How to win the Hermès game

Hermès is being sued over its rare Birkin bags. Is there an ideal strategy for scoring one?

Birkin bag

Kristina Braly felt a rush of excitement surge through her. She’d finally gotten the call. 

“I have something for you,” her Hermès sales associate told her, customarily cryptic. 

Braly, an anesthesiologist, entrepreneur, and YouTuber in Houston, had coveted Hermès handbags for years. As a broke medical student, she watched videos of polished women unboxing their purses on YouTube. At the time, she could only aspire to own one. She bought a Hermès keychain to carry around her house keys. 

A few years later, she began to frequent the boutique more often. She’d buy a bangle for herself or a tie for her husband, an orthopedic surgeon. 

She returned to see the same sales associate each time she visited the store. Each trip, she’d spend an hour and a half asking him questions about the brand, its craftsmanship, its heritage. They began to text each other, a hello here and there, or when the store’s stock was replenished and he spotted something she might like. 

That day in 2020, she arrived at the shop and was offered the chance to buy her first Birkin bag. 

“It’s a unicorn bag,” she says. “You just have to manifest, ‘This bag is coming for me.’” 

Kristina Braly surrounded by her colorful Hermès handbag collection
Kristina Braly surrounded by her Hermès handbag collection. She owns eight Birkins, two purchased from the boutique and six from resellers. (Kristina Braly/YouTube)

It’s a call some people never receive. You don’t know if — or when — it’s going to come. You don’t know what bag — style, material, color — they will have for you when it does. You do know it will be expensive, and you’ll have minutes to decide whether or not it will be yours.  

Hermès Birkin and Kelly bags are some of the most exclusive and elusive products in the luxury business. The brand doesn’t sell them online. You can’t simply walk into a boutique with the $10k to $100k+ they cost and walk out with one. Even a brand-endorsed price list of the bags’ different styles and sizes? Not available. 

So how do you get one, if not from the booming resale market, where prices can run double or triple the retail price? 

You play the Hermès game.

Icon status

Back in 1837, a craftsman named Thierry Hermès opened a shop to sell saddles, harnesses, and equestrian wares to the gentry of France. In the centuries since, the brand has expanded to clothing, jewelry, scarves, and cosmetics, but is still best known for its leather goods. 

Today, the brand is worth $216B, its returns are booming even as other luxury brands falter, and the success has made its founding family the richest in Europe, with a combined fortune of $151B. (The family still owns two-thirds of the company, which has helped maintain its perception as a heritage brand.) 

starting retail price of a Birkin 35 bag over time

The Hustle

The Birkin bag is still handcrafted start-to-finish by a single artisan, who trains for years in a Hermès academy to be skilled enough to create one. They take between 20 and 40 hours to complete. 

And while the company has added artisans to its staff and opened more facilities, it has refused to scale the way other luxury brands, like Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Fendi, have. Hermès doesn’t say how many Birkins it creates per year, though industry experts estimate it’s about ~12k

The paradox of the luxury goods industry is that your product has to be desirable to sell more, but as you sell more, your product gets less desirable. According to John Zhang, professor of marketing at The Wharton School, Hermès sits at the industry’s apex. 

“In Hermès’ case, it’s been unbelievably disciplined, and very, very patient,” he says.

So where many luxury brands cultivate artificial scarcity — through limited editions or brand collabs, for example — Hermes cultivates actual scarcity.

Hermès homies 

Like any collectible, the Birkin has a clientele that theorizes passionately online on exactly how to get one. 

Experts liken the Hermès customer base to junkies; others refer to the community as Hermès homies.

Victoria Beckham walking on a sidewalk holding her Birkin bag
Victoria Beckham has a Birkin collection estimated to be worth $2m. (Trago/FilmMagic via Getty Images)

Like any subculture, the online Hermès fan community has developed its own language. “SA” is shorthand for sales associate. A “quota bag” means a Birkin, a Kelly, or, in some regions, a Constance, bags limited by the boutiques to one or two offers a year per devoted client. A trip to an Hermès boutique isn’t shopping; it’s part of a “Hermès journey.” 

Countless videos detail tips on how to score a dream Birkin or Kelly:

  • Know your stuff: Hermès has names for types of leather, hardware, and color, and will keep its clients’ wishes on record to compare against stock they receive
  • Build a relationship: Keep in touch with an SA, via text or dropping into a boutique
  • Look good: Dress with confidence, and demonstrate a willingness to wait your turn
  • Visit the mothership: The Paris boutiques are the only ones in the world that offer “leather goods” appointments, where customers with or without a spend history can take their chances advocating for an opportunity to buy a quota bag 

tiny chances of getting a Birkin bag
The Hustle

In another video, an influencer called Mel in Melbourne details what she bought from a Hermès boutique in Hawaii before her latest quota bag offer:

  • A diamond ring ($8.8k)
  • A twilly scarf ($315) and a larger silk scarf ($640)
  • A horse keychain ($640)
  • A belt ($1k)
  • A pair of sandals ($1.2k)
  • An eyeshadow ($108)
  • Two pairs of shoes for her husband ($1k and $870)

After that, her SA offered her something he thought she might like, a Kelly bag in alligator skin. The price tag? $41.8k. She added it to the bill. 

“Isn’t she so pretty?” she cooed to the camera after she unwrapped it. 

But, in the end, nobody knows exactly how to get a Birkin offer, or how long it will take to get one. Some customers get offers on their first trip to a store. Some customers never do. 

When Braly got her first offer, she did something many in the community would deem controversial: She said no. The first offer was for an “exotic,” a Constance bag made from ostrich, in a color she didn’t think she would wear. 

She was determined to hold out for a Birkin or Kelly she truly loved. She feels sure that holding firm to her aesthetic, putting in face time, and expressing genuine curiosity about the brand proved to her sales associate that she was there for the right reasons. 

“They can smell resellers from a mile away,” she says. “They can fall back on that policy: Oh, I’m sorry, we don’t have anything. It’s really, we don’t have anything for you.”

The storefront that launched a thousand Birkins, on Paris’s Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. (Julien Hekimian/Getty Images)

Her steadfastness paid off. Eventually, more offers came her way. 

Years later, she now owns eight Birkins — two bought from the boutique and six from resellers — she plans to pass down to her daughters. 

“I specifically had girls so I could hand them down,” she says. “I said, ‘God, give me only girls because I have way too many purses. It was a special order.’” 

The game, she says, creates a lot of anger among people who don’t feel the brand plays fair. But many of its customers are people spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year at the store, who can buy the entire place out on a whim. 

“What better way to encourage those people to come back?” she says. “By dangling something that money can’t buy.” 

An out-of-body experience

Most Birkin enthusiasts lack the good fortune (and ability to shop endlessly at Hermès) like Braly. 

Erin Caravaggio, who owns a bridal salon and fashion line, was a 22-year-old accounting and economics student when she decided she wanted a Hermès Birkin bag. Birkin by 30, she thought. She hung it on her vision board. She put it on her phone screen. 

Six years later, she’d saved up $12k and purchased items like a blanket and a belt from her local Hermès boutique in Toronto. But she knew her patronage wouldn’t yet be enough to receive “the call.” Instead, Caravaggio found the exact bag she’d hoped for — a white Birkin 30 — in a local luxury consignment shop within her price range. 

Hermès vs. the market, annual average return, 1980-2015
The Hustle

The Kardashians have also sourced secondhand Birkins; so has Victoria Beckham, who has a collection of 100+ Birkins worth $2m+. In 2022, a Diamond Himalaya Birkin 30 sold at auction for $450k. On resale sites like TheRealReal, they sell for anywhere from $9k to $350k

Despite buying a bag off the secondary market, Caravaggio continues to visit her Hermès boutique once every couple of months. There are a few smaller items on a wish list she’s curated with the store that she’d like to buy. 

“And maybe, after I do get those things, or maybe after showing my face a few more times, maybe I will get a call or a text saying, ‘Hey, Erin, we have something for you,’ which would just make me feel like I’m living what I’ve watched other people live so many times,” she says. 

“And that in itself would be an out-of-body experience. It’s so crazy to think we’re talking about handbags here, and we’re talking about out-of-body experiences. But it really is, once you’re actually deep in the trenches of Hermès.”

Erin Caravaggio unboxes her first Birkin bag
Erin Caravaggio unboxes her first Birkin for the followers on her Erin Cara YouTube channel. (Erin Caravaggio/YouTube)

But not everyone has patience for the Hermès game. In 2021, one Sydney influencer snapped publicly, uploading a video describing her harrowing experience not being offered the same products as her friends or the dream pieces she’d been coveting. 

Over five years, she’d spent $100k on other items, and had received an offer on a Birkin (which she bought). She wanted more.

“If the measure of offering someone a bag is based on loyalty, can you please explain to me, Hermès, why I’m not loyal enough to be able to get a bag?” she asked in the video

She emailed her sales associate about the Birkin and Kelly bags so many times, she got a call from Hermès HR telling her the SA feared for her occupational health and safety. 

As The Guardian reported last month, hell hath no fury like a wealthy person being told no. 

Loyalty over everything

In March, two California customers filed a lawsuit against Hermès. The proposed class-action alleges that the company engages in a practice called tying, requiring customers to buy other items before they’ve spent enough to earn a Birkin. 

The company’s practice has long been criticized and protested, and the customer community is rife with speculation on how much “pre-spend” is enough to get an offer. Some estimate a 1:1 dollar ratio, others a 3:1. Still others wait years for an offer that never comes.

Experts say the antitrust lawsuit is unlikely to succeed. For one, tying is remarkably hard to prove. And two, the scarcity has created a bustling secondary market. 

The rub? One of the plaintiffs in the suit already owns a Birkin. 

price increases over the last decade in the collectibles market

The Hustle

Of course, desire without hope is simply desperation. The brand needs exceptions: gushing tales of clients offered their dream bag the first time they set foot in Hermès. Without them, the playbook would be too obvious; the castle would crumble. 

Those stories fuel the fairy tale that, just maybe, that day, luck will go your way and the person who will be chosen is you. 

“I can guarantee you every person walking into Hermes feels that way as they’re entering the doors. Maybe it’ll be me today,” Caravaggio says. 

“It’s fun and excitement that you absolutely paid for. But it’s also a nice break from the routine of basic, generalized consumerism.” 

And, after all, it’s just a game. No one’s forcing you to play.

Topics: Fashion

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