Collector's Guide: Hermes Birkin Bag Designs and History

Why does Hermès Birkin bags reign supreme in the world of luxury fashion? In this article, we're "decoding hermes birkin bag designs and the history behind them", delving into their history, and revealing the craftsmanship that sets them apart.

From the airborne origins to the revered rare editions, we'll explore how each Birkin bag tells a story of elegance, innovation, and legacy. Ready to appreciate the Birkin bag's rise to a fashion phenomenon? Let's dive into the layers of luxury that define this iconic collection.

Key Takeaways from this guide:

The history behind the Birkin bags

Unraveling the Birkin bag styles

Why you should invest in Birkin bags

Bottega Veneta Black Cassette Bag, Green Bottega Veneta Cassette Bag, Bottega Veneta Cassette Shoulder Bag

The Creation of the Hermès Birkin Bag

A chance encounter in 1984 between British actress Jane Birkin and Hermès CEO Jean-Louis Dumas on a Paris-to-London flight catalyzed the creation of a new luxury handbag. Frustrated with finding a leather weekend bag to her liking, Jane Birkin shared her predicament with Dumas.

Moved by her needs and style preferences, Dumas embarked on a mission to create a practical yet elegant leather bag suitable for everyday use. Little did they know, this encounter would not only result in the genesis of the Hermès Birkin bag but also signal the birth of an enduring legend in the world of luxury fashion.

During this pivotal journey, singer Jane Birkin drafted the preliminary design for the eventual Birkin bag on an airplane sickness bag. She envisioned a practical carry-all, expanding on the Hermes Kelly bag, named after the American actress Grace Kelly, design with an open top for easy accessibility and additional pockets, making it a great alternative to Kelly handbags.

This serendipitous meeting and the spontaneous sketch marked the modest conception of a bag that would soon bear price tags in the tens of thousands, symbolizing luxury and elegance.

Black Leather Hermes Birkin Bag

The Design Evolution

As the years rolled on, the iconic Birkin bag adapted to meet the shifting needs of the fashion sphere. The original design has been subtly altered, retaining its distinctive features while adapting to new aesthetic trends. Early changes included:

  • the introduction of a lock-and-key mechanism for security

  • redesign of the bag's interior for added functionality

  • improved stitching techniques for enhanced durability

These changes were made as the bag gained popularity among active, modern women. As the Birkin bag's star rose, Hermès introduced various sizes and expanded material options, making each piece unique and highly desirable. The timeless elegance of the iconic Birkin bag continues to captivate, demonstrating its ability to transcend fleeting fashion trends.

The Name That Became a Legend

The Birkin bag owes much of its identity to the name it bears. Jane Birkin's name played an integral role in the bag's astronomical success. However, her association with the Birkin bag was not without controversy. Upon learning of the cruel practices involved in the production of exotic leather goods, Jane Birkin requested Hermès to discontinue using her name for Birkins crafted from crocodile skin.

Every year, she received approximately $40,000 in royalties from Hermes for the use of her name, which she donated to charity, underscoring the philanthropic link forged by the bag's name and success. The Birkin bag's journey from its humble beginnings to becoming a legend in the luxury handbag market is a testament to the power of a name, and the alluring charm of a timeless design.

Gray Hermes Birkin Bag, Togo Leather Hermes Birkin Bag

Unraveling the Birkin Bag Styles

The Hermès Birkin bag isn't a solitary design, rather, it's a blend of styles mirroring the varied tastes of fashion enthusiasts and collectors. From the structured Birkin Sellier to the whimsical Birkin Faubourg, and the limited-edition wonders, each Birkin bag style is a masterpiece in its own right.

These unique designs cater to various preferences and serve as a testament to the creative artistry behind the Birkin line, making the bag a coveted piece in the world of high fashion.

Classic Birkin vs. Sellers

Featuring interior stitching, the original Birkin bag exudes a softer, more relaxed appearance. In contrast, the Birkin Sellier, known for its more structured and formal look, has external stitching that gives it a more defined structure and rigid shape. While the classic Birkin can become softer with use, the Birkin Sellier maintains its highly structured silhouette, thanks to the external stitching.

What's more, Hermès exclusively offers the Birkin Sellier in Epsom and Veau Madame leathers, enhancing its exclusivity. Whether you prefer the laid-back elegance of the classic Birkin or the formal sophistication of the Birkin Sellier, both styles are a testament to the timeless elegance of the Hermès Birkin bag.

Limited Edition Wonders

Hermès is known for its limited edition Birkin bags, specially crafted versions of the iconic design that often feature unique materials, constructs, or aesthetics, and are highly prized by collectors. For instance, the Shadow Birkin, introduced in 2009, is renowned for its trompe-l'œil effect that creates an optical illusion of the handbag's signature flap and hardware.

The Birkin Fray Fray offers a more casual and lighter take on the traditional Birkin bag by utilizing Twill H cotton canvas and incorporating a unique mini-fringing on the edges. In contrast, the Birkin Colormatic adds practicality and a modern touch to the line with its external zipper and flat pocket, providing a juxtaposition of function and luxury in the collection.

These limited edition wonders are a testament to the brand's dedication to innovation, constantly pushing the boundaries of luxury handbag design.

Exotic Appeal

Hermes Birkin bags, including the coveted Himalaya Birkin Bag, crafted from exotic skins represent more than just luxury; they also exhibit the splendor of nature's diversity. Each type of leather used in these Hermes bags has distinct markings near the embossed Hermès logo:

  • a square for alligator

  • a '-' for lizard

  • a '^' for Porosus crocodile

  • a '••' for Niloticus crocodile

From the luxurious crocodile leather to the distinctive polka dot pattern of ostrich, each type of exotic leather brings a unique texture and finish to the Birkin handbags. However, the use of these exotic materials has sparked ethical debates and criticism by animal rights groups, underscoring the complexity of creating luxury products in an increasingly conscious world.

Hermes Birkin Alligator Bags

Size Matters: Birkin Bag Dimensions

In the realm of handbags, size indeed matters. The Hermès Birkin handbags are available in a range of sizes, each designed to suit different needs and occasions. From the compact Birkin 25 to the travel-ready Birkin 50, the Birkin range offers a size for every need and style preference.

From Mini to Travel-Sized

The Birkin bag collection offers a variety of sizes, each tailored to suit different occasions and personal carrying needs. Here are the different sizes available:

  • Birkin 25: Perfect for special occasions or evenings out

  • Birkin 30: A favorite for its versatile and spacious interior, suitable for daily activities

  • Birkin 35: Offers a stylish and practical option for office work and travel

  • Birkin 40: A popular choice for those seeking a statement piece that brings together luxury and practicality.

And for those who need a sleek look with extended storage capabilities, the Birkin 42 caters perfectly. Finally, for extensive travel or significant storage requirements, the oversized Birkin 45 and the grand Birkin 50 are particularly suitable, reflecting Hermes' understanding of diverse lifestyle needs.

Hermes Mini Pink Kelly Bag, Hermes Mini White Kelly Bag,

The Rarity of the Birkin 20

The Birkin 20, also known as the Faubourg Birkin, is a rare gem in the Birkin collection. Introduced in 2019, this size is known for its scarcity and instantly became a coveted piece among collectors.

Given the elevated status and desirability, the Faubourg Birkin 20 has attained 'Holy Grail' status among Hermès aficionados, comparable to the lauded Himalaya Birkin and Kelly bags. The allure of the Birkin 20 is further amplified by its use of various high-quality materials including Matte Alligator and Chèvre Mysore leather, which construct its elegant facade and luxurious interior lining.

Echoing the mini bag trend, the Birkin 20 has been crafted in limited edition styles and exotic materials such as Vert D'eau Matte Alligator and black Lizard, catering to current fashion inclinations and the ever-growing demand for unique, high-end pieces.

Hermes Birkin Black Cowhide Leather, Black Hermes Birkin Bag

Material Mastery: Leathers and Hardware of the Birkin

The Hermès Birkin handbags isn't just about style; it's also about the mastery of materials. From the leather to the hardware, every detail of the Birkin handbags is a testament to Hermès' dedication to quality and craftsmanship.

Hermes uses only full grain leather for the Birkin bags, ensuring that the natural features like wrinkles, veins, and pores remain visible. Over time, the leather used in Birkin bags changes, softens, and gains a patina, which is a testament to its excellent quality and ability to age well. The diverse leather options range from togo leather, known for its durability and fine grain, to Epsom and Novillo, each contributing distinct textures and finishes to the Birkin line.

A Spectrum of Leathers

Selecting a particular leather can dramatically influence the aesthetics and texture of a Birkin bag. Popular leathers like Togo and Clemence, both sourced from the hides of calves, are valued for their durable and scratch-resistant qualities.

Clemence leather is known for its large grain and unique property of softening over time, contributing to its tendency to develop a slouchier appearance compared to other leathers.

In contrast, Chevre leather offers a shiny finish, lightweight advantage, and scratch resistance, desirable for those seeking a distinctive Birkin texture. Epsom leather, with its scratch-resistant nature and rigid structure, is another popular choice among Birkin enthusiasts.

Glistening Accents

The Hermès Birkin bag extends beyond just the leather; the hardware also contributes significantly to its aesthetic allure and luxurious appeal. Crafted from solid brass, the hardware is polished by hand to achieve its distinctive sheen and is then plated with fine gold or palladium, as well as other finishes like permabrass.

Gold hardware is seen as classic with its 18-karat gold plating, while palladium hardware offers a modern twist with its bright, silvery finish. Special finishes like Brushed Gold, Brushed Palladium, Rose Gold, Permabrass, Ruthenium, and the PVD coating from the So Black collection offer a variety of options for personalizing Birkin handbags.

Crocodile Leather Hermes Birkin Bag, Mini Baby Blue Hermes Birkin Bag

The Cultural Phenomenon of the Hermès Birkin

The Birkin bag's transformation from a humble sketch on a sickness bag to a prestigious luxury accessory transcends its design or materials; it's also about its evolution into a cultural phenomenon.

Celebrity endorsements and social media have played a significant role in promoting the Birkin bag's popularity and status as a luxury item. At the same time, its high value and exclusivity have sparked discussions about economic disparity within the context of luxury consumerism.

The Birkin bag's charm stretches beyond fashion, reaching into the sphere of investment. Rare Birkin bags have fetched astounding prices at auctions, with models like the coveted Diamond Himalaya Birkin and exquisite Sac Birkin Faubourg reaching sale prices of around $200,000 to $300,000.

Even Jane Birkin's own Birkin bag brought in $162,000 at a Bonhams auction, demonstrating the auction house prevalence and the collectible nature of these iconic bags.

The Birkin bag's high resale value and record-breaking sales premiums in the resale market underscore its investment potential, making it a tangible asset that appreciates over time.

Black Hermes Birkin Bag, Brown Leather Hermes Birkin Bag

The Artisanal Craftsmanship Behind Every Stitch

The artisanal craftsmanship that is poured into each Hermès Birkin bag forms its core essence. From the saddle stitch technique to the leather rolling process for handles, every detail of the Birkin handbags is meticulously handcrafted.

Behind every stitch and every piece of hardware is a testament to Hermes' dedication to quality and craftsmanship. Hermès' unique saddle stitch technique is executed with precision by expert artisans.

The process involves:

  1. Using linen that is waterproof, smooth, and coated with beeswax to prevent rot, ensuring durability.

  2. Stitching the leather using the saddle stitch technique.

  3. Hammering, shaving, sanding, and waxing the seams to achieve a seamless look.

This meticulous process ensures the highest quality and durability of Hermes products.

The Birkin's design features include:

  • Handles crafted through a time-consuming process of rolling several layers of leather, taking up to four hours to perfect

  • Techniques like 'pearling' for hardware attachment

  • Practical yet elegant lock and key clochette feature

  • Protective metal hardware-feet known as 'clou'

These details underscore Hermes' commitment to quality and attention to detail. The Birkin handbag is a symphony of signature details that make it distinctive and recognisable.

Some of these details include:

  • The Sangles, two leather buckle straps that help fasten the bag, provide both functional and aesthetic value.

  • The 'H' padlock is an iconic security feature that locks the contents of the bag by placing it through the Touret.

  • The hourglass stamp is an exclusive Hermès internal marking indicating the master craftsman who worked on the bag.

Each Hermès bag carries a distinctive stamp to identify the artisan and the workshop where it was meticulously created. And of course, the flap closure, a fundamental component of the Birkin's design, is known for its meticulous crafting.

Hermes Birkin IN AND OUT Bag, Black Leather Hermes Birkin Bag

The Future of the Hermès Birkin

Looking ahead to the Hermès Birkin's future, we can expect ongoing innovation and creativity from Hermès. With Hermes' willingness to blend tradition with contemporary design, we might see new designs and styles that engage trends and innovations in the luxury handbag market.

Among the anticipated future designs is the Hermes Disco Birkin, a promising addition to the iconic Birkin line. While details are scarce, the anticipation and excitement surrounding new Birkin designs demonstrate the enduring allure of the Birkin bag.

Preserving the Birkin collection's desirability necessitates a careful balance between exclusivity and substantial demand. The introduction of fresh designs, such as the Hermes Disco Birkin, is a strategy that Hermès employs to maintain the allure of the Birkin collection.

Despite global adversities like the pandemic, the Birkin handbags have maintained their desirability and exclusivity, as evidenced by demand surges and record-breaking sales premiums in the resale market.

Hermes Black Birkin Bag, Hermes Leather Birkin Bag, Hermes Kelly Pochette, Gray Hermes Birkin Bag


The Hermès Birkin and Kelly bags are quintessential symbols of luxury and status within the fashion world, embodying unparalleled craftsmanship and timeless designs. These iconic Hermès handbags share a rich history that sets Hermes at the pinnacle of high-end leather goods, making them the ultimate status symbol in the realm of fashion bags.

The inception of the Hermès bag traces back to a pivotal moment in 1984, when the Birkin was born from a conversation between Jane Birkin and Hermès CEO Jean-Louis Dumas. This encounter led to the creation of the first handbag that would blend practicality with high fashion, taking inspiration from the already popular Kelly bag, named after Grace Kelly. The Kelly bag's history further cemented Hermès' iconic status, with its elegant design and association with royalty and celebrity.

Hermès bags are renowned for their high quality leather, including Togo leather, Clemence Leather, and Epsom leather, each offering distinct textures and durability. Togo leather, known for its fine grain and resilience, and Clemence leather, celebrated for its softness and ability to develop a unique patina over time, are among the favorites for these handbags. Epsom leather, meanwhile, is appreciated for its lightweight and scratch-resistant properties, adding to the functional luxury of Hermès bags.

Both the Birkin and Kelly exhibit exquisite details such as the famous buckle straps and meticulous stitching, showcasing Hermes' commitment to craftsmanship. While the Kelly bag presents a more structured silhouette, the Birkin offers a spacious interior, making it a versatile choice for various occasions.

Hermès' dedication to innovation is evident in the introduction of new bags and materials, including exotic skins and unique leathers like Swift leather, which further enhance the desirability of their collections. Hermes' ability to blend traditional techniques with modern demands ensures that each Hermès handbag, from the straw bag variations to the latest models, maintains its esteemed place in the luxury market.

The rarity and high demand for these handbags, especially in exclusive materials or extremely rare editions, underscore their status as not just accessories but investments. Hermès' two styles, the Birkin and Kelly, continue to captivate collectors and fashion enthusiasts alike, with each piece representing a chapter in Hermès' storied legacy of elegance and sophistication.

In sum, Hermès handbags, through their unparalleled craftsmanship, rich history, and innovative designs, remain at the forefront of the luxury handbag industry. The Birkin and Kelly, in particular, stand as testaments to what sets Hermès apart in the world of high-end fashion, securing their place as the ultimate status symbols and embodiments of timeless luxury.

A Pink and a White Hermes Mini Kelly Bag

Frequently Asked Questions

How many styles of Birkin bags are there?

The Birkin bag comes in four standard sizes: Birkin 25, Birkin 30, Birkin 35, and Birkin 40. There is also a smaller size, the Birkin 20, which is available as a Limited Edition and may be available in exotic materials at its Paris Large.

How do you read a Hermes bag code?

To read a Hermes bag code, you can refer to a list that shows the year made and the corresponding letter stamped on the bag, framed inside a specific shape based on the year. This can help you determine the authenticity and age of the bag.

How do I identify my Birkin bag?

To identify your Birkin bag, look for the blind stamp which is usually found on the inside of the closure straps, inside the exterior pocket, or on the top inside of the side panel. Research the specific model's blind stamp location for accuracy.

What are the features of the Birkin bag design?

The Birkin bag features two rolled handles, a flap top, "feet," and a lock closure, making it a practical design that continues to be popular today.

How did the Birkin bag come into existence?

The Birkin bag came into existence after a chance meeting between British actress Jane Birkin and Hermès CEO Jean-Louis Dumas on a flight from Paris to London in 1984, where Birkin expressed her frustration with finding a suitable leather weekend bag. Inspired by her needs and style preferences, Dumas decided to create a practical, yet elegant leather bag.

Matilde Stadager Luxury bag expert and writer

Meet the Author

Matilde Stadager - Luxury Bag Expert & Writer 

Matilde Stadager is an expert in the world of high-end and fashion bags. With a great sense of the current trends, she has been a shopping advisor for clients of Collectors Cage for years. Her many years of experience includes doing authentication of products & sourcing designer bags. Matilde knows a lot about the history of the different fashion houses, and bag models. In her writings she shares all her experience with the readers.

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