Making Sense of Kim Kardashian’s Birkin Bag

December 30, 2013 • Fashion

Kanye West gave Kim Kardashian a tan Birkin bag for Christmas, which I suspect is quite normal in that family. Whereas most of us look forward to getting our first bike, the Kardashian girls probably look forward to unwrapping their first Birkin. However, there is something different about this bag. Painted on the front are three nude figures, two of which have bulging eyes and severe orthodontic problems, accompanied by a green faced-monster, which I’m inclined to believe is nothing more than a caricature of a super angry, super jealous Kris Jenner. Art is subjective, right?

The infamous George Condo-painted Birkin bag.

The infamous George Condo-painted Birkin bag.

When I first saw the bag, my eyes rolled so far to the back of my heard I was worried they’d get stuck. I thought, “Oh great, here they go again. Just another way to bastardize one of the most iconic brands in the world.” I’ve written a post about how these bags are constructed: how it takes years of training for the artisans to ‘graduate’ from standard watch straps to custom handbags; how the leather must be inspected inch-by-inch, scale-by-scale, for insect bites; how the saddle stitch must be perfectly aligned and evenly spread; and how this bag is more than just a bag—it’s the legacy of about 176 years of technical prowess and craftsmanship. Frankly, I was annoyed to see an Hermès bag defaced like this, even if the artist, George Condo, is a big deal in the art world.

Slowly, it dawned on me that the Birkin bag has already become a victim of its own fame. This bag, once a glimmering symbol of power and wealth, has been demystified by every member of the Real Housewives franchise who has one (or ten) sitting in her closet. As remarkable as the construction process may be, the Birkin has become too common to be coveted, too ubiquitous to be unique, and far too popular to be considered as precious as the original. Let me clarify that I don’t particularly like the George Condo artwork, but I completely understand why Kanye West would commission something so hideous. 2013 has been the year of Kanye’s (often legitimate) rants against the fashion industry, a creative playing field from which he feels perpetually excluded. And to reverse the adage—if you can’t join them, you’ve got to beat them at their own game—he has confronted these conservative taste-makers and oligarchs with something so sinfully ugly that his presence has become impossible to ignore. It’s the perfect way to say “fuck you” without actually saying it.

Terence Koh doodling on Lady Gaga's white Birkin.

Terence Koh doodling on Lady Gaga’s white Birkin.

Like any great love immortalised in poetry, or a great leader cemented in stone, any fashion product worthy of its time should be featured on Sex and the City, the greatest consumer-fest since the boom of television itself. Indeed, there’s an episode in which PR agent Samantha Jones orders a red Birkin, only to discover that there’s a five-year waiting list. Eager to skip this step in the process, she tells Hermès that her new client, Lucy Liu, wants to wear the bag to a movie premiere. She waits and waits, frustration reaching its peak when she sees a “fucking nobody in a tracksuit” walking down the street, carrying the exact model she wants, and then questions: “Is Hermès French for we take our good old fucking time?”

The reality is that the world is full of fucking nobodies in tracksuits, walking blithely down the street carrying Birkin bags. The evidence is in any trashy celebrity gossip magazine. Love it or hate it, Kim Kardashian’s painted Birkin is unique, subversive, truly one-of-a-kind. In 2010, Japanese artists Terence Koh wrote graffiti all over Lady Gaga’s white Birkin; in 2012, Francesca Eastwood, daughter of Clint, burned a $100,000 red crocodile Birkin in the name of art, then subjected it to the wrath of a roaring chainsaw. Luxury is boring without contest, stagnant without scandal, and if there’s something that tells these stuffy fashion people that I’m better than you, it’s letting them know that you have enough money to burn money and deface Birkins.

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  • Julie Zerbo

    Francesca Eastwood’s bag was fake and rumor has it, Gaga’s is, too.

    • Hung Tran

      I understand that Francesca’s was rumoured to be fake, since it looked so thin and plastic-y. Nobody has confirmed this for sure so I can’t really argue for one side or the other. However, we can still appreciate that what they did was intended to poke fun at luxury, and the aspirational (and often empty) promises that fashion and Hollywood keeps telling us: that certain products are only for certain people, that what you can afford defines who you are. I think they were trying to make a point about how luxury is too elitist, restrictive, classist, etc. and the best way to “beat the system” is to do something totally outrageous to say, “I refuse to play this stupid game.” Were they effective? That’s up to you to decide. Was it just a stupid publicity stunt? Again, up to you.

      As for Lady Gaga: The bag looks pretty real to me (judging from other pictures), and I can’t imagine her wearing something fake. She prides herself on being authentic and a patron of fashion or whatever so carrying a fake Birkin doesn’t seem like something she’d do.

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