This is Part I in PurseBop’s new reveal…stay tuned for more updates!
Bringing Home a Slice of Hermès History: PurseBop’s Special Birthday Birkin
Does Barenia ring any bells? Barenia is a rare, high-quality calf leather that’s been used by Hermès’ equestrian division for a long time, but that first appeared in the Hermès handbag collections in the 1970s. If you haven’t heard of it before, or want to refresh your knowledge, PurseBop’s got you covered!
Barenia is special for two main reasons. It’s one of Hermès’ original saddle leathers—for all of the background on Hermès’ equestrian origins, read Hermès 101: Origins, Equestrians, and Aristocrats—and it requires a specific tanning process, which is know by only a small number of craftsmen. Barenia is double-tanned in chrome and vegetable dyes, and then soaked in a mix of 9 different oils over a 5-6 week process. (Originally, Barenia was tanned near the village of Barr in Alsace, hence its name.)
What does Barenia look like? Well, it has an incredibly smooth exterior, with just a hint of gloss, and its oil-absorbing material causes it to patina over time, which is a quality that the leather is famous for. With this material, a few finger rubs can remove fine scratches, though Barenia will develop more serious scratches more frequently than other leathers. Barenia has a waxy feel and a transparent finish (so you can see the veins and wrinkles of the hide!), and it darkens in the areas that are touched most often, becoming softer over time. Barenia is durable, water-resistant, and age-friendly—although it may receive a few scuffs and patina over the years, it continues to look better and better.
Barenia has traditionally been very rare in the world of Birkins and Kellys. This year, a couple Barenia handbags have been spotted, but the leather remains a rare find. Although there are no definitive answers, there’s been speculation that one of the reasons Barenia is so hard to come by is that the calves must have near-perfect hides, and most simply do not. So Hermès more often uses Barenia for small leather goods, such as wallets. This leather generally comes in Barenia Fauve, which is the tan, natural Barenia.
As of this year, Hermès has released a new kind of mildly-grained Barenia: Barenia Faubourg. It still feels—and smells!—like Barenia, but looks a bit more like Togo or Clemence. While Barenia Faubourg will develop the patina that’s so emblematic of traditional Barenia, it is more scratch-resistant and less water-resistant than its original counterpart.
Now that you have all this information, let’s have a look at what three major influencers in our community have to say about this beautiful and rare H leather: @alexstrickland, @luxecoffer, and @sparkledolll! What better way is there to learn what it’s actually like to own a Barenia bag?
Is Barenia for You? Barenia Wears its History
My barenia Birkin (size 40cm) is one of my oldest Hermès bags. While it was not initially one of my Go-Tos, it has become my most used and more importantly, most loved bag. The supple, natural leather has truly taken a shape and character of its own, serving as a vehicle down memory lane of the many journeys and trips it has accompanied me. The golden brown color shows every mark and the patina that comes slowly over time is to die for.
Many people shy away from barenia because it’s the most susceptible leather to imperfections and wear. If you’re the type that wants your bag to look brand new for the next ten years, then I’m sorry to say but barenia isn’t the right leather for you. In fact, I’ve been offered several barenia bags with the plastic wrap still on the box, and upon opening the dust bag, there were visible “imperfections,” proving that Barenia isn’t meant to be perfect. The flaws and marks that the bag encounters along the way are what makes the rich leather shine the best. If you buy a barenia bag, you can’t be afraid of it getting a knick or a scratch here or there. Its perfection derives from its imperfections.
Learning to Let Go and Worry Less About the Imperfections
Soon after I was offered my first barenia Birkin, I walked into the Goyard store in Paris on Rue St Honore. The two sales associates in the store immediately noticed my bag and began fawning over it. I came to find out they were both ex-Hermès employees who had been poached by Goyard. They told me that my bag was “a Parisian’s dream bag.” But the caveat was that they wouldn’t want mine as it was still too new. I asked what they meant and they said that they would want the bag in about 5 years once the patina had taken shape. I told them that I was terrified of it getting “messed up.” They laughed and suggested that I “take the bag out on a rainy day and spin around in the street. Once you get it a little wet you won’t care about it anymore and that’s when the patina will really start to show.”
Long story short, they were right. I consistently place bag on the ground, cram it in my suitcase, and overstuff it to my heart’s desire. Even with all this heavy use, it only seems to get better and there’s a reason why. Barenia leather has a story rooted deep in Hermès history, as it is the same leather used to create their stunning horse saddles over the past 100 years. Horse saddles are made to take a heavy beating and the choice of barenia for that purpose is no coincidence.
The Exclusivity of Barenia
While barenia has always been offered in bags, in recent years it has been very hard to find. Hermes knows its customers well and it takes a special, educated buyer to ask for barenia. These buyers are few and far between. With the new introduction of Barenia Faubourg, a play on barenia with a Togo-like look and feel, more and more Hermès addicts will open their eyes and minds to this Hermès crown jewel. PurseBop’s newest acquisition is a case in point. She will be joining a group of collectors who truly love Hermès leather, and aren’t afraid for their bags to show it!
This might, or might not be true in your part of the world…
Over here in the H community, a light mention of the word ‘Barenia’ and more often than not, you might generate frowns, alarmed or even frightful expressions. Followed by hands in the air and plenty of head shaking. The most common feedback that I have heard about Barenia is that it is not an easy leather to maintain so by all means, please avoid it.
So when Pursebop invited me to do a short write-up about Barenia, I was delighted for the opportunity to share my humble experience of this beautiful heritage leather by the House of Hermes.
The Barenia was introduced to me as the choice of leather for my first Birkin 30. In gold hardware, she is exquisite, buttery smooth with a slight dainty sheen and smells heavenly. Yes, Barenia has the most unique scent (I can mentally see my wonderful SA bobbing her head agreeing) A quick search online, and you will find a few credible write-ups describing Barenia as the original leather used for Hermes saddles. While it is not a light weight leather, it is definitely durable.
There are other specific traits of Natural or Fauve Barenia:
- White Top Stitch – The contrast stitching brings out the character of Barenia and adds a slightly edgy chic appearance to the smooth exterior.
- Hermes Paris Logo Stamp – The centre stamp doesn’t follow the colour of the hardware. For Barenia, it is debossed into the leather hence making it a natural colour stamp. It blends in as a part of the leather.
- Fine Scratch Resistant – Contrary to beliefs, Barenia handles fine scratches with grace. Over time, they will be more blended when the leather ages.
- Water Resistant – Believe it or not, Barenia is the leather that I will reach for if I see gloomy weather lurking. Tried and tested in heavier showers too, the rain drops dry out over a short period of time. I have done a post on the progression of rain mark dried out on the leather within 30 mins.
Barenia’s Aging Process
And one of the most special traits of Barenia is the beautiful patina that it will develop as the leather takes in the elements around her and then ages gracefully. This will be most prominent in Fauve Barenia. I once had a Fauve HAC that was approximately 12 years older than my young Birkin. Put the two bags side by side and you will recognise that the more mellow glow belongs to the ‘senior’ who has seen the world, and the lighter tone is the ‘junior’ waiting to explore the horizon. Both are equally beautiful in my eyes.
Barenia models, cleaning, and tips!
In older or vintage stamps, you may find Barenia leather bags come in larger sizes such as Birkin 35 or HAC 32. Other than that, I have seen photos of this leather in Picotin, Evelyne and Bolide. In recent years, I am only able to find the rare few and new pieces of this beautiful leather in Halzan, bracelets, SLG such as Bastia or watch straps and belt (IF you are lucky enough to find the belt in your appropriate waist length). So the next time when you see anything Barenia in store, grab it and enjoy the patina journey together.
If you ever find your beloved Barenia getting a bit of dirt on her from day-to-day usage, fear not and needless to send her immediately to the Spa. Barenia can be easily cleaned by using the appropriate leather cleaning wipes. Personally I have used Lexol Leather Cleaner Quick Wipes (Original PH-Balanced Formula) with great results that meets my expectation. Every individual has different experience and should you want to try the same method in cleaning your leather goods, remember to always do a patch test to ensure you are happy with what you see. (Pursebop and @luxecoffer bear no responsibility for any of your personal leather goods cleaning project.)
If you are quirky like me and love to smell your Hermes leather, remember to first powder your nose to ensure it is oil-free before sticking it to sniff the Barenia scent. Come eagerly too close to the leather and you might find the imprint of your nose tip gets transferred to the leather!
And yes, it happens and that’s how I come to be able to share this final tip with you!
Getting the Barenia Faubourg Beauty: How Different is it from Standard Barenia?
Close your eyes and think of a Birkin—what colour do you see? For me I see a rich caramel golden brown in natural leather….pure perfection.
When I started my H journey 3 years ago, I was given great advice by H experts and one of them was to be flexible especially for an impatient shopper like me. After 2 years of asking for my Golden beauty, she finally appeared. When my SA opened the box of my barenia bag, the room was filled with this delicious leather scent. I actually gasped when I saw her, she was the perfect golden beauty I had been imagining all this time. My SA said it’s Barenia Faubourg, a new type of grained Barenia. This leather is scratch resistant, not like original smooth Barenia, but is deathly allergic to water. Not many pieces had been made and he immediately thought about me when he received it as he knows I love Heritage leathers. I was in H heaven, finally my holy grail. (Read: What’s Your Holy Grail Bag?)
Satisfaction Over Time
Having used the bag for 3 months, I can report that she still smells divine and the colour has darkened just a touch. The weight of the bag is only slighty heavier than Togo. She’s pretty scratch resistant and apart from a small accident I had with a noodle (while eating I dropped a noodle on my bag which left a spot of oil stain, but luckily it dried out after I put a little bit of translucent powder on the spot), she’s pretty much in perfect shape. The delicious scent, the blind stamp, the contrast stitching, the richness and grain of the leather…Pure Perfection.
So what do you think? Are you as enamored with Barenia as we are? Is Barenia on your H wishlist now? And if so, which bag would you most want in the luxurious Hermès calf leather? Let us know in the comments…
Make sure to stay tuned for PurseBop’s big reveal:
Bringing Home a Slice of Hermès History: PurseBop’s Special Birthday Birkin
Read related articles below:
Hermès 101: Origins, Equestrians, and Aristocrats
Hermes Bag Size Encyclopedia
Hermes Birkin vs. Kelly 101
Hermes Encyclopedia: New System in Paris to Buy a Bag
The Hermes Birkin – The Ultimate Holy Grail Bag
*Thank you to @luxecoffer for the title of this article
3 Responses to “Aging Gracefully with Hermès Barenia Leather”
wow, this bag really is a treasure! loved all the testimonials!!! Thank you to everyone who shared their experience and thoughts on the bag!
Much prefer the original Barenia…. so elegant and idiosyncratic. The new Faubourg looks like clemence without color stability…
I am so happy found this post. I have been in love with Hermes Birkins for as long as I can remember and everyone on the internet is all about the Togo leather, but I knew there was more out there. I began looking into Swift leather when I found this article and now I definitely LOVE Barenia; t’s such a beautiful and timeless bag! Thank you for introducing it to me.