“It’s not a bag; it’s a Birkin”
Sex and the City
@parisianvibe It is not a bag, it is a birkin❤️ #birkinbag #hermesbirkin #hermes #hermesbags ♬ original sound - parisianvibe
It was August 2001 when, in an episode of Sex and the City, Samantha was told the immortal words: “It’s not a bag; it’s a Birkin.” As demand for the quintessential fashion accessory skyrocketed, people realised that the Hermès Birkin bag had become an icon. But who came up with Birkin? Who was the woman behind this most wanted fashion piece, and why was the Birkin bag named after Jane?
Jane Birkin is the icon behind the quintessential Hermès Birkin bag
Jane Birkin (1946- 2023) was the woman who inspired the world’s most desired Hermes handbag, with a five-year wait list to score one. The news of her loss is running around, and the fashion world is mourning another icon.
Known for her effortless “cocktail” style, Jane Birkin was an Anglo singer and songwriter, actress and activist, but her signature presence in the fashion world will never be forgotten.
“I’m not as nicely turned out as the French, but I don’t care like the English” – Jane Birkin, singer, actress and fashion icon
At the very beginning of her acting career, Jane Birkin was known simply as “the blonde” naked girl appearing as the first fully nude British model in the mainstream film Blow-Up (1966) by Michelangelo Antonioni. From that scandalous screening, a star was born.
Jane Birkin on the set of Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 film Blow-Up
Then in 1968, she left Swinging London to Paris, where she met her long costar partner, the actor and singer Serge Gainsbourg. Together they were the golden-style couple with sex appeal and explicit looks. And Birkin soon became the “most Parisian of the English”, rising to fame in France.
Undoubtedly Jane Birkin’s name is engraved with the notorious handbag of the Maison Hermès (Anderson, R. (2011) Fifty bags that changed the world. 2011 edn. London: Conran Octopus Ltd and Cox, C. (2007) Bags: an illustrated history. London: Aurum). At the time, Jane Birkin was already an icon of style in the freedom of the 70s. “Her style has become ingrained in the DNA of the Parisienne—insouciant, dishevelled, and organic. An attitude more than a formula to dressing [...]” (Osman Ahmed, Bloomsbury online). Before the Birkin bag, Jane Birkin had already marked her signature style by wearing a straw basket as a handbag, embodying that laissez-faire attire she became recognised for.
Birkin was a style icon long before the Hermès bag, she had already developed a signature style by wearing a straw basket as a handbag
However, the story behind the creation of the Birkin bag is legendary. According to the story, in the 80s, Jean-Louis Dumas, the Executive Chairman of Hermès (1978-2006), met the actress on an Air France flight from Paris to London. She accidentally scattered the content of her bag on the floor and complained about the lack of pockets – “You should have one with pockets,” said Dumas seated next to her. “The day Hermès makes one with pockets, I will have that,” replayed Jane Birkin and Dumas revealed to work at Hermès. Allegedly, on that occasion, he drew the first sketches of a bag resembling the iconic Hermès Kelly bag (named after Grace Kelly) but with added pockets, and Jane Birkin lent her name in exchange for an early version of it. It was 1984 when the legendary Birkin bag was released.
The first-ever made Hermès Birkin bag, owned by Jane Birkin, at the V&A exhibition in London - Bags: Inside Out 2021-2022, sponsored by Mulberry. Source: V&A Exhibition Video
In the 90s, the Birkin bag became a global phenomenon and one of the most recognisable luxury accessories, especially in its oversized formats, worn by Hollywood actresses and supermodels. So popular that even the TV series Sex and the City in the 2000s mentioned the fascination behind owning such a bag worth a fortune (from $10,900 to $155,600 and more).
With the loss of Jane Birkin, the notorious bag will become even more discreetly unavailable, as claimed by Hermès due to a shortage of production (see Vogue Business article for more).
The loss of Jane Birkin means the infamous Birkin bag will become even more discreetly unavailable
British Vogue even published a fresh article on Everything You Need To Know About Buying An Hermès Bag (Vogue.com 17th July 2023).
Surprisingly, among many luxurious and unattainable fashion ideals, Jane Birkin’s style and concept of femininity was a combination of simplicity and natural charm, which has had a lasting impact on designers and fashion icons, even resonating with social media enthusiasts (BoF – How Jane Birkin Changed ‘French Girl’ Style Forever).
Jane Birkin's style of femininity and her lifestyle continues to inspire many today
In honour of Jane Birkin’s legacy, the IG account @janebirkindaily pays tribute to her style with 194k followers, sharing pictures and videos showcasing the Birkin lifestyle from the 60s to the 80s, and continues to inspire many.
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