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 house’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. In November 2020, a Birkin auction record was set for a matte white Himalaya Niloticus Crocodile Birkin 25, which achieved HK$3,000,000 / US$388,738 at Christie’s Hong Kong.
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.
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 a small quantity.
Gaultier made his mark on the house by reinterpreting classic styles in contemporary ways. For the Shadow, he sought to create a trompe-l’œil effect through the illusion of a top flat and sangles, shown casually strewn. In reality, the design is a raised impression, making it the only Birkin to stray from the traditional structure.
One of the sportiest designs from the house, the Club Birkin was 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 version highlighted above features a fiery combination of orange Barénia-leather stripes with a red crinoline panel.
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,’ says Caitlin Donovan, head of Handbags & Accessories, at Christie’s New York. ‘The brogue was originally a man’s shoe, but when translated into a women’s bag, it makes it look even more feminine and detailed.’
Released in 2017, the Touch Birkin 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.
In contrast to the vert cyprès design on offer are the warm-toned jaune ambre and noisette styles. While Birkins are typically worn open, the Touch best presents its exceptional details when worn closed.
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.
While most handbags in the Tressage collection are accented with woven handles, it is rarer to find pieces, such as this Rouge de Coeur Birkin that has a tonal red pattern down its centre.
One of Hermès’s latest ‘Holy Grail’ bags, the Faubourg Birkin was released in a very limited edition at the end of 2019 and is currently available in two colourways, brown and navy. The style 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.
Specialist Madeline Lee adds: ‘The Faubourg Birkin is the first Birkin Bag ever to be crafted in a 20 centimetre size, and it is finished with sleek Sellier stitching, a detail typically reserved for Kelly bags and very uncommon for Birkin bags.’
First produced in 2020, the Sunrise Rainbow is an exclusive Birkin 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, this handbag’s colour-blocked effect combines Lime, Rose Confetti, Terre Battue, and Sesame. The interior is lined with Sesame chevre, while tonal stitching on the exterior further reflects Hermès’s impeccable craftsmanship.
Debuting 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. The Bleu Marine and Marron d’Inde varieties are illustrated above.
‘At its conception in 1981, the Birkin bag was celebrated for its practicality in comparison to other bags during that time,’ says Lee. ‘Now, nearly 40 years later, Hermès has cleverly played on that original principle of practicality with the addition of something we all need for those busy mornings on the go: a cup holder for our coffee!’