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20th Feb 2024

How one woman inspired the creation of the Hermès Birkin

Anna Martin

birkin bag

Birkin bags are a status symbol

The uber-rich carry them around, end up on wait lists, and sometimes just collect them, never to be taken out into the big bad world.

Yet despite the now iconic bag being owned by what seems like every single celebrity, it all started with one woman, a wicker basket, and a fashion designer.

Who is the woman who inspired the bag?

jane birkin
Credit: Getty

Born in London in 1946, Jane Birkin moved to France in the ’60s and rose to prominence as an actor for her appearances in films like 1966’s Blow Up.

A relationship with Serge Gainsbourg followed, releasing an album together they became a quintessential power couple.

When their time together came to an end in the early ’80s, Janes’s influence on the world of fashion was just kicking off.

Jane was known for carrying around a Portuguese wicker basket and little did she know it would end up inspiring the most expensive handbag in the world.

How did it happen?

jane birkin
Credit: Getty

Jane was on a flight from Paris to London when she was trying to stuff her basket into an overhead locker. Her belongings fell all over the floor, but luckily the person who sat beside her helped collect her things, his name was Jean-Louis Dumas, executive chairman of Hermès.

The two spent the flight discussing what the ideal bag would be for the actor and model, something that held everything she needed as a mother.

She sketched out a vague design for Dumas on a sick bag. Jean-Louis Dumas went back to Hermès‘ headquarters and crafted the first-ever Birkin.

It was based on an old design the company created back in 1900 and was launched in 1984.

Despite her design input, Jane reported that she didn’t like the bag, calling it “bloody heavy” when she loaded it up.

It seemed the public was on her side as it didn’t take off until years later.

How it became iconic

Birkin bag
Victoria Beckham Credit: Getty

It wasn’t until the late ’90s hit that the Birkin started to gain popularity.

Unlike the other ‘it’ bags of the era, the Birkin wasn’t covered in big brash logos, it was more of a quiet luxury.

At 35cm wide, it was a more petite version of Hermès’ Haut à Courroies – the travel bag of choice for Jane Birkin’s ex-husband, Serge.

Yet it wasn’t until 2001 that its status was sealed by Sex and the City and the iconic line: “It’s not a bag. It’s a Birkin.”

In season four of the cult show, Samantha Jones falls in love with a red Birkin 35, telling Carrie, “When I’m tooling around town with that bag, I’ll know I’ve made it.”

After discovering that there is a five-year waiting list, she pretends the bag is for her client, Lucy Liu, which does not end well.

In season two of And Just Like That, the Birkin took centre stage once again, in episode three as Seema’s Birkin was stolen.

A modern status symbol

dua lipa bag
Credit: Getty

Over 70,000 bags are made every year by Hermès with customers on waiting lists of up to six years, excited to get their hands on the leather treasure.

The exclusivity of the bag and its media status have made them incredibly desired by those in the know.

With a starting price of around €8,900 or a basic model up to €267,000 for diamond-encrusted special editions, they’re also seen as a nifty investment, regularly reselling for higher than their original price.