this Birkin up like Jane Birkin intended.” And the recent Christie’s auction of the late André Leon Talley’s much-loved Haut à Courroies for a whopping $32,000 only shows us that beater bags are truly the new chic!

Hermes Kelly Bag

Eventually, as luxury increasingly becomes less accessible to the masses, there’ll always be another trend to turn the entire notion of luxury on its head. But the market for pristine pieces also isn’t going anywhere soon, and purchasing secondhand allows us to further appreciate a boutique buy, complete with the sense of brand heritage, with an unmatched ambiance to the sport!

Nevertheless, at the end of the day, the industry-wide shift towards Hermès-like tactics, paired with the sense of purse-fatigue that many buyers face, indicates that there’s simply a need for more non-fussy luxuries that can actually be used for their intended purposes, à la Mrs. Birkin. Until then, it’s the indie brands emerging as clear winners!

guest

12 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Rita S
Rita S
1 year ago

You are such an amazing writer! Love your articles. They’re not just so well-written, but also are very informative and full of humor.

Heather
Heather
1 year ago
Reply to  Rita S

Agree! This was so well-written, both fun and informative/interesting.

adguru
adguru
1 year ago

Great article, as always! Instead of chasing Bs and Ks, I wish more people would recognize and appreciate the other wonderful bags Hermès offers.

Sophia
Sophia
1 year ago

Good article, but is there no one else you could have quoted besides birkintrash who recently admitted to owning and selling fake birkins after being outed?

Samantha
Samantha
1 year ago
Reply to  Sophia

Yes, and he sold to FP who dropped him after learning about this!

Nora
Nora
1 year ago
Reply to  Samantha

Hi,

Do you know if FP caught these fake Birkins on the way in? I’ve purchased both Birkins and Kellys from them.

Thanks:).

Samantha
Samantha
1 year ago
Reply to  Nora

I believe they stopped accepting his stuff immediately after he disclosed what he was doing. I don’t know the answer to your question, but they could answer it.

Gigi
Gigi
1 year ago

Very thoughtful article – I really enjoyed reading this. And this ridiculous price gauging from Chanel and Hermes has completely turned me off both brands. I own a few bags from each, and I promised myself after seeing the ridiculousness of the price increases, that I am not buying new from them anymore.

Antonia
Antonia
1 year ago

I agree with everyone, you are so good at these articles. I truly enjoy reading each and everyone of them! Thank you!! 🙂

Terri
Terri
1 year ago

I always look forward to reading your articles, Sajid Bin Mohammad!
Super informative and fun!

Catlin
Catlin
1 year ago

Interesting read. Hermes, right wrong or indifferent, does seem to have figured out how to maintain their mystique, even in the face of Birkins and Kelly’s exploding all over Instagram.

Adangerousbeauti
Adangerousbeauti
1 year ago

The box kelly is so distressed like crazy that it’s not chic at all