Birkin this, Birkin that. 2020 has been the year of Birkin talk. But what makes this bag so different from others is that it’s considered the premier accessory in fashion. The original Birkin bag was inspired by actress Jane Birkin in 1984. After former Hermes Chief Executive Jean-Louis Dumas sat next to actress Jane Birkin on a flight, her frustration at being unable to find a leather bag for her trip would go on to be the inspiration for the original Birkin. Who would’ve thought that something so simple would go on to become the ultimate status bag?
Every bag is handmade, and because of the delicacy of the materials and time taken to create each one, only a limited amount are made yearly. Some are made of exotic skins as well, such as crocodile, alligator, calf, lizard, and ostrich. Designed with real gold or diamonds, this bag has come in every style possible. Because of its exclusivity, the wait list is a lengthy one–even years long. Status and wealth usually drive you up the list. Traditionally, back when it was harder to be a celebrity, those of status were typically the ones sporting the bag. Of course the criteria for being a celebrity has changed significantly, along with the number of bags being produced, meaning the bag has become more accessible over time.
More recently, as demonstrated by the higher sale rates of Hermes, Birkins are slowly becoming the standard for gifting. Bags that can exceed $200,000 have become the ultimate show of affection, showcased mainly from within hip hop culture. It was definitely a trend this pandemic to purchase Birkin bags. What provoked it, who knows, but there wasn’t a rapper, raptress or significant other who didn’t have, gift, show off, or style themselves around one. Coinciding with the fashion trend came constant song references to the luxury bag.
A lot of the Birkin showcasing took place during (what should have been) the lockdown. Several celebrations were shown through social media where many rappers were gifting and purchasing Birkins. And since the only thing people could do during the pandemic was use social media, I can confidently say that boredom drove da Birkin debate. Various socialites and celebrities have shown off custom closets and extensive Birkin collections. Internationally, it’s a stacked luxury item, so even outside of hip hop culture, the hype has been around long before Saweetie started telling y’all to get a man who can buy one. Usually there’s an admirable aspect to seeing them, whether the responses from fans, blogs, the comment sections, fellow celebrities. But in the context of Birkins in hip hop culture, the conversations weren’t as admirable.
The biggest irony around this conversation is that we have reached a point in society where people believe the Birkin is ugly and overhyped. Of course, to each their own, but how vocal were these opinions when stars like Victoria Beckham, Jamie Chua, the Karjenners, Lindsey Lohan, Jinkee Pacquiao, Rosma Mansor, and Jennifer Lopez, showed off their collections? The difference between the celebrities mentioned above and celebrities like Jayda, Cardi B, Saweetie, Ari, Queen Naija, Drake and even Floyd Mayweather is that one of the groups are heavily involved in hip hop culture. And, in other words, they are Black and/or associate themselves with a predominately black team and audience. So what do you call prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized? Oh yeah, racism 🙂
Since seeing the rise of bag collections in this culture–mind you, collections not nearly as big as Jamie Chua’s–there has been unnecessary commentary on every aspect of the bag. Mainly from haters and/or those who can’t afford it, there have been critiques on the look, the price, the authenticity, and the purpose of having this bag. But the biggest criticism that hurt me personally (and I can barely afford my tuition) is that because these particular celebrities are being seen, and can afford to buy these bags, that the value has suddenly depreciated. Find me the math wizard with the golden calculator who decided this. Historically, anything associated with being black is considered to be less than; now we are in a new age of black elites, and racists can’t possibly grasp the idea of someone black having more than themselves. In today’s society, with hip hop being the biggest genre in the world, these musicians are making more than ever. Birkins have been popular amongst the elite prior to hip hop culture. Therefore, there is no question that those who can afford the Birkin, will get it.
Hermes bags are international. The Birkin is a bag coveted by socialites all over the globe, and until recently, its scrutiny has never been this intense. Normally debates are over the price, animal rights, or worth. However, to generalize an entire subculture of eliteness as “ruining” the brand’s image– a subculture that is made almost entirely of african americans–is racist. There are people who collect these bags for a living, for fun or because they can afford it. However those people are often praised, not criticized. It’s hard for people to grasp wealth for african americans, insteading of accepting things as they are, something has to be wrong. This debate is racism peeking out, and it should end with this statement that “hip hop culture is fashion”. Nothing about the bag has changed, besides the skin color of people seen sporting it, so this whole commentary about something differentiating the bag from what it was in the past is just worthless. It undermines the actual work being put into being able to afford it, as well as the levels of popularity hip hop has reached. It’s racism, period.