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How A Surprise Upgrade on Air France Led to One of Fashion’s Biggest Moments

How A Surprise Upgrade on Air France Led to One of Fashion’s Biggest Moments
Meg Butler

The Birkin bag, the ideal choice of accessory for fashionistas everywhere, has a pretty unique origin story; it was actually created from sketches an actress, Jane Birkin, made on a flight when she was surreptitiously seated next to the former chief executive of Hermès, the company that makes the bags.

Leather Birkin bags are a massive status symbol, a much-desired accessory, if you can afford it.  A Birkin bag starts at around $8,500 and rare editions like the Hermès Himalaya which is made of white Nile crocodile skin died to look like the snow-capped Himalayas, sell for as much as $500,000 apiece. But, while every fashion aficionado knows the name Hermès Birkin, not everyone knows the bag’s origin story, which was born on a flight from Paris to London.

The story begins in early 1981 when actress Jane Birkin received a surprise upgrade to business class on her Air France flight from Paris to London. She ended up sitting next to Jean-Louis Dumas, the then chief executive at Hermès. Birkin, the story goes, accidentally spilled the contents of her signature straw bag, all over the floor, which started a conversation between Birkin and Dumas about her idea for the ideal purse.

They sketched the basics of the Birkin during the flight, on the back of a vomit bag. That bag (the Birkin sketch, not the vomit container) went on to help Hermès become the fashion powerhouse it is today, though the Birkin really only became popular in the 90s.

“It opened Hermès up to new markets and customers, but it also changed the typical Hermès client,” Jérôme Lalande, an antique dealer focusing on 20th-Century leather goods, told BBC Culture.

And now the bag is so popular that you just have to wish you can get one.

“It’s a wish list, not an order list,” Lalande said. “They don’t take orders anymore; you just have to hope.”

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1 Comment

  1. alexmyboy

    October 28, 2019 at 5:39 am

    get a life, it’s a purse

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