History & Lore: The Birkin from Sex and the City - A Cultural Icon
“Look at that one, isn’t it adorable?”
“The red one in the middle. I love it!”
“The Birkin bag? Really? That’s not even yo style”
“Oh honey it’s not so much the style, it’s what carrying it means”
“It means you’re out four thousand bucks”
“Exactly. When I’m tooling around town with that bag, I’ll know I’ve made it.”
As Carrie and Samantha perused an Hermes window display stuffed with brightly colored ostrich bags in the Kelly Sport and Ado styles, along with a Cognac Ostrich Constance in the front, and a crocodile 20cm Plume next to the star of this episode: The Birkin bag, millions of women the world over were getting their first taste of Holy Grail of Handbags.
In this episode, the bag appears to be a 35cm Rouge Vif Clemence leather Birkin with Gold hardware. When Samantha returns to Hermes after a successful lunch with her new client, Lucy Liu, she is (as we’ve all come to expect) rebuffed in her efforts to simply walk in and buy the bag of her dreams. The nerdiest of us handbag geeks will notice the bevy of fun vintage bags in the background of this scene. Behind the counter, we first glimpse a Drag bag, a Sac Valentin, and a pink Vibrato Plume in the case. Under these we later see matching Vibrato Miss and Pillow bags, and an ostrich tote that I can’t name. Behind Samantha we can spot a number of large Toile travel bags at the other end of the store, including a large Sumac, a large Victoria, and what appears to be a Toile HAC Birkin. There’s also a recognizable Toile Evelyne in the back corner, as well as few red bags that are too blurry to identify. In the standing case behind Samantha is a Vert Cru Swift Kelly Ado.
“It’s four thousand”
“And there’s a waiting list”
“For a bag?”
“It’s not a bag, its a Birkin”
Ultimately Samantha drops her new client’s name to get the bag without the wait (although we all know that the wait list was always nonsense), and in the end it’s this little trick that loses Samantha not only her hottest client, but also her hottest bag. If she’d asked around a bit more, I’m sure Samantha would have know that Hermes is French for “we take our fucking time.” Throughout the show the girls can be spotted with numerous Hermes bags, including an exotic Birkin or two, so we’ll assume nobody was blacklisted after this event. And today, while the specific Birkin Samatha lusted over may not be as hot as it was twenty years ago, the Birkin itself has grown stronger ever since this iconic television debut.
This scene took place in the eleventh episode of the fourth season, which aired in 2002. Back then, Birkin's did in fact retail for around $4,000 USD, and if Samantha has managed to hold onto that bag, and had kept it in exceptional condition, it would be worth about double that today. Even if the bag was used somewhat regularly, it would still likely be worth around $6,000 today. At this time, there wasn’t much of a secondary market for Hermes bags, at least not a very public one. eBay was relatively new, and most collectors found each other this way, as evidenced in the must-read book Bringing Home the Birkin by Michael Tonello. Birkin's still traded above retail, but there were no auctions, so you simply had to know someone with the right connections.
When Samantha and Carrie are checking out the bag in Hermes’ Madison Ave window, Samantha is carrying a Chanel Double Flap Bag, which at the time retailed for around $1,500 USD, so similar to today, her bag budget is nearly doubling upon her graduation from Chanel to Hermes (a transition many of us know all too well). Today, you will still sometimes see Birkin bags displayed in Hermes windows, as enticing and unattainable as ever, though you’re unlikely to be fed the classic wait-list line any longer.