For an Hermès lover, being offered a new Birkin or Kelly is an event. It’s hard to perfectly describe the rush, though PurseBop repeatedly searches for the right words in documenting those special moments—heart pulsing with anticipation, handles peeking out of the dust bag, gloved hands proudly holding the latest for inspection and admiration. Recently, she revealed Miss Mini Rose Extreme.
What happens when you take the excitement up a notch, with the offer to design your own Birkin or Kelly, or indeed other H bags? That’s a Special Order. Handbag fantasy becomes bespoke leather-and-stitching reality: it’s a real thing only available to a limited number of exclusive Hermès customers each season. The only problem (aside from the program’s exclusivity)? The Special Order is ever-changing and shrouded in mystery. Here’s everything you need to know about the Special Order process in 2019.
Special Order ABCs
Let’s start with the most basic question: what is a Special Order (SO)? Well, for starters, it’s something that’s important enough to change the meaning of the initials SO forever. But in all seriousness, it is the opportunity to design the bag of your choice (generally Birkins, Kellys and Constances) from a predetermined selection of offerings twice a year.
That last bit is important. Customers do not have free rein to design whatever they like. Hermès picks the color and leather combinations available for that season, including which leathers may be used for design features like linings, handles, sangles, etc. Hermès also dictates which hardware options are available, which often include styles not available on standard bags, like brushed gold or palladium.
Exotic SOs are a completely different category and indeed extremely rare. Even if you are granted the opportunity to design a bag, your choice of materials generally excludes croc, alligator etc. At times, ostrich has been an option, but it is not a guarantee. Your wish is not necessarily Hermès’ command.
Who Gets To Place a Special Order?
Of course, you’re wondering whether you can just saunter into your local boutique and ask to place a special order. Now, you can certainly inquire…but it’s not likely to be granted if you’re simply an off-the-street walk-in customer. Since Hermès limits the number of special orders per season, you need to be a relationship customer (or, if you can swing it, a VIP/celebrity). On the other hand, there’s likely no harm in asking.
As for color, with SOs you have the option to use two colors. Farewell to the days of only monochrome: picture one color on the outside, and another on the inside and on the sangles. Additionally, the stitching may be tonal or contrasting. But the story doesn’t end there. The customer does not have the final say—Hermès does. Many a disappointed customer will learn that their choice was rejected or changed by the mothership in Paris.
Moreover, customers used to be able to create bags with three different colors, but those days are gone. We’re sad to say that the tricolor bags you see on resale sites were created under an older ordering option.
On the plus side, a Special Order bag costs the same as a regular bag of the same materials. In other words, there’s no extra cost just for placing the order. Nor do you need to put down a deposit in advance.
However, you will be charged the price of that particular model at the time you pick up your bag, NOT the price at the time of order. So, general price hikes can affect what you pay, especially if your bag takes a long time. (For the recent Hermès price hikes, read: Alert: Hermès Price Hike Coming and Hermès Birkin Prices 2019: USA vs. Europe)
The Fine Print - SO Details
Time: No one really has the answer as to whether your bag will arrive sooner or later. The general time frame for receiving an SO bag usually ranges from six months to three years. But, bags have come in earlier and later. Your bag’s fate is in Hermès’ hands.
Acceptance: You also are not obligated to accept an SO bag. Essentially, you’re not locked in, go ahead and breathe a sigh of relief. So why wouldn’t you accept one? Well, you might not like a change unilaterally made by Hermès headquarters, let’s say switching a contrast stitch to a tonal one. Or, perhaps the bag came in late and you’ve already purchased something similar. Hermès won’t require you to buy the bag (though admittedly your SA may not be pleased), and it will be offered to others.
The Infamous Horseshoe: As of about ten years ago, the SO comes with a special stamp called the Horseshoe Stamp. It is a hallmark of the bag’s exclusivity and your prestige as a customer. If you find a horseshoe on a regular Hermès offer, it means the bag is an SO that was rejected by another.
Straps: Lastly—and a huge plus for cross-body folks—Kelly straps can be ordered in longer lengths with an SO Kelly.
We hope this guide has cleared up any questions you’d had, or misconceptions that have been floating around about the notoriously secret Special Order process.
Share your Special Order bags with us below by tagging #pursebopshermesSOseries , and for those of you who are still waiting for the chance… tell us what your Holy Grail SO would be!
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Updated: May 4th, 2020