The last time I waited as anxiously for a letter was when I had sent out college applications. But that was a completely different thrill. It was new beginnings, a whole life ahead, a dream and so on. This time around, instead of hastily ripping open the envelope, I gently peeled it open with a sterling silver Frazer and Haws letter opener. The envelope was charmingly misleading, like most college letters—you may hastily rip open a large packet thinking it was an acceptance, only to find out it was the opposite. Or you might avoid opening the thin envelope, expecting not to get into even your back-up college, only to find that you got in.
When my college letter came, I wanted my best friends to be the first to hear the news. This time around, I knew it would be my ‘frienemies’ (a friend who is really an enemy) that would be the privileged ones, before my true and loving friends.
The envelope was a regular French mail envelope with a telling stamp at the back. The paper inside was thick and cream, with an embossed logo. And in beautiful plain English, here’s what the letter said:
We are pleased to inform you that the Birkin bag, 35cm, in gold calfskin, ... which you kindly ordered, is at your disposal.
My Birkin was ready!
So, what’s the big deal with the Birkin anyway, you may wonder? And how important is it in the grand scheme of luxurious things? Here’s the truth: It was not the Birkin’s prominence on Sex and the City that evoked a craze in India. Of course, there will be some who will say: “I ordered mine ages ago and have it in every colour” (and it’s probably true), but mostly, it was undiscussed in large gatherings until a few years ago. This could be merely because not only is it expensive, but also, more importantly, it is very difficult to buy. Here’s a very different spin on the oft-used phrase, ‘money can’t buy you everything’. Money alone can definitely not buy you the Birkin.
So, who was it that popularized it in India? It was the A-list of society that began to carry the Birkin. One society beauty bought it after the other—some had connections, some bought very expensive fakes, and some just pretended to have them in their carpeted walk-in wardrobes. Whatever the tale, it was a downhill spin or, I should say, uphill climb from there! Suddenly, you heard whispers from deep, heavily cushioned sofas at large and quiet dinner parties alike: “Can you get me a Birkin?” Suddenly, the girl who said she never gossiped began calling all her friends to discuss the one her best ‘frienemy’ claimed to have bought off the rack! “The poor dear,” she said, “even if it’s not the real thing, she’s got to come up with a better lie…” So, what is this thing that’s got all of society in a mad tizzy?
Let’s start with the basics. For those of you who still don’t have a clue what I’m talking about—thank God you have me talking to you. Whatever you know or don’t know, do not make the mistake of revealing your ignorance about the Birkin in public—and by public, I mean at a society lunch, dinner, tea and the like. The Birkin is an Hermès handbag. It’s a custom-made bag that comes in various colours, skins and frills, but mostly, it’s plain, a little boring-looking, wonderful to touch and promises instant status. It has no jewels or embroidery—though you could have those added on, I’m sure. It is strictly a day bag and cannot be carried out to dinner unless you’re going straight from work. It is one of the hardest objects to procure.
Well, today, it’s not just about the procurement, it’s also about the wait. I got my letter in less than a month. That’s what I’m proud of—not that I got my letter at all. You see, that doesn’t count so much any more. A regular wait list is anywhere between 18 months and three years. You can only get on to a wait list if you have a personal favour or major connections—Indian politicians and film stars are not what I’m talking about—and once on the list, you will begin with being allowed to order only one a year.
The bag is handmade with only the finest skins and comes with its very own number that guarantees authenticity. You are ready for a Birkin if you already have a sizeable collection of handbags and, honestly, if you’ve crossed a certain age. Being very young and very affected is just not cool. Yes, apart from the instant status and awe-inspiring aura the Birkin provides you with, it also screams out that you are affected to a point. However much we claim we “love” the bag—it’s definitely the status that we love more.
While college gave me my future, the Birkin will help to now enjoy the future I worked so hard for. So once the money, connections and lifestyle are in place—welcome to a post-Birkin world. You will socially, probably, never be the same again. Or, for this season at least.
(Write to Superna Motwane at email@example.com)