Friday, October 5, 2012

True or False: Is there a waiting list for a "Birkin" bag? Behind-the-scenes tour at Hermès.

The distinctive orange Hermès box that we all know and love resulted from a pigmentation problem during WWII. The original color was champagne. 

Designer shoes, jewelry or handbags - I can easily resist their siren's call.  But wave a colorful Hermès scarf in front of my eyes and I'm like a bull in a ring, you've got my undivided attention. It's the one luxury item that I've allowed myself to buy in Paris. In an effort to justify my purchases, I've convinced myself that I would look rather pretentious walking around a small Swiss town in a pair of red-soled Louboutins, whereas I'll still be able to wear an Hermès scarf when we're transferred to a new destination. Let's just hope that it's not somewhere tropical!

After missing the tour of Hermès with the American Women's Group in January, I was pleased when WICE proposed an exclusive visit for ten lucky members. Shortly before the store on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré opened on Tuesday morning, our group was ushered inside by Michel, the man who normally receives VIP shoppers like kings, princesses and Kim Kardashian (his words, not mine!). If it doesn't seem like a big deal that we were allowed to enter the store outside its regular hours, tell that to Madonna because Hermès denied her request for a private opening at 11:30 pm when she was in Paris for a concert last July. But Madonna isn't alone. The store doesn't give special privileges to anyone, including the former President of France Nicholas Sarkozy, who had to shop from 10:30 am to 6:30 pm just like everyone else.

According to Michel, Hermès egalitarian approach occasionally leads to some interesting experiences for mere mortals. While we were standing near the scarf counter, he regaled us with the tale of a woman who couldn't make up her mind between two carrés. For thirty minutes, she vacillated between a blue and a red one while the sales assistant did her best to patiently offer advice. Suddenly, a distinctive voice said, "Take the red scarf. It's looks the best on you." Turning to thank the man, she found herself gazing into the eyes of American actor Bruce Willis. Guess which scarf she bought?

As we walked passed the main entrance, we noticed a line forming in front of the signature doors. On a regular day, the flagship store welcomes 1,600 eager shoppers. The number increases to 4,000 prior to Christmas. While many of the customers purchase jewelry, porcelain or ready-to-wear items, leather goods account for 50% of the sales. Even though most people associate Hermès with the iconic "Birkin" and "Kelly" bags, the company originally made saddles. Famous orders have included one for Ronald Reagan with two R's and another encrusted with diamonds and emeralds for a sheik. President Sarkozy also gave one as a present to President Bush.

Knowing that many women are desperate to get their hands on an elusive "Birkin" bag, I asked Michel about the infamous 2-3 year wait list. According to him, it's just an urban legend, at least in France. He assured me that the only way to purchase a Birkin is to show up at the flagship store first thing in the morning because they will sell a bag as soon as one becomes available. The only problem is that no one, including Michel, is able to predict when that will be. If you ever spot a crocodile slithering through a swamp in Mississippi, there's a good chance that it will be a  Birkin bag or a 70,000 euro jacket in the future because that's the source of most of their skins.

For women who find it too stressful to decide between a piece of jewelry and a handbag, Hermès recently launched four different models of bags made of gold encrusted with diamonds and gemstones. At 1.5 million euros, Hermès has taken luxury to an entirely new level. As one of the women on our tour commented, it's not the kind of bag that you would want to forget in the back seat of a taxi! Of course, if you were carrying such an expensive item, you would probably have two bodyguards by your side at all times. It's definitely not a bag for me since I almost always travel by metro!

If you would like to buy a vintage Birkin bag or Hermès scarf, be sure to attend the Hermès auction at Artcurial on October 30, 2012. If you live abroad, you can participate in the auction online. Click here to read my post, "Trying to keep my paddle down at the annual vintage Hermès auction in Paris".

Other posts about Hermès: How to save money in Paris - go to the Hermès sale and Hermès, a tour of the special order workshops with photos by Kate of "Mais Oui Paris".

Kelly Sac Bijou in rose gold and diamonds 1,160 diamonds (Total carat weight: 33.94). Price 1.5 million euros.

25 comments:

  1. A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit with a small group, about 10 people, after the official closing in the evening, the Vatican museum. I think the feeling must be similar, although I prefer the Sistine Chapel. Kinde regards - S.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your comment has me pondering which building or place I would like to have all to myself. Of the places that I've visited, I think that I would pick Borobudur Temple, a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist monument in Indonesia, or a church. I'm just not sure which church/cathedral I would pick. The Sistine Chapel would definitely be a good option!

      Delete
  2. Oh là là, how does it feel to be more important than Madonna?? So, did you buy one?

    PS That gold-covered bag is tacky, I am totally spending my 1.5 mil elsewhere!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm curious, were you allowed to take pictures during your tour? These two seem not to be fully representative of what your would have seen. I know they can be particular about such things in the store.

    I remember reading a NYTimes article a while back that Hermes scarves made for over 50% of their sales in the 90s, so maybe the market is changing. It certainly seems that many people carry their bags. And if they're offering a two million dollar bag that's proof that there's just too much money in the world, too much.

    I still love their older fragrances, particularly Bel Ami. The formulation one buys in Europe is different from the one in the US; I prefer the European version. And I'm close to needing a new bottle.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Unfortunately, our group wasn't allowed to take any photos during the tour even though different people asked at various times. Kate, of "Mais Oui Paris", was really fortunate to be able to take pics during her tour. I told her that they're worth their weight in gold!

      According to Michel, the flagship store sells 150 scarves per day. That particular store also sells 16,000 H belts per year. Maybe the scarves are considered a bit more old fashioned (?) while the bags are timeless. I don't know. What do you think? Also, there's such a big price differential between a bag and a scarf.

      Almost out of your favorite fragrance? Sounds like another trip to Paris is in order!

      Delete
    2. Oh, just realized that I should clarify that the first photo shows a couple of my scarves. It wasn't taken in the store. I found the picture of the jeweled bag online. For some reason, they didn't show us one! ;)

      Delete
  4. Mary Kay, did you see the fascinating article on one of the Hermes scarf designers published recently?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing this. I know his work now, and what a tragic story.

      Delete
    2. Bridget, Thank you so much for linking to the article about Kermit Oliver! As you said, it's fascinating. I got chills down my arms when I read about his son. It also very interesting to know about the Hermes silk factory in Lyon. I wonder if I would be able to visit it? I'm going to google Oliver's work to see his TX scarves. I'm going to print the article and keep it for future reference.

      Delete
    3. You're welcome! I found it via a site called Longform.org - it curates longer-ish articles from the web. I check it every so often, and I'm always impressed by the stories I find.

      Delete
    4. Thanks for the info about Longform.org. You always find the most interesting things on the web!

      Delete
  5. Interesting tour! I love the color orange, it's so vivacious. Neat fact about Hermes' famous shade of orange coming about by accident.

    I didn't know Hermes was known for their sandals. I had wondered why the company was named after the Greek messenger god with the winged sandals, but now it makes sense.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry that I didn't include it in my post but Hermes is named after the founder, Thierry Hermès. The Hermes family was originally from Germany but settled in France in 1828 according to Wikipedia.

      Another interesting little factoid: Michel told us that the best selling sandals are the "H" flip flops.

      Delete
  6. Great post MK and what a special treat that you go to do this tour. When we were in St Tropez, Sir L's friend waltzed into Hermes and bought a Birkin that "was completely sold out in London and she couldn't find the color anywhere else." I casually looked on as I fumbled with my H&M beach bag. The man told us that no matter who you are, you are never allowed to buy two of one item at the same time - which I found very interesting and it goes towards their egalitarian approach. Now if only their prices were a bit more egalitarian!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow! I can't imagine waltzing into Hermes and buying a Birkin. I guess that's why I stick with the scarves!

      The man at the flagship store also told us that they try to limit the number of bags that they sell to one person because they want everyone to have a chance to own one. I guess that it also ensures that people aren't buying them to sell at a higher price. There's such a demand for them that I could see that happening in some parts of the world.

      Delete
  7. Mary Kay, anyone interested in Hermes should check out a hilarious book called Bringing Home The Birkin, which is a true story of one man's experience buying Birkins (and other goodies) from Hermes stores and selling them on Ebay. Fascinating and entertaining! Thanks for the shout out to my blog!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was my pleasure to link to your blog, especially since you have all the insider's pics of Hermes that I couldn't get!

      Thanks for mentioning Bringing Home the Birkin!

      Delete
  8. While on the "Fashion Walk" tour of Chanel and Hermès given once a month by "Paris Walks" my friend ran into Eric Clapton in the prêt-à-porter section of Hermès. Naturally he was getting special attention from the staff but it was during store hours. Unfortunately I was downstairs looking at the beautiful scarves.
    Carolyn

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I may have to start hanging out in Hermes to see which famous person I bump into! Seems like it's on the list of VIP places to visit while in Paris

      The Paris Walks "Fashion Walk' is a really good one, isn't it? It may have been after I did the walk with them that I visited the flagship store for the first time. I definitely know that it was the first time that I visited Chanel!

      Delete
  9. Deed despite it originating from a pigmentation problem, I think Hermes have nailed the perfect shade of orange.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, although it seems that the bright orange came as quite a shock after the more subdued champagne color!

      Delete
  10. All comments on this blog looking very beautiful thanks share of this post with me.
    Chanel Bags

    ReplyDelete
  11. The above mentioned tips are remarkably helpful for omega speedmaster watchesthat desire to feel secure and confident about popular christmas gifts what she is wearing. In understanding these facts, women are better able to choose suitable rolex datejust watches to wear.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Purses and miu miu hobo are perfect accessories for parties or formal events. The assortments are many, chanel bag online enabling the ladies to couple them with their favorite attire, whenever hermes bag outlet going out. The accessories demand nominal effort to pair louis vuitton monogram canvas with the right gowns, shoes, etc.

    ReplyDelete