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The Men with the Birkin Bags

Rappers, designers and a flourishing Asian market

The Men with the Birkin Bags Rappers, designers and a flourishing Asian market

Do you know that sad nylon or monogram-print shoulder bags that our fathers stubbornly wore over their striped shirts with breast pockets? Lo and behold, from favorite boomer fetish to trendy men's accessory, men's handbags have come a long way: from tote to mini size, from duffle bags to briefcases, today's leather goods clientele knows no gender or age. The same goes, of course, for the most desired and coveted model ever, the holy grail of handbags, the iconic Birkin model by Hermès. Virgil Abloh wore them before he was even "VIRGIL," even before he created a custom version for Off-White™ in 2015; Young Thug talked about them in the 2017 track "Homie", while two years later Gunna recounted his intention to buy one for his daughter in the track "Baby Birkin". Drake has famously collected Birkin for years 'for his future wife' and is the proud holder of one of the most expensive models, the $382,000 Himalaya; Travis Scott, on the other hand, is wont to walk around LA with the Jumbo version, while Pharrell Williams' favorite is in purple crocodile leather, not to mention Marc Jacobs' vast collection.

In 2021, Therealreal, a luxury product reselling site, noted how men's interest in Birkins is growing twice as fast as women's customers: last year male interest focused on two large models, the Birkin 45 (nearly 18 inches wide) and the Birkin 50 (nearly 20 inches wide), up in searches by 361 percent and 219 percent, respectively. Hermès declined to share data on this, but demonstrating that the fashion house is targeting men's bag buyers was the unveiling of the "Rock" model, a new zippered pocket version of the HAC unveiled last February.

Although more closely associated with female imagery, the Birkin has gender-fluid roots. Like many luxury designs that have become iconic over the years, it is named for and was designed for actress Jane Birkin, whose status as a fashion icon was shaped by a wardrobe of men's coats and pants, an androgynous, minimalist look that still inspires trendsetters, as well as her daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg. It was said that she didn't particularly like handbags, but when her wicker basket spilled disastrously while she was trying to stow it in the plane's glove compartment, her traveling companion, Hermès president Jean-Louis Dumas, spent the flight designing a re-sealable duffel bag that could prevent similar mishaps in the future. The first Birkin, in black leather, dates back to 1984. But what about its predecessor? The Haut à courroies is the first-born of Hermès bags, born in the early 20th century, designed to house and carry riding saddles and boots, an ingenious and functional solution intended to make life easier for horseback riders while giving them a touch of elegance. And, at the time, horseback riding was a predominantly male sport.

@simon.gold Hermes Birkin #birkin #hermes #mensfashion #fashionweek #fallfashion #parisfashionweek #birkinbag Oblivion - Grimes

The most expensive bags currently available on the Hermès USA website, and purchasable without the usual rigmarole, are in the men's section. They are the Kelly Depeches Pouch in crocodile ($31,000) and the Bolide 1923 45 Chimères Dragon ($16,900). But if prestige is the goal and funds are not in short supply, why settle for something everyone can have? To control the market, Hermès makes the bag difficult to obtain, once through a waiting list, now through a laborious courtship ceremony. To buy a Birkin store prices start at $11,000, you need to be a VIC (Very Important Client) and spend as much and often on leather goods, home goods, and ready-to-wear. Stores may only have one or two at a time, they are never on display, and an estimated 200,000 in total are in circulation worldwide. While the idea of the It Bag as we know it today peaked in the early 21st century, a 2017 study reported by GQ, revealed that the value of Birkins has increased 500 percent over the years, making them, along with luxury watches and cars, an investment item in the increasingly popular "Money for Value" strategy. Of course, all these factors have only made the bags increasingly desirable, especially for men, a passion told via Instagram via accounts such as @meninhermes and @thebirkinboy.

The trend is not just about rappers: auction houses such as Christie's, Bonhams, and Sotheby's -the best way to snap up a Birkin outside of retail-have shared with CNA luxury the steadily increasing percentage of Asian male bidders. «We have seen this trend all over the world and especially in Asia, with big stars like G-Dragon starting the trend,» said Morgane Halimi, Sotheby's head of Bags and Accessories. Meanwhile, Jerry Chang, associate specialist for Christie's Asia Pacific, noted that the auction house has seen «active participation from male clients in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia». And so it is that the model born in '84 during an airliner flight has now become the subject of a billion-dollar business, the walking demonstration of how much fashion can influence mass culture and, to this day, investment as well. What began as an accessory for a select few has become a universal status symbol.