I have been holding off writing about Hermès because I am still learning myself and I also wanted to write something meaningful yet less talked about. Like many other luxury brands, Hermès' quality has been inevitably declining, but none could challenge its position as the premium leader in luxury leather goods. It is commonly believed that like Chanel, the craftsmanship of Hermès peaked in the mid 1990s and drastically declined post 2010.
The best practice of authenticating Hermès is inspecting in person. I won't dwell on content of picture based authentication because there are plenty of guides out there and the best Hermès knock-offs, especially Birkin knock-offs are almost impossible to tell from pictures.
I do, however, want to share with you some insider info about Birkin that Hermès might not want you to know.
1. At the moment, the so-called waitlist does not exist. It's an urban myth that an ordinary person could not purchase a Birkin bag right off the shelf. You have to have insider connections, or purchased enough other Hermès products to be considered eligible. Truth is, if you know people who work or have worked at Hermès at a relatively mid to senior position, they will get you a Birkin bag whenever you want one. The waitlist is a classic business case of scarcity marketing. Nevertheless, we saw the surge of a secondary Birkin market around the world with a market size of hundreds of millions of dollars including some of the best counterfeits. In some parts of Europe, you could actually step into a Hermès store and purchase a Birkin right away. Hermès' marketing strategy is cannibalizing its own sales, and with the increasing competition from the resale market, a shift of business model seems to be underway.
2. In the past, there used to be a so-called waitlist, when the turnaround of production could not meet demand. What affected the turnaround was not so much about the number of artisans or actual production process but the wait time for the perfect material. In the past, Hermès artisans tried to match up the grain of the bag at each joint edge, and they would wait for weeks to a month to collect the right material. Now, Hermès has become much less selective on leather and its consumers barely could tell or care about the quality variation. The wait time for material has significantly reduced.
3. Some of the Hermès bags are not 100% hand sawn, Birkin itself might not be an exclusion. The current making process has always come with the aid of high quality stitching machines operated by skilled craftsmen. However, for recent years, some parts of the stitching are performed by automated machines. This info was passed on to me by a pattern maker friend who has access to the production process of the Birkin bag and for people with certain pattern making experience, it is not difficult to tell that the stitching is a combination of machine and hand. It was observed that artisans would take out three stitches at the closure between two pieces of leather, and hand stitched them, and these three hand stitches qualified the bag for 100% handmade. Don't get too upset, Chanel is 100% machine made now.
Although Hermès is still at the throne of leather goods craftsmanship, its decline signals that the dusk of handmade luxury is inescapable. We just have to re-define and embrace the new luxury. All these contribute to the surge of popularity of pre-owned and vintage luxury goods, where quality was re-discovered and treasured.