Some 20 kilometers outside Paris, a craftsman quietly sits in her atelier astride a well-worn wooden table containing a single rare handbag gently laying on its side – an Hermés Rose Tyrien 35cm Birkin in repose. With a single monocle and a surgeon’s steadiness, her breathing slows as she meticulously applies Swarovski crystals atop the world’s most expensive leather. Her objective over the next 65 painstaking hours is what soloists strive for – perfection. The Swarovski crystals come in five discernible sizes, so she must eye, decide, choose her crystal, then tweeze the rock with one hand as glue is simultaneously applied by the other. She’s been commissioned by an American company on a mission.
Thirty-thousand hand-eye coordinations later, this Hermès Birkin – of which Hermés produced few before discontinuing this particular rose flavor of Tyrien some three years prior – will be wrapped like a delicate Faberge egg and placed on secure air transport to its final destination – the elbow of the heiress and entrepreneur Paris Hilton. This customized bag springs from the masterminds at Privé Porter, the world’s most respected and prolific Hermés Birkin retailers not named Hermés. This debut piece from Privé Porter’s recently launched Custom Shop is the rare-bag-meets-artisan model that not only trailblazes a new kind of personalization, but which represents the fashion future for the woman who has everything. It’s one thing to, say, whimsically paint a $200 denim jacket; it’s quite another to paint an iconic handbag insured by Lloyds of London for tens upon tens of thousands of dollars.
“Personalisation is the most sought-after luxury now,” Privé Porter founder Michelle Berk says from her modern waterfront home in Florida. “The biggest challenge is discovering and collaborating with exceptional artists who won’t ruin a $50,000 bag, but creatively enhance it.”
Berk should know what the world’s wealthiest women want. After all, after founding Privé Porter with her husband Jeffrey in 2008, it is Michelle who has catapulted to the top of the Hermés Birkin global influencer list. It is Berk who receives phone calls in the middle of the night from American Express Centurion concierges in Saudi Arabia seeking rare, uncarried, “store fresh” Birkins for princesses throughout the Kingdom. They have no other options, the concierges say. Their Black Card-holding clients have hit their 2-bag annual allocation limit, and Privé Porter’s stock has rarer, more interesting bags than auction houses, they say. It is also Berk who receives photos from would-be sellers from New York to Monaco to Hong Hong asking for authentication of Birkins received as gifts – Berk studies the images, examining the color, the leather, the hardware, the stitching, and how the Birkin sits, then renders her verdict. While most are elated, sometimes she must break hearts and deliver rather disappointing news.
When dealing with such a red-hot and knocked-off product seemingly in endless demand, the financial 1% of the global 1% knows the unique sartorial pain associated with Hermés’ iron-fisted rules, years-long waitlists, and somber distribution of Birkin bags – a bag so mystical it is nowhere to be found in the French company’s marketing, nor is the Birkin even displayed in their stores. The bag takes some 40 hours to hand-produce in secret production facilities throughout France, and Hermés is said to sell $1 billion annually of a product it doesn’t acknowledge it even produces. For decades, the Birkin, solely and singularly, is fashion unicorn of fashion unicorns, with entry-level bags selling for $12,000 while exotics with diamond-crusted hardware command up to $180,000. Those are Hermès’ retail prices, but the aftermarket can go much higher, as Privé Porter proved in 2015 by selling a 35cm Braise Crocodile with 18K Gold and Diamonds for $289,000 to the wife of a Californian billionaire. The historic sale eclipsed any auctioned bag by Christie’s, both The Wall Street Journal and Forbes reported.
“If a bag was actually ever made, almost regardless of year, we can find that Birkin in brand new condition,”explains Michelle, referencing Kris Jenner’s So Black Birkin (limited edition in 2009) that she fulfilled for the media mogul in 2015.
Since the beginning, Privé Porter’s mission was laser-focused to crack the scarcity code, to acquire uncarried Birkins from private collectors seeking to unclutter their luxurious closets. Tens of thousands of air miles and millions of dollars later, Berk had assembled the stock needed to entice unsatisfied Hermés clientele. A colorful and beautifully photographed Instagram feed was born. Fashionistas, billionaires, and celebrities followed, ordering Birkins sight unseen, bolstered by reputation-building raves from Kardashians. And now in 2018, for bags they don’t have in stock, Privé Porter promises they can deliver any Birkin in any color or material or size upon request within a matter of hours, days or weeks. It’s been a remarkable journey of feats, having written $55 million in revenue since 2013 by reselling a singular item from a singular fashion house, buying and selling bags exclusively from their Instagram platform at www.instagram.com/priveporter. Though 35% of their sales originate from the Middle East, their clientele includes women from over 50 countries.
In the business of making handbag fantasies come true, Michelle now personifies the global fashion power player – homes throughout the U.S. and a metallic white Ferrari 458 Italia bearing license plate MONYBGS, its passenger seat outfitted with whichever Birkin she fancies to carry that day. On this spring weekend, it was an electric bleu 35cm Hermès Kelly bag painted by street artist Alec Monopoly, the first of many collaborations with the artist. Tall and blonde, Berk appears strikingly confident, armed with her custom creation.
“Our clients call, email or WhatsApp us from their yachts, from their planes, from their children’s playgrounds. They scroll our Instagram daily and know exactly what they want, even if they’re on vacation and wanting a bag for a party the next day. We knew from the beginning we had to make the ordering process extremely easy, and I’m personally involved with every sale,” Michelle reiterates.
The next logical step for Privé Porter led to Custom Shop, whereby Berk matches her bags, or daring clients with bags, with artists and artisans worldwide to create unmistakable, one-off fashion statements that exudes personalities as unique as the ladies who carry them. “This is an idea I’ve had for quite some time – this very high-quality personalization,” Berk explains. “It’s time is now.”
“A customized Birkin is a pinnacle gift, or the ultimate gift to yourself,” Berk continues.
Some weeks after the placement of the first Swarovski, the Los Angeles-based Hilton granted an exclusive interview with Megs Mahoney Dusil of PurseBlog https://www.purseblog.com/exclusive/paris-hilton-custom-birkin, the online mecca for luxury handbag obsessives. “I love that Privé Porter was able to customize my Birkin and I think this is definitely the future – to make bags one of a kind and even more special and rare. If I were a bag, I’d be this Birkin,” Paris continued. Hilton’s Rose Tyrien bag bathed in crystals was $65,000.
“It’s like carrying around a piece of art. I am in love,” Paris gushed.
But it’s not all about emotion – many collectors can satisfy their fashion dreams while illustrating excellent business acumen, keeping an eye on the unique investment qualities that only Birkins enjoy. Only one fashion product – out of myriad fashion houses including Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Valentino, Versace, the list goes on and on – does not depreciate in value the moment it is worn – the Hermès Birkin. Fortune Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar and Time Magazine have reported an in-depth 35-year study that concluded that these specific bags appreciate in value an average of 14.2% per year, outperforming the U.S. stock market (8.65%) and even gold (1.9%). While 99.99% of fashion purchases significantly depreciate after even a single wear, only the Birkin can claim the crown of being investment-grade for years to come.
There are, of course, caveats to keeping one’s Birkin investment safe. Michelle Berk explains, “Our clientele really take care of their bags, making sure they’re clean, being careful with the hardware, ensuring the leather is perfect and unscuffed, and keeping the Birkins safe in their closets. For those “store fresh” bags that are truly babied, the market for women who use Privé Porter as a resource to sell their perfect bags or bypass the Hermès waiting list … well, it is infinite. It’s a beautiful world where everyone wins.”
By Feature Editor, Dolce Vita Diamond
May 10, 2018