Most of us will never sniff the butter-soft leather of an Hermès Birkin handbag, given that they cost as much as £100,000 to buy. Thankfully, though, we now all know what some of them might smell like: cannabis.
A whiff of skunk has been wafting, specifically, around a batch of Birkins sold in the past two years. Several customers have returned the luxurious bags, complaining that their new possessions emit a marijuana odor. Hermès has reportedly told those affected that the offending items were part of a “badly tanned” consignment, and will be returned to Paris where the stinkier pieces of leather will be replaced with pong-free panels.
The absurd possibility of the world’s most desirable totes smelling like that badly-lit side road where you wait nervously for the night bus just adds to the sense that the Hermès Birkin could be the most eccentric designer handbag of all time.
Birkin ownership is a thirst that cannot be quenched for some collectors. Reports that Victoria Beckham’s Birkin library extends to 100 have been circulating for years, while the daughter of Formula One CEO Bernie Ecclestone, Tamara, owns at least 30 in all the colours of the rainbow and stores them in a glass display case.
A Birkin’s value is driven by scarcity and mystique. Rumours about long waiting lists and store managers refusing to order bags for all but prized customers swirl. At auction, collectors fight it out to snag the rarest exotic-skinned versions. A Birkin featuring 18-carat gold and 242 diamonds sold for 5,000 last month; another went for 3,150 in 2011.
Very weird, then, is the trend for defaced Birkins. Lady Gaga, for example, scribbled a message to fans in black marker pen on hers, while Kanye West presented Kim Kardashian with a Birkin painted with nudes by artist George Condo. US reality TV star NeNe Leakes covered hers with phrases including the obvious: “I’m a very rich bitch”. In further signs of the cache found in taking a relaxed attitude to Birkin ownership, Kate Moss and Kim Kardashian have used theirs as nappy bags.
The Birkin’s original defacer was the woman who inspired the design: Jane Birkin. In 1981, Birkin was sitting beside then chairman of Hermès, Jean-Louis Dumas, on a flight. He noticed her bag spilling its contents and later created a roomy tote with pockets in her name. Birkin has recently expressed some discomfort at her association with such an upper-crust accessory, covering hers with stickers to make it look “jolly” rather than “snobbish”. She has also complained that it is “bloody heavy. I’m going to have to have an operation for tendonitis in the shoulder.” But does she still carry that bag? Of course she does.
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