The Hermes Birkin bag is an indomitable style icon where conversations led by luxury arm candy is concerned. But as is the case with most of life’s finer things, the experience of owning one is only privy to a select few, owing to the bag’s scarcity and of course, high price point.
This is only further fueled by the bag’s origins, which are almost as fabled as Arthurian legend. Most notably, the French maison claimed that its design was conceived from a chance encounter between their then-CEO, Jean-Louis Dumas, with British actress Jane Birkin on a flight from Paris to London in 1983.
Repeated along the fashion grapevine, it was said that Birkin had been attempting to stow away a wicker basket that she had been using as a handbag, when it tipped over and caused all of its contents to spill out before Dumas’ feet. Keep in mind that at the time, wicker baskets were an essential part of Birkin’s wardrobe, as she preferred their capacity over traditionally daintier handbags from the period.
Quickly making a point to help her collect her belongings, Dumas joked that Birkin would need a bag with more pockets for her essentials. Birkin coyly responded by saying that if Hermès ever conceived a bag that could fit all her daily needs as a mother on the go, she would make no hesitation to trade her signature wicker basket in exchange for it.
That immediately gave Dumas the impetus to work on a design on that very same flight, where he sketched a rough outline of what would now become immediately identifiable lines of the Birkin bag on an airplane sickness bag. By the end of the flight, he showed it to Birkin, and the bag was put into production just a year after that.
While the Birkin has firmly cemented its place as the Holy Grail of handbag enthusiasts beyond the new millennium, it wasn’t the case during its introduction. As a brand, Hermès was considered to be a niche luxury fashion house that only the ultra-wealthy would be familiar with. Instead, Chanel dominated the sales charts with Karl Lagerfeld’s interlocking ‘CC’ Classic Flap bags. Sales. of the Birkin were initially steady, but otherwise slow in comparison.
But in the 1990s, interest in the Hermès Birkin bag style began to rise, reaching critical mass when fictional New York PR maven Samantha Jones was candidly informed that ‘It’s not a bag. It’s a Birkin!” on Sex and The City. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Since then, the Birkin shape has gone on to inform a completely new generation of top-handle handbag styles, many of which feature similar stylistic cues as seen on the late-Francophile actress’ favourite accessory. This means that if you’re still saving up on your Hermès Birkin journey but want to still enjoy the chic sophistication it inspires at the same time, we have a few options you may want to consider to fill that void in your handbag collection.
(Hero and featured image credit: Jeremy Moeller / Contributor/Getty Images)
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
1. What bag is similar to a Birkin?
– Bags such as the Tory Burch Lee Radiziwill and the Mulberry Bayswater bags are similar to the Hermes Birkin.
2. Is Hermes Birkin a good investment?
– The Hermes Birkin bag is a good luxury investment, as the bag’s value is known to appreciate over the years.
3. Why is it so hard to get a Hermes Birkin?
– Hermes Birkin bags are difficult to purchase as the fashion house only makes a small number of the bags every year.
9 best Hermes Birkin-style bag alternatives for sophistication that won’t break the banks
A new classic in its own right, the Saint Laurent Sac De Jour is perhaps our favourite alternative to the Hermès Birkin, and it isn’t difficult to see why. In more ways than one, this design introduced by then-creative director Hedi Slimane during his tenure at the label is highly evocative of the Birkin bag, down to its expandable gussets which are held together by leather sangles that are visible from the bag’s front fascia.
Of course, that isn’t to say that the Sac De Jour doesn’t offer more than just a few unique design details in itself, especially when considering the fact that its opening yields two main sections bisected by a removable zippered pouch in the middle. What’s more, it is even sold with a crossbody strap, something which the Birkin lacks to this day.
For those shopping at an even more affordable price point, the Lee Radziwill bag makes the most sense as a Birkin alternative. Named after Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis’ equally fashionable sister Lee Radziwill, this bag is available in two different guises: a traditional top-handle, and a more casual (and capacious) tote bag.
In essence, the Lee Radziwill bags all bears the hallmarks of both the Birkin and Kelly, with its distinctive lock closure that once again mimics the sangles and touret design made famous by Hermès. But its the tote bag iteration of this design that truly shines with distinct identity with its ‘bag-within-a-bag’ construction.
From across the pond in London, the good folks at legacy leather-goods label Mulberry have also offered a contender in the Birkin alternative space, by way of the Bayswater bag. Introduced by Nicolas Knightly in 2003 during his stint as creative director, the original Bayswater top-handle is in itself, a visually distinctive design that bears Mulberry’s hallmarks, chief of which being the oval plaque hardware and ‘Postman’ turn-lock closure.
Extending beyond its satchel guise, the Bayswater has also been introduced in a tote bag shape with a redesigned closure that further hones in on the Birkin bag similarities by way of its redesigned closure that features, you guessed it, sangles.
Having stepped away from Saint Laurent in 2016 before joining Celine in 2018, Hedi Slimane went on to introduce yet another Birkin-esque shape as his first order of business in the role. First seen on American pop diva Lady Gaga, the Celine 16 bag draws from an archival design from the label’s extensive history, but is updated for contemporary tastes.
While there aren’t any sangles to be found here, the aesthetics of the 16 bag are remarkably evocative of the Birkin, with its turn-lock closure and vertical rectangular plaque sharing a passing resemblance to the ones found on the Hermès bag. An accompanying clochette for its lock further adds to the visual similarities.
If your search for a Birkin alternative takes you to Rome, then you should definitely make a point to head into the nearest Ferragamo boutique and scope out the Studio bag. Debuting back in 2018, this top-handle tote has all of the qualities of an opulent, quiet-luxury accessory that shares some lines with the famed French handbag, especially in its general trapezoidal silhouette.
But Ferragamo has made a point of ensuring that the Studio bag retains a distinct identity of its own by way of a unique closure that incorporates its famed Gancini motif, in addition to practical details such as an external zippered pocket as well as a removable zippered pouch that is attached to the bag’s lining.
American designer Ralph Lauren is best remembered for exporting East Coast preppy chic ala the Hamptons to the world, with his signature suits, chinos, and Polo shirts defining an entire generation’s worth of Upper East Side trendsetters. Despite that, handbags from his eponymous label have often gone under the radar, in spite of their great value and superb quality.
This is the case with the Ralph Lauren RL50 bag, which boasts equestrian details such as the adjustable leather ‘belt’ and buckle detail on the front, which bear similarities to the Birkin’s sangles. A sense of distinct individuality to its shape is further accented through the introduction of two curved pieces of hardware that adorn the topmost edge of the bag.
Beyond the Lee Radiziwill lineup, Tory Burch has introduced a number of other satchel designs that are similarly evocative of the Birkin bag. A newer style by way of the Eleanor satchel is among one of the strongest contenders, with its strong, clean silhouette that eschews extraneous details in order to reinforce a sleek, uncluttered look.
While its shape may bear some remarkable likeness to its considerably more expensive French counterpart, the Eleanor easily stands its own in the luxury space with details such as the Tory Burch signature emblem hardware on the bag’s top edge setting it apart from others.
Birkin bags typically harbour a reputation for being more of a formal shape, given their structure and exceedingly high price point. This isn’t to say that you can’t use a Birkin bag in a more casual setting, but there is an option by Delvaux for those who desire an even more pared-down vibe that still retains some elements from the famed handbag icon.
This is most notable in its use of gold metal hardware on the sides of the bag’s flaps, which once again are the most obvious visual tethers to the original Birkin design. Beyond that, this top-handle open tote number offers great capacity, so you can tote all your valuable around effortlessly.
Lastly on our list, one of Mulberry’s latest designs will similarly cater to those who are currently on the lookout for a Birkin alternative. Named after one of London’s most fashionable upper-classed districts, the Islington satchel carries all of the leathermaker’s signature design codes, but reinterpreted for the new decade.
Stylistically, it is hard to ignore the obvious parallels that exist between the Islington and the Birkin, most notably in its much smaller Postman’s turn-lock and sangles. With that said, the bag’s interior is thoughtfully considered, with an external slip pocket and two main compartments bisected by a stiff leather partition. Of course, you’ll also be able to tote this around on your shoulder or crossbody, with its adjustable strap.
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