Since the creation of the very first Birkin bag, Jane Birkin has always carried one. However, true to her unique style and fashion, she has continually customized her bags with beads, trinkets, protest stickers, and other titbits to create a unique look. Birkin even defaced her namesake’s bag on Japanese TV in 2008. The fashion icon repeatedly stamped on a tan-colored Birkin bag to make it look “unique.” The customization of the Birkin bag caught on quickly and “defacing” Birkin bags is now a modern and trendy pastime practiced by celebrities including Kim Kardashian, Tamara Ecclestone, and many others.
Currently on her fifth bag after auctioning the first four for charity, Birkin’s philanthropy work is well documented. She often works with Amnesty International on humanitarian issues and donates her yearly royalties for the Birkin bag (approximately $50,000 per year) to a charity of her choice. In 2015, she had a brief disagreement with Hermès regarding the farming methods of alligators and crocodiles used to make the bags. Birkin’s request to remove her name from crocodile bags was swiftly met with a series of measures taken by the luxury manufacturer which satisfied Birkin and resulted in her dropping the request to remove her name from the bags.
In 1981, Birkin was on a short flight from Paris to London. Carrying her famous straw basket, she placed it in the overhead compartment of her seat. However, the lid of the basket opened, and the contents spilled all over the floor and on the seats around her. Sitting next to her and assisting her in retrieving the contents of her basket was the late executive of Hermès, Jean-Louis Dumas. Birkin complained to Dumas that she was unable to find a suitable leather weekend bag that she liked. According to folklore, the remainder of the flight consisted of the pair designing a bag together and sketching ideas on an air sickness bag.
Fast forward three years and a prototype handbag was developed and presented to Jane Birkin – the Hermès Birkin bag. The bag, crafted from supple leather and handmade in France by a single, highly trained artisan, and takes up to 24 hours to complete. Designed specifically to provide ample room for jet-setting women, the bag quickly became a fashion icon and status symbol for women worldwide. The Birkin bag comes in a range of sizes, leathers, exotic skins, and hardware, with new colors introduced each season and limited edition versions of the bag crafted occasionally.