NEW YORK - Ms Jenny Walton had coveted an Hermes bag for years before finally buying one last autumn.
“They’re never going to go out of style,” Ms Walton, 33, offered as a reason she wanted to own one of the brand’s handbags, which can cost four, five, even six figures.
Hermes’ bags include the Kelly and its more famous sister, the Birkin, both of which have long been regarded as symbols of status. Particularly the Birkin, which for decades had a reasonable claim to the title of rarest handbag in the world.
That reputation, for the most part, has not changed. But as a growing resale market has made Hermes bags available to more people – reality TV stars, say, or those whose wealth does not span generations – the image that the bags convey, according to some, depends on their condition.
To that small group, the more pristine the bag, the more gauche its wearer seems.
“Real Housewives have closets full, and that has a kind of tacky look,” said Ms Walton, an American illustrator and influencer who lives in Milan.
She bought her Hermes bag – a second-hand, purplish-brown Kelly with gold-plated hardware – in Paris at Resee, a designer consignment store, for €3,000 (S$4,300). With visible markings from use, she said, “it just looks cooler”.
Actress Candice Bergen has used Hermès bags as a canvas for paintings. Actress Julia Fox has a Birkin bag with slashes on its edges. In a video on TikTok, she claimed the slashes were a result of a machete attack. Novelist Danielle Steel has carried a Kelly bag that shows its age. Fashion designer Mary-Kate Olsen also has a Kelly bag that is so faded, its original colour is hard to discern.
“Though the bag costs upwards of US$10,000 (S$13,500), she treats it like the overstuffed briefcase of a used-car salesman,” Ms Liana Satenstein, a senior fashion writer at Vogue.com, wrote of Olsen.
Though Hermes bags have always been pricey, they haven’t always been so rarefied. According to the company, the Birkin, released in 1984, was born from a conversation that year between actress Jane Birkin, whom the style is named for, and Mr Jean-Louis Dumas, then the chief executive of Hermes.
While seated next to each other on a flight from Paris to London, Birkin told the CEO that she needed a bag for all the things she had to tote around for her children.
According to Ms Rachel Koffsky, the international head of handbags at the auction house Christie’s, Birkin is said to have described the Birkin bag as a great rain hat. Ms Koffsky added that Birkin would personalise her bags with stickers and key chains.
Hermes’ Haut à courroies bag also had utilitarian origins: It was designed to transport saddles and riding boots. Last month, a visibly worn Haut à courroies bag owned by fashion editor Andre Leon Talley sold for more than US$32,000 at an auction at Christie’s.
In 2018, Mr Ryan Reineck, 36, an art director who lives in Manhattan, paid €6,800 for what he described as a “messed up” Haut à courroies bag. Its imperfections give the bag character and “a history,” Mr Reineck said.
Mr W. David Marx, the author of Status And Culture, said that for luxury goods to function as status symbols, they need cachet, an association with high-status lifestyles and to be used in a way that is not only to mark status.
Someone carrying a beat-up Hermes bag suggests that the person is not simply wearing it because of its label, according to Mr Marx. It can give the impression, he wrote in an email, that “I don’t even care if it gets beat up, because I’m not using this for status marking.”
“It’s just a bag,” he wrote. “Who cares if it’s beat up?” NYTIMES