A Birkin handbag – the ultimate ‘it’ bag since Hermes introduced it in 1984 – starts at around 5,000 and, depending on what kind of hide it’s made from, can cost as much as £75,000. But even if you can afford one you have to go onto Hermes’ famous years-long waiting list. Hermes insists that it only produces about 100 Birkins a year. In which case, says Michael Tonello, in 2005, “I bought the entire annual production and then some!”
Tonello is an American beautician who moved to Barcelona a few years ago and stumbled into a lucrative career as a Hermès reseller – or, as he puts it in his memoir Bringing Home the Birkin, a “leather liaison”. He bought new Birkins at retail price then bunged them on eBay, where they were snapped up immediately, despite a substantial markup.
How did he do it? Apparently, by maximising the potential of an unholy amount of personal charm. The Formula, as he called it, involved travelling through Europe, Asia and South America, stopping at Hermès boutiques looking like money, pouring on said charm and absolutely not asking for a Birkin outright. Instead, he would spend a couple of thousand on other items (also destined for eBay) and then casually ask whether the store might happen to have a Birkin that he could buy – usually “for my mother.”
Shop assistants would invariably find one in the storeroom and sell it to him. The only place the Formula failed was the US, and then only because the initial spend had to be way over $2,000 before the Birkin appeared, but in one yea, Tonello managed to bag $1.6 million in bags and other Hermès items and flogged the lot to his Internet clientele. At one point he refers to selling a $22,000 bag for a $5,000 profit.
So you see, it can be done. Tonello retired, although Hermès sources claim they shut him down, but trust me: at this moment someone, somewhere, has spotted a niche market and a price-value gap, and is working their way steadily towards a future spent drinking brightly coloured cocktails on a tropical beach. So give it some thought… it could be you!