Luxebeaute's Blog

July 30, 2012

Has Hermes lost its Luster? Plight of a Status Symbol in the Modern Age

Filed under: Uncategorized — luxebeaute @ 4:16 am

For whatever reason, this months table top conversation has consisted of picking the Hermes empire. Ok, not the entire brand, this is an exaggeration- but indeed, the crowned jewel of said empire has been coming under some serious scrutiny. The royal item in question? Why the Birkin bag of course!

In a recent Forbes article the author ponders how and why these once coveted status symbols are now passe and that people are over it. This publication was followed by another in the Huffington Post in which  states the bags are no longer held in the old school esteem, flat out blaming young Hollywood for said downfall. While there is truth in both articles, they fail to explore many other factors in which contribute to the rise and fall of an empire.

So why is this being explored now? And what all plays a part realistically in the so called demise of a major status symbol? Ah, where to begin…. The “now” is likely more of a culmination of past events and lead ups in combo with what comes with recession territory. In times such as these, people tend to pick apart what the 1% covets vrs. what the 99% does; such left to the right differences redefine what luxury is (handbags vs food on the table, let them eat cake vs can we eat) which in turn calls into question morals and values. Remarkably though, economic virtues aren’t the main reason for Hermes social fall here.

Let’s go back to the beginning before we really dive into the so called end. Once upon a time  the was a company called Hermès; although formed in 1837 there were 2 main events in which put them on the luxury map: the creation of the Kelly Bag for Grace Kelly in 1956 and that of the Birkin for Jane Birkin [Note this is my majorly abridged version but … From here on in ownership of a Hermes bag (especially a Birkin) meant you arrived. Over the course of the next 20 some odd years the Birkin was the bag of bag, the most coveted status symbol one could get that didn’t have wheels or sails attached to it. A Birkin was seen on the arm of royalty, upper class philanthropic NY and SF socialites, and well respected actresses (Catherine Denueve, Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor). Ownership was like membership to a secret club or society; it had a secret meaning known to both rich and poor. High price kept the riff-raff out of the club, it announced financial and class status without saying a word, and the difficulty in obtaining one (or more) even drew the line between who was rich and who was richer. The bags were shrouded in exclusivity and elusiveness by way of pricing, waiting lists, and the mystery of how one was obtained and who was offered one for purchase. The bags were completely in France, in small batches, no two exactly alike.

Fast forward into the new millennium. Hermes boutiques not only expanded, but there is some question as to any existing continuation of individualized craftsmanship being replaced by a bit of mass manufacturing in Asia. And when at one time seeing anyone with a Birkin was somewhat rare, now it appears everyone has one. OK exaggeration #2, not everyone but… herein lies the problem….There are enough fakes out there now (both good and bad) that a “Birkin” is seen on the arm of soccer moms or a single gal shopping at the mall. Some fakes are even reproduced so well that even those who can afford the real deal go fake, which points to  either quality control issues with Hermes OR that for whatever reason its simply not as highly coveted (we will get to that next). There are enough real ones out there now owned by women of all ages and class that the details which used to shroud the legend are now lost; college students see no issue with skipping bill payments and taking out loans for a Birkin and the celebutauntes who are rich and famous for nothing but looking cute are buying them not so much because they love them but because of what it stands for socio-sybolically. Mass production has taken its toll on a variety of levels (to include fake vs real), lore of exclusivity has been proven to be nothing more than hype (money talks and anyone can buy), the Grace Kelly’s have been replaced by pop culture stars of the moment, and the overall consensus of Birkin sightings as common place has lowered the value. All of this contributes in the demise of the Hermes super power.

Of course, this is only my opinion- I could be wrong. Many a lady will argue with me that Hermes bags, Birkin in particular has not lost its luster I am sure. And as my readers may already know and will likely point out, I was never a Hermes handbag fan to begin with so perhaps my theory is skewed; I have always been quite vocal in my opinion Birkins only look good on the arm of classic and classy women over 45, which I can never be swayed from. However, I do love me some Hermes accessories!. Do I believe all of this will drive Hermes into the ground? No. Do I believe Hermes is and will be  effected by all of the over-saturation? Yes, on certain levels. No matter what, Hermes will be around long after all of the pop culture celebs fizz out and will probably rise to the top again at some point, once we are the public get a better handle on who we put on trend or fashion pedestals and why, returning to class, style and substance in entertainment over the dumbing down of it.

Blog at