Christie’s handbags specialist with an Hermés Ghillies Birkin 35

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5 minutes with… An Hermès Ghillies Birkin

Caitlin Donovan, Handbags specialist at Christie’s in New York, discusses this ‘wearable work of art’

One of the world’s most sought-after accessories, the Birkin bag was the result of the chance meeting in 1983 between actress Jane Birkin and Jean-Louis Dumas, then creative director of Hermès. The two were seated next to each other on an international flight. When Dumas asked why she travelled with a simple straw tote, Birkin explained that most leather bags were too structured for her taste. 

Birkin ‘wanted something much more boho’, explains Caitlin Donovan, Handbags specialist at Christie’s in New York. ‘The two actually came up with the design for the bag on that flight, on the back of an airsickness bag.’ Since its inception, the specialist adds, the Birkin ‘has changed little in style or function’.

Every few years, however, the house does release a special edition of its iconic bags, often incorporating details that reference its equestrian heritage. Of these, the Ghillies Birkin is a standout. The Ghillies Birkin was an extension of the haute bijouterie jewellery collection produced in 2011 by Pierre Hardy, Artistic Director of Jewellery at Hermès. Alongside this equestrian-inspired collection, the house released the special-edition Ghillies Kelly, followed by the Ghillies Birkin.

The Ghillies editions incorporated tiny punctures and serrations, known as ‘broguing’, around the trim. These additions recall the brogue, a type of boot, originally from Ireland, which featured serrations along its edges, and perforations meant to help the shoe dry faster after a day spent outdoors. The Ghillies bags referred specifically to a Scottish version of the shoe, known as the ‘ghillie brogue’. 

In designing the Ghillies bags, Donovan notes, ‘Hardy drew from his own heritage and adapted it into something stylish and functional. 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.’

The piece is particularly exceptional because it has been crafted in porosus crocodile skin — the finest crocodile used by the house. ‘Hermès utilises different types of crocodile when creating its exotic-skin handbags, and porosus is the finest of the skins it uses,’ explains Donovan. ‘The scales are very small, symmetrical and even.’ 

Rarer still, two different finishes have been used — the body is shiny porosus crocodile, while the trim is matte porosus. ‘When looking at this beautiful Birkin, you see that there are fine and specific details, layered on top of details,’ says the specialist.

‘There’s depth to this bag — each detail surprises and excites you more. It’s a very special bag for a seasoned Hermès collector’

At Hermès, each of these bags is hand-crafted start-to-finish by one craftsman. ‘When looking at a shiny crocodile Hermès bag, you would think that they were finished with a lacquer,’ Donovan says. ‘In actuality, these bags reach their lustrous finish by being hand-buffed with an agate stone. It’s a wearable work of art.

‘Hermès bags are beautiful, and when looking at a bag like this Ghillies Birkin, it can take a moment to notice, and then appreciate, the details and craftsmanship that goes into every piece,’ continues Donovan. ‘There’s depth to this bag — each detail surprises and excites you more. And while ornate, the Ghillies Birkin is also sophisticated — a very special bag for a seasoned Hermès collector.’

This bag is in the same condition it was in when it left Hermès — Grade 1 condition, brand new, never used, with all of the original plastic on the hardware. Even the tissue paper in the box is intact.