We take a look back at Hermes bags and ponder why they're still so popular with so many new brands
It’s unlikely that when British singer, actress and long-time Serge Gainsbourg groupie Jane Birkin fumbled with her bag on a Paris to London flight, the result would see an eye-wateringly expensive creation hanging in a mall in Bahrain several thousands of miles away. In fact, at the time of the flight in 1984, said mall was probably not even a twinkle in an Arab eye, its location back then no doubt just a large expanse of sand. As legend has it, seated next to Jane on that eventful journey was the then CEO of legendary French fashion brand Hermès, Jean-Louis Dumas. On seeing her plight, he discussed with Jane her difficulties in finding a leather weekend bag and – et voile – the Birkin was born.
Speak to any handbag aficionado (ie a woman) and it becomes clear by the swoons, gushing and sharp intakes of breath that the Birkin isn’t any ordinary bag used to hold things (despite the fact that this is essentially its only practical use). It is The Bag. The bag of bags. The one bag to rule them all. It’s more important, even, than the bag your mum uses in the kitchen to store other bags. It’s also rather expensive, with the cheapest versions starting at around BD2,700. Victoria Beckham – never one to shy away from displaying her taste for the pricier things in life, reportedly has a collection worth more than BD900,000. Perhaps she bought a big one to put all the little ones in.
But now, some quarter of a century after Jane Birkin met Jean-Louis Dumas, a lavishly pink, crocodile skin and diamond-encrusted version of her famous bag now sits in the Hermès shop in Bahrain’s ever fashionable Moda Mall. ‘That costs around BD100,000,’ explains an unflinching Wissam Al Mana of the Al Mana Retail Group, which looks after Hermès in the region. BD100,000. For a bag. BD100,000. We’re guessing it’s ill-advised to carry your microwavable lunch in there.
But, of course, Hermès isn’t all about budget-busting bags. Over the past 170 years the brand has grown from a small Parisian saddle shop to a fashion powerhouse covering a vast array of products. Renowned for its hand-stitched leather goods and silk scarves (and bags), Hermès has almost become a byword for quality, its logo a sure sign that this is made to last the distance while always remaining in style. ‘People cherish our products,’ says Wissam. ‘They want to give this product to the next generation.’
A visit to the Hermès store at Moda Mall, which opened in May last year, is only likely to further excite fans of the brand’s remarkable craftsmanship. Once inside the boutique, silk, leather, ready-to-wear, jewellery and tableware are all separated in a spacious, brightly lit area, giving it a very souk-like feel. ‘We wanted to create something that reflects the local culture,’ Wissam tells us. ‘The design of the Hermès store is as important as the design of our products.’
Another design first for Hermès was given a spectacular launch a few months ago elsewhere in the Middle East at Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, but sadly it’s unlikely we’ll be seeing it on the shelves of the Moda Mall store any time soon. L’Hélicoptère par Hermès, a collaboration between Eurocopter and Hermès Interiors, is a twin EC135 chopper given a luxurious and Gallic twist, with exquisitely crafted leather-clad seating for both passengers and pilots. Naturally, the world’s first sale was to a local private jet company. And the cost? Around BD3,100,000. Or 31 of those pink, crocodile skin Birkin bags. You choose. Hermès, Moda Mall (17 535 519). Open Sat-Thu 10am-10pm; Fri 3pm-10pm. Ramadan timings Sat-Tue 10am-2pm, 7.30pm-11pm; Wed-Fri 10am-2pm, 7.30pm-midnight.