The Hermès Birkin bag has around since the 80s when then executive chairman, Jean-Louis Dumas, inspired by British actress Jane Birkin, set out to design a bag big enough and luxurious enough to accommodate a young working mother, who travels a lot. While celebrity women like Lady Gaga and Kim Kardashian have all been photographed wearing the exalted accessory, it wasn’t until recently that the authenticity of such bags on the arms and in the lyrics of celebrities like Cardi B and The City Girls came into question.
A few months ago, social media user Celestial Thug sparked a world wide web debate when he suggested the Birkin has lost it’s “value” while and they’re nearly impossible “to get.”
“Birkins have literally lost their value,” he said in the now deleted social media post. “The City Girls and Cardi have got y’all convinced that these Birkin bags are easy to get.”
According to Jeff Berk, Privé Porter founder, they’re actually not so hard to get if you have a bag to drop on a bag. We caught up with the man half behind Privé Porter — the largest and most reliable source for brand new Hermés collectible handbags and accessories. Ber debunked the “waiting list” myth, explained how to spot a fake Birkin and even put an end to that catty throwback clip of Nya Lee claiming Erica Mena wore a fake Birkin on set.
Keep scrolling for Berk’s Birkin expertise, below:
HelloBeautiful: What is the history of the Birkin “waiting list” and is it a myth?
Jeff Berk: The list, in common perception, is entirely a myth. No one is ever on a waitlist. The top luxury brands all have their “legacy” designs, the ones most cherished by collectors: Rolex (Daytona), Patek Philippe (Nautilus), Ferrari (La Ferrari). Since there are very few to go around, the stores have to save the few legacy designs they do get for the customers who “support” the brand the most. “Support,” of course, is code for spending a lot of money on other things. Who really wants a Rolex Cellini, anyway?
As it exists today, and as far as I can see in the past, Hermes also saves the Birkin (and Kelly) for the customer who spends money on their other categories – apparel, bedding, jewelry, watches – rather than those who just wander in looking for a Birkin. However, in this case, this system makes up to $2B of their annual $6B in revenue.
As this has been happening since the late 80s, women of 8- & 9-digit wealth feeling that rare ego-gut-kick (getting rejected at Hermes) is hard for them to wrap their heads around. They are accustomed to getting what they want, and when they ask (and are not Hermes supporters) they don’t know what to do. To diffuse the moment, to give both that uncomfortable salesperson and the rejected woman a graceful exit to the conversation, the default became being put them on a “waitlist.”
How it works, for example, if you want the standard 35cm calfskin Birkin, which after tax is a $13,000 bag, you have to be spending from $10,000 – $15,000 in non leather categories (apparel, bedding, jewelry, watches) to get offered one. Even then, all you will be offered is a ‘B’ or ‘C’ level color, not a hot one or new one, like a Kiwi we reference later. If you are pining for a crocodile bag that retails for $68,000, you had better be spending $100,000+ to be offered one. That’s when these women start buying the $10,000 bicycles and $4,000 trash cans.
Back to the “waitlist:” for those customers who are supporting the brand, like that crocodile Birkin customer, if she is waiting for a specific size and color, for example a 30cm Shiny Graphite, that customer will be on a legitimate list, waiting maybe years for that exact color and size to come to their store. Hermes stores do no swap bags back and forth. That is the real waiting list that does exist, and over and over, these women are simply coming to Privé Porter and paying $90,000, not buying the extra $100,000+ of stuff, and getting exactly what they want when they want.
Based on your experience, do you think Erica Mena’s Birkin is real?
Jeff Berk: First of all, that’s my wife‘s (Michelle Berk, founder and president) friend, Erica Mena, so YES, it is real!
Erica has been a client and friend of Privé Porter from the beginning which is around 2012. Her and Keyshia Ka’oir were our first really established Black customers. Keyshia Ka’oir would pull up to our first little office (Gucci was in jail) in her Rolls Royce Phantom. We will get to why gals like them use Privé Porter later on.
But does that make that bag real? We don’t have invoices from those days. Since this video clip is from 2013 (could have been taped as early as 2012) the bag in question looks like it could be a Hermes Birkin 35cm Kiwi from their candy collection they released during that time period. So, the timing of the color is right. As for was it a fake Kiwi, that long ago there wasn’t really the proliferation of fakes then like they have now. If there were fakes, they were core colors (black, brown, orange), there wouldn’t have been a fake of a current/new color.
What are obvious signs a Birkin is fake?
Jeff Berk: There used to be a time when there were tell-tale indica (the feet unscrewed which Hermes would not do, no year stamp on the strap, etc.,) but an executive director at Hermes told me something I already knew, that counterfeiting was so good now, it is their & every luxury goods makers’ biggest challenge in the future.
Aside from a system which is proprietary, there is the simple fact that Michelle has touched and sold more bags than 99.75% of Hermes employees, and has this almanac knowledge of what color was made with what leather in what year. Think how Marisa Tomei got those kids out of jail.
There is one of the major resellers we go into often, and there laid a 35cm Blue Jean Togo for sale. She looked on the back of the strap, at the year stamp, and said, “…this is fake..”. When I asked why, she simply said Hermes didn’t make Blue Jean in Clemence leather the year of the stamp.
What women are coming to us for are unused bags, ones that are in the current year. Like Kiwi in 2013, coming in for colors which are new for 2020 (2021 colors aren’t out yet, and who knows when, COVID has stopped production!). We are getting almost all of our bags from the Hermes VIP customers themselves, getting offered bags they aren’t crazy about. When you have a new bag, from a real customer, whose name is on the receipt, you know it is real.
HB: Have you seen an influx in Black women becoming Birkin customers?
Jeff Berk: Christmas 2018, Offset was in our Carlyle Hotel room on Christmas Eve looking for a Birkin Hail Mary to get himself out of the doghouse, once again. I use this story as it answers the question perfectly and opens up a larger discussion. It was dumb luck for him we were in NYC, in typical Offset fashion he was trying to get gifts at the last second and another rapper told him about my wife.
Once he selected the two bags, he showed real genuine happiness, not “getting out of the doghouse” happiness. He looked at the bags on the table and said, “…man, she’s gonna be able to go on the gram now and fllllexxxx!…”.
For most, it is for flexing for the gram. Earlier that night I admired my Patek 5990 and he spent :20 bragging to me about his diamond encrusted Audemars Piguet, all those watches and jewelry part of rappers’ flex for the gram.
I have been talking about this since 2017. So, what’s the difference when young, self-sufficient Black women, making their own money, want to signal their success to their own communities (followers) that they are making it, no different than Cardi or Offset? This has gone back years for all nationalities.
So, when so many other women start getting a bag, the only way to keep your cred is by having a lot of them. Cardi spends like $400,000 with us to get a lot of bags. What exudes more than just saying “hey, I got money” which is exuding wealth? It is showing that you have so many different Birkins of so many colors, you got one for every color you possible want to wear (this is a Hermes 35cm Rose Scheherazade Shiny Crocodile) which really is exuding competency. That’s saying, “…well, it is so damn hard to get one, check this out, this is my 15th!”.
It isn’t just women. Way back in 2014, Robert Smith (Black venture capital champion, recently paid off all the Morehouse College graduates’ college debts) bought 40 Birkins from us to give away to his partners and friends of Vista Capital at his annual Christmas party.
The Black female customer is one of our fastest growing, and enjoyable customer demographics. They don’t fuss, they are so happy to get what they want, and most importantly, they don’t really negotiate. By the time they come in, they have educated themselves about what to expect to pay (around $19,000 for that $13,000 35cm calfskin) and, in their minds, it is already theirs.
HB: What do you make of the controversy surrounding Cardi B and The City Girls wearing Birkins?
Jeff Berk: This is tricky but I will take it head on: haters of all kinds hating.
Think back to the Cardi/Offset melodrama that went down in the Beverly Hills Hermes last October. Then, when we celebrate our customer on Instagram just before that controversy, look at the melee that went down in the screen shots of haters telling us how people “like her”, “like this” were bad for the image of Hermes. Peruse through the texts attached.
Michelle went to her community for a little flexing of her own, calling out the hypocrisy and double standard. In his IG stories, she did a slide show of all the hardworking black women getting and being proud of getting their first Birkins from Michelle, also seen in attached.
HB: What do you think of Drake’s large Birkin collection? What do you estimate it’s worth?
Jeff Berk: I share in good humor, until he is working with Michelle, he’s got a closet full of ‘B’ and ‘C’ colors. If the car lot is full of BMW 5 series and Mercedes S classes, you can call it is foreign car lot, but not an exotic car lot ;).