I have an Hermès handbag. It cost so much I’ve never actually revealed to my nearest and dearest how much I paid for it. Well how nice for me you might think. But let me tell you the backstory before you write me off as an over privileged bag tart!
I’d wanted an Hermès Birkin from as soon as I knew what one was. To my youthful eyes it connoted sophistication, elegance and timeless style, all the adjectives I craved for myself as a gangly teenager. But I couldn’t afford one so I bought cheap alternatives. And yet, over the years, I continued to imagine myself, one day, as Birkin woman, a vision of perpetually luminescent skin, and hair that would never get frizzy. As I entered my 30s, other priorities and my career rose to the fore, I got married, then divorced and the bag was largely forgotten. I was too busy to dream of alternative realities. But as the turn into my next decade loomed, a decision was made. A Birkin had to be mine. I deserved it. I wanted it. And more to the point, I finally felt ready for it.
But I still couldn’t afford it. And so the Birkin fund was born, a separate savings account specifically for the bag. If I did some freelance work, into the account went the cheque. Gifted any money, in it went. Most significantly, I decided to sell all my existing handbags, amassed over the years and currently residing unloved in my wardrobe. After all, I reasoned, once I had the Birkin, I wouldn’t need any others would it? I clearly recall the day I cleared out my closets and laid out every bag I owned across the lounge floor, forcing myself to photograph the lot for eBay. Did I really need four shoulder bags? Depends how much you want that Hermès, I told myself. Same with the once de rigeur Fendi baguette, barely used. Prada bags bought in seasonal fashion fits, but now outmoded and so it went on. It was painful, and in truth it took me the best part of a year to fully relinquish the lot. And I confess, there were a few I couldn’t part with: an extraordinary red leather braided Valentino, a cashmere Fendi tote, a Prada clasp purse, a pale pink Miu Miu summer shopper, two YSL shoulder bags, a 50s vintage number and a smattering of evening clutches, mostly vintage too. I still don’t use most of them, but these were the handbags that could tell stories; they were part of my history, representing “moments” not just purchases. These were the bags I knew I’d be sad to lose. So they stayed.
As the fund filled, so the pain of separation for those sold abated. The pace of accumulation picked up as well as I declined birthday presents in favour of a contribution, and even put in unspent monies too. In other words if I tried something on but decided I didn’t actually need it or love it enough, this was xx pounds saved for the bag. Everything was quantified in terms of do-I-want-this-item-more-than-the-bag? I channelled the famously thrifty Warren Buffet, who before buying anything would quantify its real cost as the amount that money might have earned if otherwise invested in his funds. It’s a sobering thought. But focusing, and very useful when shopping.
And so it was that just before that significant birthday, I entered the hallowed halls of Hermès for my official commissioning appointment. I pored over the leather swatches; there’s a special book with every imaginable colour, grain and finish of hide within. I knew exactly what I wanted, I’d spent years dreaming of it, but still, finalising the decision was tough. I had to love my choice for a lifetime. I decided its size: big enough for a magazine and laptop but not so large as to be cumbersome. I choose the finish of my hardware, the colour of stitching, and the shade of the edge seal. And then I waited for my handmade piece of perfection to be lovingly custom-created just for me. The day they called to say it was ready was a beautiful spring day. I hadn’t told a soul. I couldn’t believe it was finally going to be mine. I walked out of that shop with my huge orange carrier bag and couldn’t stop looking at the box inside. I skipped back to the office and welcomed the gasps of admiration. At first I was coy, I didn’t want to take it out of the box, I was almost too afraid to use it. I went home and just looked at it for a week. I smelt it. I stroked it. I loved it as much as I knew I would. I was finally Birkin woman, and it was worth every sold bag and saved penny. And I’ve used it practically every single day since. So cost per wear, over the course of what I hope will be a lengthy lifetime, it’ll end up being the cheapest bag I’ve ever owned. And what’s more, it’s value will hold, if not increase, should I ever wish to part with it. But I suspect not. It’s a legacy piece. One to be handed on. And every time I use it, I remember the love that’s gone into it, both from my desire to save for it, and the makers dedication to crafting it. But then it’s an original, authentic, quality product, so why would I expect anything less?