courtesy of Forbes
In case you missed it, Jane Birkin’s request for Hermès to remove her name from the iconic bag has caused media frenzy. Since the Birkin is highly regarded as the holy grail of fashion, people are willing to go on year (or multi-year-long) waiting lists, jumping the line by overpaying up to 100% to purveyors such as Lilac Blue London Ltd., or renting it for $1,200 per month at Bag Borrow or Steal just to have a taste of owning it. So to think that fashion’s ultimate status symbol may bear a different name could be shocking to some and perhaps “sacrilegious” to others. But honestly, what’s going to be the real impact of this request?
According to the folks at PETA, Birkin’s request is going to make a number of differences. First of all, in addressing the “cruel practices endured by crocodiles during their slaughter for the production of Hermès bags carrying” her name, Birkin’s request will raise more awareness of animal abuse. Since the style icon’s statement was released, PETA’s and PETA U.K.’s Facebook posts already saw half a million views and counting worldwide (as of July 31), and the video exposé that started this all have attracted a total of 21 million views since its release on June 24.
The animal rights organization, famous for its shocking media campaigns, took an interesting turn to this issue by announcing that it “has purchased a share in the French fashion house on the Paris stock exchange ‘in order to put pressure on the company to end its sale of exotic-animal skins.’” Aside from seizing this opportunity to further their cause, Ashley Byrne, Campaign Specialist at PETA added, “Birkin’s decision will inspire other compassionate people to take a second look at what they are purchasing in future, as they become more mindful of sourcing cruelty-free products. It will certainly help send the message to Hermès and other brands that their customers and celebrities do not want animals to be abused for vanity’s sake.”
As Bryne elaborated on the increasingly popular trend of cruelty-free, faux leather handbags led by designers such as Stella McCartney, I noticed a Miu Miu crocodile-printed ciré fabric bag ($1,060) that was featured in the New York Times. This makes me wonder: If more people are indeed looking for these cruelty-free products, does that mean Birkin’s move may potentially change the iconic handbag or Hermès in a major way?Not according to Vanessa Friedman, who called this crisis “entirely exaggerated” in the New York Times article, The Jane Birkin-Hermès Fuss Needs to Be Put in Perspective. She noted that Birkin is merely asking the brand to rename the crocodile bag, and not all handbags that carry her name. What’s more, the British singer and style icon can’t actually legally compel Hermès to change the name. Whether the handbag is renamed or not, Friedman believes it will merely be a “cosmetic issue.”
Antoinette Hunter, Managing Director of Lilac Blue Ltd. (largest purveyor of Hermès handbags in Europe), agreed. She said, “The impact on Hermès in the US and Western Europe may well be felt over the next few months. The elite clientele will likely show some concern.” But this effect will not be as far reaching as it seems, as the handbag expert foresees no real impact on sales across Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East.Hunter added, “Conscious-stricken A-list celebrities such as Victoria Beckham, Kim Kardashian, Beyoncé, and Eva Longoria, among others, may not wish to be associated with animal brutality in the production of luxury goods, even if the poor care of crocodiles is not directly associated with the crocodile Birkin. As a result, we can expect to see a drop in photos of celebrities carrying their favorite crocodile Birkin handbag.” However, reality is, like many things with the media nowadays, this “crisis” will fade. And while Hunter foresees crocodile farms being placed under more stringent controls, and Hermès overseeing its supply chain with more care, but insofar as the Birkin’s status is concerned, “it will remain as the greatest handbag ever made,” she noted.
So far, the luxury manufacturer has taken a relatively diplomatic approach to the incident, issuing a statement dated July 28 that “an investigation is underway at the Texas farm which was implicated in the video” and that the luxury house’s friendship and confidence shared with the celebrity is not influenced in any way. I reached out to their press department, and they noted that no further comments shall be released at this point.
IMAGE COURTESY OF REUTERS.