A fashionista’s Birkin adventure

Published: November 24, 2010
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A Birkin bag is a thing of beauty

I was sitting with a group of friends and we were discussing the usual…jobs, people, politics. Just when we were getting up to leave, a friend noticed another friend’s handbag, which opened up a Pandora’s box and started another exhausting discussion of the Birkin.

Now, if anyone has done even the least amount of research on this handbag, they would understand that it is not easy to get. The Purse Forum is quite informative, and one can read up on some of the mad adventures that women have had chasing the bag. And of course, there’s ‘Bringing Home The Birkin’ by Micheal Tonello, which suggests that it’s actually not quite hard to get the bag as long as a couple of thousand dollars/pounds/euros or whatever are spent prior to asking the sales assistants for the Birkin.

Despite all this, a surprisingly large number of Pakistani women of all ages, shapes and sizes own the Birkin, and they are willing to go through extreme measures to get these beautiful bags. Most women don’t go through the hassle of visiting boutique after boutique trying their luck and getting lied to by sales assistants. The wealthy take the more convenient route of ordering online via websites that offer Birkins and Kellys in a range of sizes and leathers at almost double the price and of course buyers don’t get VAT back. A few women have built a relationship with sales assistants at the boutiques who provide the lucky ladies with secret information so the women show up at the stores mere minutes after the boutique receives a new stock.

A lot of other women buy their bags from little vintage store spread across Paris. Most of the bags are used but in decent condition. All are almost double the price than those at the boutique but because they are so easy to get, women actually buy them. I met a Parisian who exchanged her very interesting Birkin story. She owns a vintage store in Faubourg and she sells quite a few Hermes bags. She told me that the artisans at Hermes don’t get paid much but what they do get is a bag free of cost. This woman buys the bags from the workers at a fraction of  the cost. However, the bags that are given to the artisans bear a mark on the inside of the buckle strap (which typically bears the year that the bag was made, usually symbolized by an initial as well as the initials of the artisan) and so upon purchasing the bag, the store-owner gets rid of the mark so that the bag can in no way be traced back to the worker who sold it. Therefore, the artisan makes extra money without losing their job.

My Birkin story

Of course I wanted the Birkin but at the same time I knew it wasn’t easy to get unless I was willing to pay a lot extra. I wasn’t. So I gave up on the idea and owning it seemed like a distant fantasy.

Then my sister’s seventh birthday happened. My mother had thrown her an Alice in Wonderland themed party and amidst all the teacups and mad hatters, I counted a total of eight Birkin-clad women. These Karachiite women displayed an array of the “world’s most coveted handbag” in a variety of sizes and colors – the most common was the 35 in orange. I even spotted a 30 Kelly in crocodile…so so divine! And all of a sudden I became hopeful, ‘it can’t be that hard to get’, I remember thinking.

Once in London, I wasted no time, much to Q’s disappointment. I dragged him to different boutiques spread out across the city. The sales assistants just kept telling me they didn’t have any in stock. It was the same answer each day. Then one fine day, one fine lady felt sorry for me. After loudly telling me they had none in stock, she whispered that I should try the next day or the day after because they were expecting a delivery. Obviously, I went again the next day and the day after that, and I finally got lucky the third time. Well, sort of.

I asked the sales assistant if they’d gotten the delivery, and instead of giving me a straight answer she asked me what size I wanted. I told her. Then she asked me what leather I wanted. I told her. Then she asked me what color I wanted. I told her. Unfortunately, I’d messed up here. The woman said ‘sorry, we don’t have it in that color’ and walked away. ‘What color do you have?’, I asked while chasing her. She told me it was a new colour, a dark green. ‘Ooh that sounds nice’, I thought. At least it wasn’t chocolate brown. Beige I can do, but not chocolate brown.

I naively told the sales assistant I’d be back and Q and I decided to go to the pizzeria. He was hungry and I wanted to think about it. Stupid move. I obviously wanted it, but by the time I returned it was gone. The same day, at another boutique, I saw a 30 Kelly in orange on display. The sales assistant said they had just gotten it and I almost bought it until Q told me not to settle. So I didn’t get it and I was still in the store, when an elderly lady came and wasted no time sealing the deal. Of course I regretted not getting it but that was before we got to the city where the bags are made. Not only are the bags cheaper here but they are also supposedly easier to get. Supposedly, being the key word.

I walked into the Hermes flagship store. It was loud and crowded, and there was a long queue, at the end of which, I didn’t get lucky. I didn’t get lucky the next day either. Each time, the sales assistants would tell me to wait while they checked their stock on their computers, and then apologized for not having any. At one point, Q thought he’d surprise me by telling the concierge to arrange for it, I later found out about his failed master plan when the concierge told me that I would have to wait a year and that they had stopped taking orders. Then one day I met Soo-Ohld (of course her name has been changed), she was a sales assistant who was surprisingly pleasant. She said there were no Birkins in stock (I wasn’t surprised) but she said they had two Kellys in orange, and that someone was looking at them at that moment so I had to wait my turn.

Fortunately, the gentleman bought only one and Soo-Ohld showed the other to me. While she was taking it out of the box, an Asian Birkin-clad lady interrupted with an ‘excuse-me’ and Soo-Ohld turned to her and abruptly told her she was busy, shoo-ing the woman away. In the meantime I decided to settle for the bag. It was a 35, which made it bigger than the one I almost bought in London but a lot cheaper. Soo-Oohld noticed I was ‘settling’ and lectured me that there were people who were dying for the Kelly and that I should let them have it if I didn’t want it. I obviously didn’t let them have it! I was leaving the city the next evening and realistically there was no way I was leaving with a Birkin.

While we paid for the bag, we listened to Soo-Ohld complain about the Asians in the store and how they’d wait outside for the boutique to open each day. She was Asian too, by the way, but that didn’t stop her. In fact, I think she gave me the bag because I wasn’t Chinese. I happily walked out with my gigantic orange bag, when Q pointed out that I should probably buy her a small thank-you gift. So we picked up a perfume and returned to give it to her.

The woman was ecstatic! She did a bit of drama and refused to take it at first, then she went on about how we shouldn’t have, and finally she told me to drop by the next day. When I told her I was leaving for the airport the next day, she asked me to stop by on my way. Q was sure she had called me back for the Birkin, and as soon as we stepped out of the boutique, he gave me ‘mubarakbaat’ and pointed out that it was pretty cool that I was getting my B the next day, which was the same day as Eid, and with that he cracked a lame joke about how all my fasting in Ramzan had paid off.

On our way to the store the next day, Kelly at hand to exchange for the Birkin, in case that really was why Soo-Ohld had summoned me, I told Q that I would happily exchange the Kelly for a Birkin even if it was in a smaller size. He asked me what color I wanted it in. ‘Anything but chocolate brown’, I told him. When we walked into the store, Soo-Ohld took us to a side room and told us to wait while she brought us ‘something’.

There was a French woman and her daughter in the room as well, and a sales assistant was showing them Birkins. The woman bought all of them; two for herself and one for her daughter. Soo-Oohld finally returned, carrying a big orange box. She told me it was the only one they had in stock.

She removed the lid, pushed aside the packaging and took out a Birkin 40.

It was chocolate brown.

maira.pagganwala

Maira Pagganwala

A graduate in International Development and Political Science who went on to study Urban Development Planning. She is also interested in creative writing and fashion.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://twitter.com/cinnamonmela Amna Mela

    Didn’t the respectability of the Birkin take a sharp nose-dive when the classy Kim Kardashian and Momma K bought about a dozen of them? I love pretty things, but this much trouble so people can pay up to 30,000 dollars for such an unremarkable bag? And it’s not even one of a kind…you said yourself that there were half a dozen aunties holding them at one party. Why do you want to join the ranks of those aunties? I know some people are hardcore designer label lovers, but if it was actually a thing of beauty, or if it was a one of a kind magnificent piece designed by the likes of Alexander McQueen, Balmain, or awe inspiring Louboutins, I’d get why someone would salivate over it.

    But this bag is the most overrated in history, so a crazy quest to find one and pay a hefty sum for it just to be like everyone else reminds me of the episode of I Love Lucy when Lucy and Ethel put on garbage bags and all the other women copy them because they think a designer made the dresses.Recommend

  • Sahar

    Ahhh, the return of the mysterious Q, who trails around the author while she window shops for jackets and bags. That boy is whupped. Recommend

  • http://www.thebirkin.com Michael Tonello

    Interesting story. Too bad that the red “Birkin” at the top of the article is a fake. Recommend

  • Kashif

    You could have got settled for a Copy of that Bag, most Aunties buy from Thailand and Malaysia such stuff and PRETEND to buy from Paris / London…. Ooppss Lady Secrets revealed… :) Women are the Toughest to be understood by Man….. I feel sorry for that Q boy…. !!!!!!!!!!!!Recommend

  • Mahvesh

    Oh man, that was one amusing chase-blog! And yes, I agree with Sahar about Q :DRecommend

  • http://hamstershorts.wordpress.com Hammad

    How those kids dying in Palestine from hunger would have loved a Birkin.. Recommend

  • DZ

    Not much into these things but very nicely written. Recommend

  • nms

    Wow. Yet another horrid “look at how much money I have!” pointless story. What planet are these people on? This is Pakistan!!! Recommend

  • reactionary

    30000 usd bags and the quest for them…partners named q….how much more wannabe sex in the city can one get?

    If ya wanna copy ideas might as well buy the copy as well lol thts wjat mot women do in pak ..duuhRecommend

  • Sahar

    That’s a good idea, reactionary. If you wanna copy the ideas, buy a copy of the bag, it’s all the same. Although Q is no Big. Big wouldn’t be caught dead stuffing his hands in his pockets, waiting for Carrie to finish looking at socks and feminine hygiene products and whatnot.Recommend

  • Kiran Farooque

    I love Birkins!Recommend

  • Sana Salam

    Ooh, I want to know how @Michael Tonello knew the red Birkin in the picture is a fake!Recommend

  • Sahar

    wait. does this mean your next article will be about how you dyed your hair from dark ash brown to light ash brown and how it changed your life?Recommend

  • Sahar

    opened up a Pandora’s box and started another exhausting discussion of the Birkin.

    wow, just wow.
    i want to be on a fly on that wall. just out of sheer curiousity. oh wait….that was the whole article. nevermind.Recommend

  • Faria Syed

    Loved your piece, Maira. Thanks so much for contributing.

    Recommend

  • http://www.thebirkin.com Michael Tonello

    @ Sana Salam, It was easy, I looked at the photo. Recommend

  • parvez

    What the hell is a Birkin ?
    It really doesn’t matter, because the tale you spun was amazing in its sheer absurdity but your ability to maintain a fast tempo with suspense, forcing the reader to read to the end and then wonder why he wasted his time. Just brilliant !! Recommend

  • http://syedaabidabokhari.wordpress.com The Only Normal Person Here.

    Alright our not so dear trying-hard-to-be Rebecca Bloomwood, most Pakistanis dont speak foreign brands. It’s okay to write on your shopping anecdotes and TRUST me, it will not make you uncool if you shop Pakistan brands. In fact, you would be contributing in the economy of the half flooded country and yet satisfying your shopping craving. Wohoo…Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Jahanzaib-Haque/149352001744540?ref=ts Jahanzaib Haque

    I enjoyed this piece.

    Recommend

  • Chotes. .

    Hahaha. I would want to read Q’s perspective. This is stupid but so stupid that it is actually worth it. Recommend

  • http://twitter.com/cinnamonmela Amna Mela

    Actually, I did too. Sorry for being a meanie. At the very least, it was entertaining.Recommend

  • http://twitter.com/cinnamonmela Amna Mela

    ohmygahh.

    i just realized this reminds me of this youtube video i stumbled upon this summer. i watched that video like 5 times cause of shock and awe. lol im watching it again now…i cant help it. its so absurd its entertaining.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SAfYVqiRUpg&feature=relatedRecommend

  • Chotes. .

    Haha I like how she opens every bag to show the inside. I just watched it too. Too much time on my hands.

    But maybe Maira can show us the inside of the Birkin. Or is it a Kelly?

    Damn it. Still don’t know what bag she bought. Recommend

  • ayesha

    I can”t believe people like this actually exist . Your desperate quest for the Birkin is shocking to me – I always justified the A-list celebrity yearnings with an overabundance of money and a sort of superficiality in the profession that it was necessary to compete in. You write quite well and should rethink your priorities really. Recommend

  • http://.. Chris Cork

    The horror…the horror.Recommend

  • http://twitter.com/cinnamonmela Amna Mela

    @Chotes hahaha me too! i love how she shows like a dozen different bags that are exactly the same except for the colors, but she’s so serious. and how she has so many bills and its such a drag to have to fold them cause then they don’t fit into her jumbo sized bag. lol half the time i’m just staring at her in awe, the other half im in fits of giggles. i guess if my life was the devil wears prada i’d be andrea at the end, when she appreciates everything that goes on at vogue but doesn’t take it too seriously.

    @maria- you should read anything by plum sykes. she has that style that i’m assuming you’re going for but she’s literally laugh out loud hilarious. i love tolstoy but i do enjoy me some bergdorf blondes. Recommend

  • Chotes. .

    @Amna Mela I hope for our sake ET gives Maira a weekly column. So I am guessing that she took the Kelly because the chocolate brown was def. not what she wanted. I recently read her previous post on the Burberry jacket. Enlightening stuff.

    Frankly, it isnt that bad. People have money and they spend it. It certainly isnt the worst thing to come out in ET.

    Also, I really want to know how Q thinks about these jaunts. And why do they both have so much time on their hands. Recommend

  • Kiran Farooque

    Maira, this was a really nice piece. Got slightly repetitive and caused me to lose a little interest slightly towards the end, too many details of the situation and how it happened. However, it was really nice. Don’t let the negative comments get to you, some people honestly have nothing better to do. I’m thinking of going down to the Hermes store to see if they’ll take me on the waiting list – can’t afford one now, but I’d rather be on the waiting list so that when my turn comes I have enough money, hah.Recommend

  • Maira

    Thank you for the comments! Enjoyed reading them all.

    Amna, after reading your first comment I was impressed with all the designer name dropping. Seriously. McQueen, Balmain and Louboutin, you’re so well informed in terms of designer knowledge! Also, thank you for pointing out that you’re much like Andrea from The Devil Wears Prada and that although you appreciate Sykes you also love Tolstoy. I honestly love that you’re so well-rounded! I look forward to learning more about you. I sincerely hope you continue posting more comments with details about yourself as a response to my blog.

    I really do wish ET had put up a different picture. Preferably one with an authentic bag. Recommend

  • http://twitter.com/cinnamonmela Amna Mela

    Hey, you forgot Kim Kardashian.

    Although seriously, I’m a little ashamed of myself. I def was a little harsh so I said before, sorry for being a meanie. I know what it’s like to write and have all the anxiety waiting for comments and all, so I should’ve gone easier on you. Sorryy! Recommend

  • hopeless

    Such horrible blog. This kind of stuff is good for SUN or Mirror, or is ET our answer to SUN and MirrorRecommend

  • crazystuff

    I couldn’t manage to read the whole blog (who could?) but the comments are definitely entertaining. I only came here because this author was being discussed by so many well-known bloggers for the past week now on twitter, even a famous politicians daughter. I had to see the insanity for myself. Posts like this are really causing xpress to lose respect and credibility among other writers. It gives the impression that anyone can send in anything and it’ll get posted. Which is probably true…Recommend

  • Mahreeen

    Maira, i really enjoyed reading this blog. I love how you keep writing despite all the weird, narrow-minded and judgmental people and their comments. Keep writing about fashion – its a rarity to come across people writing about beautiful fashion accessories such as jackets and birkins. I look forward to reading more of your fashion adventures! keep up the awesome writing style- it totally sucked me in! Recommend

  • Anita

    wow its truly amazing how many words the author has on a birkin bag.
    am terribly impressed with how useful it is, clearly, to educate the Pakistani elite. A few more birkin bags and I suspect Pakistan’s socio-political, economic and security problems will be resolved. Maybe we should try offering birkin bags to suicide bombers?Recommend

  • Saima

    is it just me or is the birkin story very similar to shopaholic’s story in the buk…when she tries 2 find some other type of bags. seems copied. never read a more INANE blog post! if you ccategorize it in life and style, fashion, short story, fiction, WHATEVER, either way…very unimpressive. and im being nice! Recommend

  • http://www.thebirkin.com Michael Tonello

    I love that some programmer went to all the trouble of creating a program that turns my sir-name into asterisks. It’s nice to think that someone is thinking that much about me and taking time to go to all that trouble. LOL:

    “I wouldn’t mind getting one at a fraction of the cost or free anyone knows a craftsman? I want to have a chat!
    I wonder do all the family of those craftsmen have birkins etc?
    Well, the craftmen’s ID thing doesn’t exactly work this way, and I am very skeptical… anyway, please also take into account that the bag pictured ad the top of the article is a hideous fake, and how funny, one of the first comments to that article is by a certain Michael *. “Recommend

  • http://www.twitter.com/usamakhilji Usama Khilji

    The blog at the top reads: ‘The Good Life’, and the author is said to have an interest in fashion. Why is that bothering so many people? Did ET ever say that all the blogs are supposed to be about something that, you personally think, matter?
    I’m not a fan of designer material and fashion, but this is a well-written anecdote, and like somebody else mentioned, the writer manages to keep you reading even if you don;t have an interest in the subject – which is a commendable talent.
    One should just close the tab upon losing interest rather than whining about not finding what you wanted to read! Recommend

  • Anikz

    Wow…i didn’t know Pakistani women are THIS Shallow and Farigh!!! thanks for updating me, i wont consider my 10mins wasted.Recommend