The Ladybug’s Vintage Book Club Reads: “Hermès. L’avventura del lusso” by Federico Rocca

Since going to the Forlì Vintage Festival and meeting Luigi Cagliari from Tara Vintage, I realized after a couple of conversations with him, that although I love Hermès stuff so much, I don’t know that much about their history.

That’s why, when I read about this new book completely dedicated to Hermès’ history, I ran to the book store to get myself a copy to try to understand how and why Hermès is a real icon today. How is it possible that their bags are sold at auctions as if they were paintings, and why is it one of the few companies with a 46% profit during the most powerful crisis of the century?

Federico Rocca, the writer, is first journalist I really appreciated for his serious, no fashion fantasies commentary! The history starts in 1837, when the Maison was created by the saddler Thierry Hermès, as a reins and equestrian equipment factory, until the arrival of Jean-Louis Dumas in 1978 who brings Hermès, in a few years, to top of the world’s most important luxury brands. The history brings the reader through the adventure of a real luxury family starting with saddles and reins and moving to handbags, silk foulards (the famous carré), clothing, home design and jewellery.

Family history and the French society are always linked throughout this amazing book. All the most important designers working for Hermès are greatly remembered (from Véronique Nichanian to Herni D’Origny, to Leila Menchari), and the last chapter is a real guide to buying authentic Hermès vintage and how to recognize it from the knockoffs.

A special attention is given to the history of the two Hermès iconic bags: the Birkin and the Kelly.

The highly coveted Hermès Birkin bag was originally created in 1984 by Jean-Louis Dumas for British-born model-actress-singer, Jane Birkin. The story goes: the pair were seated next to one another on a flight from Paris to London in 1981 when Jane’s belongings tumbled out from her straw bag stored in the overhead. The actress told Dumas that she couldn’t seem to find a leather weekender that she actually liked, which compelled the designer to create one just for her. In April of this year, Jane auctioned her infamous bag on eBay and donated all $163,000 of the proceeds to the British Red Cross for relief efforts in Japan.

Since the days of its creation, the Birkin has become the ultimate status symbol for fashionable women around the globe. It is distinguished by its handmade craftsmanship, the Hermès signature saddle stitch developed in the 1800s and by its padlock closure with the keys tucked away in a leather clochette. Hermès actually started in 1837 as a premier horse bridle and harness shop- producing fine saddlery for the elite in the late 1800s and introduced high-end clothing, accessories and leather handbags in the 1920s. Émile-Maurice, son of the company’s founder Charles-Emile Hermès, began creating handbags because his wife complained of not being able to find one that she liked. Sound familiar? In 1935 the Sac à dépêches (meaning “news bag”) was released. It was a smaller, updated version of the first ever Hermès bag, the Haut à courroies, which was created in 1900 and designed to carry the saddles of horseback riders. The Sac à dépêches was later renamed the Kelly bag in 1956 after Grace Kelly: when the new Princess of Monaco was photographed holding the purse on the cover of Life magazine to purportedly hide her baby bump. The Kelly is actually quite similar to the Birkin except for a few key differences: the Kelly is more formal and refined, while the Birkin is more casual and youthful; the Kelly has one handle instead of two like the Birkin; the Kelly has a convenient shoulder strap, while the Birkin does not; and the Kelly is a little less expensive than the Birkin.

The Birkin bag typically ranges in price from $9,000 to $180,000, depending on hide, size, and hardware. It is most popular in 30, 35, and 40 centimetres with weekender sizes available and there is also a Baby Birkin ($5,000) which barely holds a cell phone. The $180,000 Diamond Birkin features a diamond encrusted lock and clasp and is by far the hardest to find as very few are produced each year. There is one Birkin; however, that outshines all the rest. Created by Japanese designer Ginza Tanaka, this one-of-a-kind platinum evening Birkin is covered in over 2,000 diamonds totaling 208 carats. The bag sold in 2008 for $1.9 million, making it one of the world’s most expensive handbags. Serving multi-functional purposes, it has a removable 8-carat pear shaped diamond and a detachable diamond strap that can be used as a necklace or bracelet. (The Affluist, 17/10/2011) 

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