Miami’s Michelle Berk is the world’s most formidable hunter and purveyor of Hermès’ elusive Birkin bag.
As legend goes, in the storybook grapevined French countryside, legions of craftsmen joyously toil in secret ateliers—sewing, painting and polishing the world’s most coveted arm candy: the Hermès Birkin bag. As the legend goes.
Because since its design in 1983 (at the behest of actress and model Jane Birkin), no one knows whether the Birkin bag is assembled in the French countryside, in a hollowedout Alp or tucked behind a creperie in Montparnasse. The machinations behind the Birkin are a closely held secret. So much so that the bag isn’t displayed in Hermès boutiques and is barely mentioned on the Hermès website. One can’t merely ask for and receive a Birkin—one must earn a Birkin by being a very good Hermès customer, which is why, depending on who you speak to, the wait list for the bag is fabled to be over two years. Moreover, even if you are a socialite, an A-list actress or a literal princess, Hermès won’t sell you more than two Birkins a year. Within this shroud, the Birkin largesse showers Hermès with an estimated $2 billion per year, churned at $12,000 (calfskin) to $300,000 (exotics). While the entry-level Birkin bag is for the one percent, a Birkin Himalaya is for the one percent of the one percent.
Reposed on a yacht off Miami Beach’s Star Island, Michelle Berk muses on her company Privé Porter, quite simply the world’s most successful curators, hunters and purveyors of “store-fresh, uncarried” Birkin bags. “I started by selling one Birkin on eBay six years ago. At the end of this year, we’ll have surpassed $80 million,” says Berk. Her purview is the aftermarket she’s helped build for investmentgrade Birkins: pristine, often limited-edition pieces coupled with the original sales receipts, nestled in toile dust bags, tucked inside those vibrant orange Hermès boxes.
Berk’s white-glove service Birkin business is exclusively run on Instagram and WhatsApp, where salivating messages fly into her cellphone inquiring about the very select bags Berk posts daily. And where do the bags come from? “Let’s say someone wanted a 25CM Doblis Rouge in suede, but Hermès only offered a 30CM Bleu de Nord in Togo, so she bought the Bleu bag to stay in Hermès’ good graces,” explains Berk. “We buy the Bleu de Nord from her, and then hunt down the Doblis too. In the end, everyone wins.” Privé Porter promises it can locate and procure any Birkin within a matter of hours or days.
Along the way, Berk has become a global Birkin authority, spotting forgeries, authenticating rare bags, building rare collections for collectors and playfully competing with revered auction houses to sell the world’s most expensive Birkin. (This year, the company broke Christie’s 2017 record with the $500,000 sale of a 2013 35CM Hermès Birkin Blanc Diamond Himalaya.)
Besides curating bags for celebs like Cardi B, Kris Jenner, Paris Hilton and YouTube sensation Jeffree Star, many of Privé Porter’s clients are in the Middle East. “We have a great relationship with American Express Centurion concierges in Saudi Arabia who request very specific Birkins for sheiks and princesses,” says Berk. “We once filled a private plane with $1 million in Birkins for a Saudi Arabian sheik—the bags were wedding presents for his daughter. The plane took off without passengers, just the bags sitting in the seats.”
By Dirk DeSouza, Ocean Drive
September 11, 2019