Hermès Birkins: a guide to the most coveted limited-editions

Discover the history behind Touch, Ghillies, Faubourg and Cargo Birkins — and other rare designs — and why it’s the constellation of details that matter. Illustrated with lots offered at Christie’s

A limited edition Jaune Citron Goeland Toile and Chai Swift leather Cargo Birkin 25 with palladium hardware, Hermes, 2023

A unique, matte boreal satine jaune citron niloticus crocodile birkin 25 with palladium hardware, Hermès, 2022. Estimates: HK$ 400,000 – 500,000. Offered in Handbags & Accessories on 25 May 2024 at Christie’s in Hong Kong

What happens when one of the world’s most exclusive bags gets even rarer? Hermès only produces a limited quantity of its iconic Birkin each year, making the maison’s special editions, released every few years, incredibly difficult to get one’s hands on.

Created from start to finish by one craftsman, these handbags come in an array of materials and colours, and demand has never been higher.

Here, we delve into the limited-edition styles, which range from uniquely utilitarian designs to dramatic pieces made in collaboration with renowned designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier.

The Shadow Birkin

At once dramatic yet understated, the Shadow Birkin was first introduced in 2009 by famed French designer Jean Paul Gaultier, Hermès’s creative director from 2003 to 2010. A decade later, Hermès re-released the bag in limited numbers.

Gaultier made his mark on the house by reinterpreting classic styles in contemporary ways. For the Shadow, he sought to create a trompe-l’oeil effect through the illusion of a top flap and strap, shown casually strewn. In reality, the design is a raised impression, making it the only Birkin to stray from the traditional structure.

The Club Birkin

One of the sportiest designs from the house, the Club Birkin was first produced in 2012. Similar to the 2017 Touch Birkin, the Club often showcases exotic materials in its signature pair of vertical stripes.

Yet, like the later Sunrise Rainbow, colour-blocking is key. Therefore, the Club always includes a contrasting centre panel.

The Ghillies Birkin

One of Hermès’s most coveted and hard-to-find designs is the Ghillies, which is distinguished by its decorative trim.

Introduced in 2012, the Ghillies was an extension of the haute bijouterie jewellery collection produced in 2011 by Pierre Hardy, artistic director of jewellery at Hermès. The design is inspired by a Scottish men’s dress shoe of the same name, which has perforations known as ‘broguing’ that help the shoe dry more efficiently after outdoor activity.

Hardy drew from his own heritage and adapted it into something stylish and functional — the brogue, translated into a women’s bag, makes it look even more feminine and detailed.

The Touch Birkin

Released in 2017, the Touch is Hermès’s answer to collectors looking for a hint of exotic material on their bags. This style is available in a variety of jewel tones and features a leather body with an alligator or crocodile top flap. Occasionally, other parts of the bag will also be highlighted by pops of exotic leather.

While collectors often prefer to wear their Birkins open for easy access to what’s inside, the Touch best presents its exceptional details when worn closed.

The Tressage Birkin

Bags from Hermès’s Tressage, or ‘braided,’ collection are defined by their panels of multicoloured woven leather. The Birkin iteration was introduced in 2018 and only produced in three colourways. It comes exclusively in 30 and 35cm sizes.

The Faubourg Birkin

One of Hermès’s latest ‘grail’ bags, the Faubourg Birkin was first introduced in a very limited edition at the end of 2019. Originally making its debut in two colourways, brown and navy, Hermès has now dazzled collectors with a new version in Beton. The style of the bag is modelled after the façade of the Hermès flagship at 24 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré and comes complete with orange awnings and a clochette designed after the house's iconic orange shopping bag.

The Faubourg is the first Birkin to be crafted in a 20 centimetre size, and it is finished with sleek Sellier stitching, a detail typically reserved for Kellys.

The Sunrise and Sunset Birkins

First produced in 2020, the Sunrise and Sunset Rainbows are exclusive Birkins finished with Sellier stitching. Generally reserved for the houses’s Kelly handbags, ‘sellier’ refers to the visible outside stitching which gives the bag a crisper, more structured shape.

An eye-catching design that is perfect for the summer season, the Sunset handbag’s colour-blocked effect combines Lime, Rose Confetti, Terre Battue, and Sesame, while the Sunset version features Cricot, Bleu Agate, Magnolia and Rouge Casaque Epsom leather.

The Cargo Birkin

Making its debut in 2020, the Cargo Birkin is another one of Hermès’s newest limited-edition styles. Crafted in lightweight canvas and sporting five outer pockets, it is the most functional Birkin to date.

At its conception in 1981, the Birkin bag was celebrated for its practicality in comparison to other bags at the time. Four decades later, Hermès has cleverly played on that original principle of practicality with the addition of something for those busy mornings on the go — a coffee cup holder.

The So Black Birkin

The So Black collection was not always as coveted as it is today. Designed by Jean Paul Gaultier, the black hardware effect is created thanks to a special PVD (physical vapour deposition) coating. When it was first released in 2010, it was swiftly pulled from distribution because the delicate nature of the hardware made consumers wary that it was impractical. Of course, this only served to attract collectors. Offered in either Calf Box Leather or Matte Crocodile, the exotic iteration is significantly more valuable and among the most sought-after Hermès bags.

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The 3 in 1 Birkin

The 3 in 1 Birkin, which first graced the runway at Paris Fashion Week in spring 2021, is defined by versatility. The distinctive pochette can be attached to the handbag and used as an compartment or removed and carried as a standalone clutch.

When detached from the pochette, the bag becomes a handy tote. At once capacious and compact, this clever reinvention of the classic Birkin silhouette is a must-have for seamless transitions from day to evening. For the ultimate Hermes lover, we recommend collecting multiple 3 in 1 Birkins and swapping their pochettes for a bold bi-colour look.

Explore Christie’s spring auction, Handbags Online: The Paris Edit, running until 25 April 2024

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