The Object Lesson

Hermes Birkin 35 in Sanguine Porosus Crocodile

Today’s luxury firm of Hermes was started in 1837 by Thierry Hermes as a modest saddlery: one of many catering to the Parisian upper crust in the 19th century, supplying quality saddles, harnesses, boots and other equine accoutrements. The family company became renowned for its devotion to materials, quality and craft. In the early 20th century they expanded into women’s bags, applying the same attention to detail to every hand stitched seam on the handbags they produced. Each bag is made by hand by a single craftsman and can take up to 40 hours to saddle stitch together. No machine can do this, it is done by the individual maker using two needles simultaneously going through the seam and will never unravel.

It was originally created in 1984 for the 60s icon and one time partner of Serge Gainsbourg, Jane Birkin, by the then creative director of Hermes, Jean-Louis Dumas. He happened to be sitting next to her on an international flight and lamented her lack of a smart handbag, as she preferred to carry a simple straw tote, feeling that most leather bags were too rigid and structured. Over a few champagnes they designed her eponymous bag using the air-sickness bag to sketch out the design, coming up with a more relaxed and boho bag.

This original Birkin, which is now in a private collection, was in black leather but its popularity has lead to the creation of many luxury examples in different coloured and multi-coloured leathers as well as the luxurious and rare crocodile examples, with many of the original skins being farmed in Australia. To buy a new Birkin from an Hermes store is next to impossible which means that most fans of the bag will have to source their dream from a reputable auction house or online dealer.

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The Object Lesson will be a periodic feature highlighting an exceptional Object from the month’s collection. This Object Lesson was presented by Ronan Sulich, curator, collector and writer of the Archaean World.

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