A fashionista's Birkin adventure

A Birkin bag can be your passport in to the world of high fashion. Unfortunately, scoring the perfect bag is not easy.

Maira Pagganwala November 24, 2010
I was sitting with a group of friends and we were discussing the usual…jobs, people, politics. Just when we were getting up to leave, a friend noticed another friend’s handbag, which opened up a Pandora’s box and started another exhausting discussion of the Birkin.

Now, if anyone has done even the least amount of research on this handbag, they would understand that it is not easy to get. The Purse Forum is quite informative, and one can read up on some of the mad adventures that women have had chasing the bag. And of course, there’s 'Bringing Home The Birkin' by Micheal Tonello, which suggests that it’s actually not quite hard to get the bag as long as a couple of thousand dollars/pounds/euros or whatever are spent prior to asking the sales assistants for the Birkin.

Despite all this, a surprisingly large number of Pakistani women of all ages, shapes and sizes own the Birkin, and they are willing to go through extreme measures to get these beautiful bags. Most women don’t go through the hassle of visiting boutique after boutique trying their luck and getting lied to by sales assistants. The wealthy take the more convenient route of ordering online via websites that offer Birkins and Kellys in a range of sizes and leathers at almost double the price and of course buyers don’t get VAT back. A few women have built a relationship with sales assistants at the boutiques who provide the lucky ladies with secret information so the women show up at the stores mere minutes after the boutique receives a new stock.

A lot of other women buy their bags from little vintage store spread across Paris. Most of the bags are used but in decent condition. All are almost double the price than those at the boutique but because they are so easy to get, women actually buy them. I met a Parisian who exchanged her very interesting Birkin story. She owns a vintage store in Faubourg and she sells quite a few Hermes bags. She told me that the artisans at Hermes don’t get paid much but what they do get is a bag free of cost. This woman buys the bags from the workers at a fraction of  the cost. However, the bags that are given to the artisans bear a mark on the inside of the buckle strap (which typically bears the year that the bag was made, usually symbolized by an initial as well as the initials of the artisan) and so upon purchasing the bag, the store-owner gets rid of the mark so that the bag can in no way be traced back to the worker who sold it. Therefore, the artisan makes extra money without losing their job.

My Birkin story

Of course I wanted the Birkin but at the same time I knew it wasn’t easy to get unless I was willing to pay a lot extra. I wasn’t. So I gave up on the idea and owning it seemed like a distant fantasy.

Then my sister’s seventh birthday happened. My mother had thrown her an Alice in Wonderland themed party and amidst all the teacups and mad hatters, I counted a total of eight Birkin-clad women. These Karachiite women displayed an array of the “world’s most coveted handbag” in a variety of sizes and colors – the most common was the 35 in orange. I even spotted a 30 Kelly in crocodile…so so divine! And all of a sudden I became hopeful, ‘it can’t be that hard to get’, I remember thinking.

Once in London, I wasted no time, much to Q’s disappointment. I dragged him to different boutiques spread out across the city. The sales assistants just kept telling me they didn’t have any in stock. It was the same answer each day. Then one fine day, one fine lady felt sorry for me. After loudly telling me they had none in stock, she whispered that I should try the next day or the day after because they were expecting a delivery. Obviously, I went again the next day and the day after that, and I finally got lucky the third time. Well, sort of.

I asked the sales assistant if they’d gotten the delivery, and instead of giving me a straight answer she asked me what size I wanted. I told her. Then she asked me what leather I wanted. I told her. Then she asked me what color I wanted. I told her. Unfortunately, I’d messed up here. The woman said ‘sorry, we don’t have it in that color’ and walked away. ‘What color do you have?’, I asked while chasing her. She told me it was a new colour, a dark green. ‘Ooh that sounds nice’, I thought. At least it wasn’t chocolate brown. Beige I can do, but not chocolate brown.

I naively told the sales assistant I’d be back and Q and I decided to go to the pizzeria. He was hungry and I wanted to think about it. Stupid move. I obviously wanted it, but by the time I returned it was gone. The same day, at another boutique, I saw a 30 Kelly in orange on display. The sales assistant said they had just gotten it and I almost bought it until Q told me not to settle. So I didn’t get it and I was still in the store, when an elderly lady came and wasted no time sealing the deal. Of course I regretted not getting it but that was before we got to the city where the bags are made. Not only are the bags cheaper here but they are also supposedly easier to get. Supposedly, being the key word.

I walked into the Hermes flagship store. It was loud and crowded, and there was a long queue, at the end of which, I didn’t get lucky. I didn’t get lucky the next day either. Each time, the sales assistants would tell me to wait while they checked their stock on their computers, and then apologized for not having any. At one point, Q thought he’d surprise me by telling the concierge to arrange for it, I later found out about his failed master plan when the concierge told me that I would have to wait a year and that they had stopped taking orders. Then one day I met Soo-Ohld (of course her name has been changed), she was a sales assistant who was surprisingly pleasant. She said there were no Birkins in stock (I wasn’t surprised) but she said they had two Kellys in orange, and that someone was looking at them at that moment so I had to wait my turn.

Fortunately, the gentleman bought only one and Soo-Ohld showed the other to me. While she was taking it out of the box, an Asian Birkin-clad lady interrupted with an ‘excuse-me’ and Soo-Ohld turned to her and abruptly told her she was busy, shoo-ing the woman away. In the meantime I decided to settle for the bag. It was a 35, which made it bigger than the one I almost bought in London but a lot cheaper. Soo-Oohld noticed I was ‘settling’ and lectured me that there were people who were dying for the Kelly and that I should let them have it if I didn’t want it. I obviously didn’t let them have it! I was leaving the city the next evening and realistically there was no way I was leaving with a Birkin.

While we paid for the bag, we listened to Soo-Ohld complain about the Asians in the store and how they’d wait outside for the boutique to open each day. She was Asian too, by the way, but that didn’t stop her. In fact, I think she gave me the bag because I wasn’t Chinese. I happily walked out with my gigantic orange bag, when Q pointed out that I should probably buy her a small thank-you gift. So we picked up a perfume and returned to give it to her.

The woman was ecstatic! She did a bit of drama and refused to take it at first, then she went on about how we shouldn’t have, and finally she told me to drop by the next day. When I told her I was leaving for the airport the next day, she asked me to stop by on my way. Q was sure she had called me back for the Birkin, and as soon as we stepped out of the boutique, he gave me ‘mubarakbaat’ and pointed out that it was pretty cool that I was getting my B the next day, which was the same day as Eid, and with that he cracked a lame joke about how all my fasting in Ramzan had paid off.

On our way to the store the next day, Kelly at hand to exchange for the Birkin, in case that really was why Soo-Ohld had summoned me, I told Q that I would happily exchange the Kelly for a Birkin even if it was in a smaller size. He asked me what color I wanted it in. ‘Anything but chocolate brown’, I told him. When we walked into the store, Soo-Ohld took us to a side room and told us to wait while she brought us ‘something’.

There was a French woman and her daughter in the room as well, and a sales assistant was showing them Birkins. The woman bought all of them; two for herself and one for her daughter. Soo-Oohld finally returned, carrying a big orange box. She told me it was the only one they had in stock.

She removed the lid, pushed aside the packaging and took out a Birkin 40.

It was chocolate brown.
Maira Pagganwala A graduate in International Development and Political Science who went on to study Urban Development Planning. She is also interested in creative writing and fashion.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Anikz | 13 years ago | Reply Wow...i didn't know Pakistani women are THIS Shallow and Farigh!!! thanks for updating me, i wont consider my 10mins wasted.
Usama Khilji | 13 years ago | Reply The blog at the top reads: 'The Good Life', and the author is said to have an interest in fashion. Why is that bothering so many people? Did ET ever say that all the blogs are supposed to be about something that, you personally think, matter? I'm not a fan of designer material and fashion, but this is a well-written anecdote, and like somebody else mentioned, the writer manages to keep you reading even if you don;t have an interest in the subject - which is a commendable talent. One should just close the tab upon losing interest rather than whining about not finding what you wanted to read!
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