Hermès (pronounced "air-maess"), the French high fashion house was in the news recently when one of it's iconic handbags, a red crocodile Birkin with white gold & diamond hardware, was sold at auction for over $203,000. Just the description of this rare handbag by the Dallas auction house, Heritage Auctions, can make a fashion maven salivate: Hermès Exceptional Collection Shiny Rouge H Porosus Crocodile 30cm Birkin Bag with Solid 18K White Gold & Diamond Hardware. According to Women's Wear Daily, the price set a world record for a handbag sold at public auction. The winning bidder is anonymous.
Such is the stuff that has created the Hermès mystique. From the original harnesses and saddles in the late 1800s to the introduction of its first leather handbag in 1922 to this year's amazing leather and silk fashions previewed in Paris for Fall/Winter 2013, Hermès continues to symbolize beauty, wealth and fantasy. Great grandson of founder Thierry Hermès, Jean-Louis Dumas-Hermès, is the definitive hands-on chairman. He is responsible for the expansion of the v product line into luxury home goods like crystal and porcelain tableware.
Hermès continues to be one of the most revered names in the fashion world due to the meticulous craftsmanship embodied in all their products and the prestige associated with them. Hermès sales are made up of 30 % leather goods, 15 % clothes, 12 % scarves and 15% ties. Celebrities from Elle McPherson to Madonna are Hermès devotees.
According to legend, the first iconic Birkin handbag was manufactured in the early 80's for model, singer, and advocate Jane Birkin. Serendipitously, Birkin was seated next to Hermès CEO Jean-Louis Dumas on a flight from Paris to London, She had just placed her straw bag in the overhead compartment of her seat, but the contents fell to the floor, leaving her to scramble to replace the contents. Birkin expressed her disdain for her messy datebook and her quest to find the perfect weekend bag. Intrigued, Dumas asked her to describe exactly what size and features she would want in such a bag. In 1984, he created a black supple leather bag for her: known as the Birkin bag based on an 1892 design and sent it to Birkin with a personal note.
The Birkin is symbolic of wealth because of its high cost and exclusivity. Prices vary for new bags vary from about $8,000 to in excess of $35,000. The price increases based on the kind of materials used with Birkin bags being supplied to Hermès boutiques on unpredictable agendas as well as in limited amounts, creating scarcity, exclusivity, and, of course, mystique.