Why men are increasingly enamored by Hermès handbags...
Ladies… hold on to your Hermès Birkins. The men in your life may be coming for them. As fashion itself evolves toward gender neutrality, we continually see more masculine adoption of what is for many women the holy grail of handbags. As we explore this growing trend, consider whether the already in short supply Birkin, will become harder to get for all. Oh dear.
First, what kinds of bags would you expect a man to carry? It’s not fair to relegate them solely to pockets. A backpack? To some, it might appear rather juvenile. A briefcase? A little too uptight, don’t you think? A duffel? Perhaps it’s more limited to sporty and/or voyage-y outfits. A Birkin? Wait, for men? But after all, why not?
The Idea Behind the “Man Birkin”
The history of the Birkin needs no introduction. Upon Jane Birkin’s request, it was designed to be a practical women’s carryall. And it almost unfailingly continues to be so. Just like the Anglo-French actress and singer herself remains a muse and a style icon.
But what about the Birkin’s predecessor? The Haut à Courroies, that inspired the B, may very well be called the “Mother of the Birkin” or the “Mommy Birkin”. Originally meant to hold saddles, its equestrian origins hark back to the days of horseback-riding. And it goes without saying that, at the time, equestrianism was a male-dominated sport.
So could we say that the HAC was designed for men? Or, at least, for masculine needs? Perhaps it might more appropriately be called the Father Birkin or “Daddy Birkin” instead, given its male-centric origins!
In the modern day, however, the horses of yore have been replaced by cars. And the heavy saddlery has transformed to an increasingly compact array of electronic devices. So if the essentials are shrinking, is there any need for men to haul around the HACs any longer? This is the ideology that lays the groundwork for the growing male attention towards Birkins rather than their larger counterparts.
But this interest also encompasses handbags in general. As the stigma against man-bags or “murses” has steadily declined in recent years, the handbags has crossed gender boundaries. And on the forefront of this androgynous movement has been Hermès. Of course, the house always included men’s bags in its lineup. From the Kelly Dépêches briefcase to the Plume and the Bolide and other voyagers, the brand has never failed to cater to masculine tastes.
In fact, the priciest handbag items on the Hermès USA website currently are on the men’s side! These are the alligator Kelly Depeches Pouch ($31,000) and the Bolide 1923 45 Chimères Dragon ($16,900), in case you’re interested.
A more unusual phenomena that’s been apparent, however, is the male intrigue towards the brand’s traditionally “feminine” handbags. The Birkin leads this movement. But the Kelly, Constance and Lindy aren’t far behind. From celebrated figures like Kanye West and the recently departed Virgil Abloh, to social media influencers like Terrence Lee and Preston Tran, the Birkin and its sisters have been making rounds among the mensfolk, both in social media and in real life.
And who could forget David Oancea, a.k.a Vegas Dave, the proud owner of the $500,000 Himalaya Birkin! Such is the hype around the male Birkin that the house unveiled an all-leather Cargo HAC in its FW22 mens lineup, that’s better known as “The Rock”. Just don’t call them “Mirkins” (look it up in urban dictionary).
So, what is it that are making men flock to get their hands on their own “holy grails”? Let’s explore.
They are Collector’s Pieces
One reason is that social media is developing very quickly and so there’s been a bigger demand for people to be seen with rare bags
Purses, like art, are now often considered collectibles. And investment collectibles, at that. That’s particularly true of limited edition pieces from heritage houses like Hermès. And that is why Israel Cassole, nicknamed the UK’s “Birkin Boy” , no doubt among others, has a penchant for them. Owning a total of five Birkins amounting to £101,000, he says
some men like spending money on fast cars, for me it’s Hermes bags
Similarly, rap-artist Drake has reportedly been accumulating the coveted bags for his “future wife” (lucky woman). While Preston Tran (of the Instagram handle @preston_tran_artistry) possesses a collection of 15 Hermes bags. “Most of them are Birkins in size 40, 35, and 25. I also have one Kelly Touch in size 32, a Mini Lindy and a Constance,” he confided to Channel News Asia. Like highly desirable Air Jordans, Hermès purses are the new language of hypebeasts. And men can’t get enough of them.
The Assurance of Quality
Crafted entirely by hand, each Birkin is unique. Its durability is remarkable, its timelessness unmatched. And just as the Birkin can be worn in myriad ways, its wielder must also fill many shoes. The modern man may no longer be the horse-riding aristocrat. But, he has to simultaneously be the gym bro, the office-goer, the clubber, the significant other, and more. And that is why, something as versatile and hard-wearing as the Birkin works.
Jerry Chang, the associate specialist of the Handbags and Accessories Department of Christie’s Asia Pacific, also attests to this:
Men appreciate craftsmanship, quality and subtlety in handbags
On a related note, collector and influencer Tran has found a trip to Les Ateliers Hermes eye-opening.
After witnessing how each Hermes bag is made behind the scenes, it made me appreciate their products more. All the skills and techniques that Hermes’s craftsmen put into the products, such as hand-stitching, proves that the bags are given so much love.
From the humble and practical beginnings of the Birkin and its predecessor the HAC, these bags now have achieved celebrity status. Now, however, it’s a pop culture icon, featured in entertainment and social media, and one of the most recognisable purses out there. It is precisely that celebrated reputation that appeals to many, including the mensfolk.
“We have seen this trend all over the world and in Asia, with big stars such as G-Dragon initiating this trend,” says Morgane Halimi, Sotheby’s head of Handbags and Accessories. And it isn’t just the South Korean rapper who famously carries the purse. Marc Jacobs too loves his Birkin and totes it to the beach. While Travis Scott’s crocodile HAC has everybody drooling!
Like limited NFTs, therefore, the Birkin now confers status among the fashionably bolder men. And its history as a women’s purse makes it an all-the-more daring choice for adventurous gentlemen. Vegas Dave himself proclaims that the Birkin represents,
to me, wealth and prestige. Success. A lot of people laugh at me, but, you know, the bag’s worth more than their house. I use them for branding, to get people to talk about me…
Indeed, few things have the ability to keep the crowds continuously enthralled as the Birkin.
Practicality & Versatility
But, the popularity of the Birkin is more than just aesthetics. The Birkin is a practical (and chic) alternative to the more masculine alternatives currently in the market. Oancea, for instance, reportedly uses his expansive collection for everyday errands, even the $100,000 ones, or the Himalaya!
Singer Pharrell sports his exotic HAC as well. Whether regular leather or something more special, that’s because unlike most hype-goods, Birkiners can actually use the bags. Perhaps that is the reason the larger sizes and darker shades are so popular amongst men, as Halimi of Sotheby’s shares.
In fact, in 2021, the RealReal saw a twice as much as interest from male shoppers towards Birkins than females. This was evident in search analytics for the Birkin 45 and Birkin 50 — rising by 361% and 219%, respectively!
But does that mean mini Birkins are falling behind? Not at all! In fact, Bonhams’ Cheung notes an increase in interest for the B’s smaller variations:
Men go for the mini Birkin nowadays [because] we don’t have the need to carry a great amount of things. Smaller bags generally have strong resale value as well
Additionally, the Hermès Kelly, especially in 40cm, with the provision of a shoulder strap, is something worth looking out for too, according to Christie’s Chang.
Be it minis or exotics, an undeniable driver in the male demand for Birkins is the finances. As Vegas Dave puts it, “they’re going up 15%, so I’ll stash it for 10 years and sell it later.” Currently dealing in pricey baseball cards, he says, “I’m just doing different investments.”
Los Angeles-based actor Matthew Nguyen agrees. “I go into this knowing that I will not lose money…”
In fact, we love to speculate the investment-worthiness of various purses. And the Birkin sits atop most luxury indexes (although perhaps not always at #1). This sense of financial soundness, therefore, is also something enticing to finance-guys. Albeit, they might not be the best investment there is. But combine their practicality, style and durability, and they don’t look so bad either!
Recently, the fashion industry has all been about breaking gender boundaries. The likes of Chanel and Gucci included male models for some of their “female” offerings.
But the beauty of Hermès lies in the fact that its bags have had an androgynous edge to begin with. Plus, anyone who has feasted their eyes upon the “Rock” Birkin knows that a new era of the men’s B is onto us. Housing a number of functional pockets and a decorative chain while still holding onto the quintessential Birkin style, it’s bound to be coveted by all.
And style is no longer limited to any particular sex, so why should signifiers of wealth be? Moreover, why should we, as men, deprive ourselves of all the amazingness Hermès has to offer, right?
As Vegas Dave says, “I just know that it’s dope, and it’s $100,000.”
What do you think about men carrying Birkins? Will we be seeing more of this trend in the months and years to come?
Written by Sajid Bin Mohammad for PurseBop
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Updated: June 8th, 2022