Privé Porter has it “in the bag”—no groveling or waiting required.
“It’s not a bag … it’s a Birkin.” Maybe you remember that famous line from the Sex and the City TV series, when an Hermés sales associate informed a perturbed Samantha Jones about a five-year waiting list for a coveted Birkin bag. While that episode aired back in 2001 (when a bag cost $4,000), 15 years later, it’s just as tough to attain the most-sought after, collectable bag ever made.
That is, unless you know Michelle Berk. No one knows how to better navigate the exclusive and often elusive world of Hermès better than the owner of the Boca Raton-based company Privé Porter. Berk discreetly sources authentic, unused Birkins and Kelly bags from around the world—many of them still nestled in their original packaging—and resells them to elite buyers who want to bypass the often frustrating and drawn-out process of buying one at a Hermés store.
“If you want to get a Birkin bag, you have to develop a relationship with a sales associate. They want to see you spend $6,000 to $10,000 in other departments before they will even offer the first bag,” claims Berk, adding that even after all that “groveling” and gobs of money spent on items like sunglasses and jewelry, customers are not assured the bag of their dreams. “It’s always this game. And if you are finally offered a bag, you may not get the exact bag you want.”
Privé Porter cuts out the game. Berk constantly carries around $2 million in rotating inventory, and photos of her highly curated collection are posted daily to the company’s Instagram account, which boasts an impressive 78,000 followers. Potential clients will spy a Birkin they desire, request more information, and when both parties agree to a price, the Birkin is shipped via an armored carrier. Clients also reach out to Berk if they are searching for a hard-to-find bag. Once they tell her the name, color, size and hardware of the Birkin they want, the fashionable sleuth goes to work in tracking it down. Berk says she can usually secure a desired bag in under two weeks. Of course, all the immediate gratification provided by Privé Porter comes at a cost—usually $4,000 to $8,000 above retail. “You are going to spend as much with me as you would with Hermés, but with me, you’re going to get the exact bag that you want and get it quickly,” says Berk, who explains that the sweet spot for a leather Birkin bag is around $18,000 but rare bags can go as high as $298,000.
Privé Porter also hosts exclusive pop-up shops; last year, they partnered with the yacht manufacturer VanDutch to create a first-of-its-kind Birkin floating showroom during the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show; and reality show “momager” Kris Jenner helped propel the company to online fame when she scooped up two Birkin bags at a pop-up in Aspen, Colorado. Earlier this year, Privé Porter turned heads again when the company broke auction house Christie’s record for the most expensive handbag ever sold, with an over-the-top sale of an Hermès Birkin at $298,000.
It’s safe to say that since Michelle and her husband, Jeff, started the endeavor three years ago, the Berks have dominated the luxury resale market; indeed, they claim they expect to make more than $25 million in revenue in 2016.
Berk’s first foray into luxe bag dealing started in 2012 when she was unloading a few of her own designer bags on eBay, and was surprised at what people would pay to get their hands on limited-edition Chanel and Céline handbags. “At first, I thought it was a mistake that my handbag went for double in the auction,” Berk says of the first bag she sold on eBay. “I had no idea that people would pay above retail.”
With that in mind, she started researching up-and-coming fashion designers on Instagram and came across Sofia Al Asfoor, a young handbag designer from Bahrain. With a knack for sales and marketing, and a handful of reality-star friends, Berk reached out to Al Asfoor, and offered to help promote the designer in the United States. “In that first year, we did a million in retail sales. Sofia’s bags became so big on Instagram, you couldn’t get one,” says Berk. “I quickly got this reputation for obtaining bags that are rare and hard to find. People would contact me asking, ‘Can you get this limited bag?’ or ‘Can you help me get this bag from five seasons ago?’ It was a natural progression into the market.”
Berk says she never went after fads, but instead sourced classic bags with staying power such as Chanel, Céline and Hermès. She eventually decided on reselling impeccable Birkins exclusively, because it’s the only bag in the world that almost always increases in value.
Team No Sleep
With sources and clients all over the world in different time zones, Berk doesn’t sleep much. If she’s lucky, she’ll get to bed around 2 am and when she awakes at 7 am, an onslaught of messages and emails greet her. “I have no fewer than 150 messages to answer. Half of those people are offering me bags to sell or bags that are available that day, a quarter of them are requesting bags and the rest are regular customers,” she says, adding that most of her customers are in the US, Latin America and the Middle East. Berk puts out around 30 broadcasts a day when she’s looking for a particular bag, and says her suppliers are global professional sellers and women who want to liquidate an unused bag that was gifted to them or that they don’t want. Berk’s toughest bag to find? “A white matte alligator in 30 centimeters was probably the hardest to track down,” she says. “No one had ever seen one and most didn’t think the bag even existed. After a year of looking, I finally found one in a boutique in Paris.”
While many would think that the woman who sources the most-wanted bags in the world would have a closet loaded with
a rainbow of Birkins, Berk admits she rarely keeps a bag. “I actually don’t really like bags … I’ve never really been one to carry a bag. For me, it’s strictly business.”
Berk’s Best Bets:
The most in-demand Birkin bag?
A pink Birkin, in either baby pink or rose confetti, with gold hardware.
Your most coveted Birkin bag?
I always coveted the dove gray, a color they released in 2008. I paid $22,000 from a reseller for a bag that was preowned.
By Alison Ryan, Aventura Magazine