The Hermès Birkin bag is arguably the most enduring, powerful, valuable, and recognizable women’s accessory of the modern era—the ultimate “It bag,” with months-long waiting lists, quarter-million dollar auction prices, and a selected cadre of glamorous celebrity fans.
But now the internet is agog with the news that French singer and actress Jane Birkin, for whom the handbag was initially created and named in 1984, has called some of her namesake bags into question. She issued a statement on Tuesday (July 28) asking that the company “debaptise” the crocodile handbags carrying her name “until better practices in line with international norms can be put in place.”
Birkin’s statement was a reaction to a report and video produced by the animal rights group PETA, which claimed in June that crocodiles and alligators were being horribly mistreated in Texas and Zimbabwe farms on their way toward becoming fodder for Hermès products, including Birkin bags.
The company’s response at the time claimed that its crocodile and alligator skins “are sourced from farms where Hermès demands the best farming conditions, which conform to the international regulations.” Hermès responded to Birkin’s demand yesterday by saying it “respects and shares her emotions and was also shocked by the images recently broadcast.”
While it’s possible that the dustup will have lasting implications for the appeal of the Birkin Bag, it may only be a blip in the bag’s legacy. If anything, it demonstrates what leviathans such as Hermès, LVMH, and Kering should already know: if luxury items are to keep their luster, they must be made under transparent and ethically-sound conditions.