Inside One Writer’s objective to purchase an Hermès Birkin in Paris
with the airy, perfumed store we stampeded, the other tourists on our heels.
“Hurry,” my aunt urged. “They’re overtaking us.” We’d waited outside in the chilly for close to an hour, as well as she wasn’t about to cede our location at the head of the line.
The impeccably dressed salespeople lining the aisle of the store sang out, “Bonjour,” however I felt their contempt. crazy Chinese tourists, they no question thought—and practically all of us were Chinese—All this for a dumb bag? My cheeks burned with shame.
Oh, exactly how I loathed those salespeople with their glossy, insincere apologies, who shook their heads as well as sighed deeply as well as murmured, “We just don’t have the Birkin in stock best now,” as the young lady in the patterned scarf would tell me just minutes later. We understood they were lying. We’d checked out the investigative reports accusing Hermès of burnishing their brand by producing an perception of scarcity. My aunt as well as I were specific that shelves of those absurdly costly purses in every color of the rainbow stood just beyond those walls.
Other writers spend their advances on first-edition books, the most recent electronics, or, in one extremely lucky case, a BMW. however I knew, from the time I completed the extremely very first draft of my forthcoming novel, bury What We Cannot Take, that if I was fortunate sufficient to offer it, I would celebrate by purchasing a Birkin. I’m no crazy rich Asian, just a enthusiast of fashion, to the degree that best out of college, before I chose to be a writer, I completed the executive training program at Banana Republic, wishing to make a profession as a buyer. My house is furnished in IKEA, I drive an old Civic, I utilize generic drugstore shampoo, however my bag collection fills an entire coat closet. right here is the Chanel video camera bag my mother provided me when I went off to college, the boxy Louis Vuitton bought on the Champs-Élysées on my 21st birthday during my junior year abroad, the pale blue Marc Jacobs pocket bag that was all over back in the oughts, as well as which I’m impatiently waiting to age into vintage so I can lastly bring it again. right here is the Hermès Evelyne messenger I purchased when I offered my very first book, somewhat on a whim, after I took the day off work as well as wandered into the San Francisco Union Square store. I selected the bag for its useful cross-body strap, its water- as well as scratch-resistant leather, its compact shape. each time I bring my Evelyne, I recall the euphoria—and profound relief—of having discovered my very first book would lastly be published after eight long months of submission as well as revision as well as resubmission. Each bag is my version of a Proustian madeleine.
I very first checked out Proust my sophomore year of college, in a 19th- as well as 20th-century French literature course. The complying with year, I spent seven blissful months in Paris, living with a warm, chatty hold mom who served me red table red wine in a little crystal glass with our evening meal. These days, I checked out contemporary French novels as well as listen to French podcasts with as much self-control as I showed in school. I jump at every possibility to return to Paris.
So exactly how was it that day after day, right here in my preferred city, where there were exhibits to visit, as well as restaurants to return to, as well as genuine French people to converse with in the language I’d worked so difficult to make mine, I’d squandered valuable hours confined to a small, dark square of pavement off the rue Saint-Honoré? My aunt was an essential factor. She was a longtime Hermès client who brought the exact same decision to her successful banking profession as to her shopping, as well as she kept me focused on our goal.
But there was likewise the bag itself, as well as its undeniable allure.
What did I like about this sleek, structured as well as objectively somewhat non-descript handbag, priced two to three times the already extremely costly ones crowding my closet? I liked the bag’s simplicity. I liked the saturated, blinding colors—vert bamboo, bleu electrique, orange poppy—that I would think about garish as well as impractical in any type of other bag. as well as yes, I liked what the Birkin stood for. It was a bag that was immediately acknowledged as well as sought after the world over, from Orchard Road, Singapore to primary Street, Concord, new Hampshire—two locations I understood very first hand. Singapore is where I was born as well as raised; new Hampshire is where I spent three icy, exhilarating, as well as exhausting years in boarding school. I escaped the new Hampshire winters by going to college in sunny Palo Alto. From there it was to Paris, San Francisco, Boston, as well as back to San Francisco. For as long as I can remember, I’ve liked traveling as well as moving, parsing accents as well as languages as well as social mores along the way. My mother, who’d spent a decade in Bloomington, Indiana, taught me American English even though British English is basic in Singapore. as well as when she sent me off to nursery school, she states I returned house to report that, “My instructor states I’m two as well as a h-ah-lf, however you state I’m two as well as a h-aa-lf.
Each time I autumn for a new city, I think about whether I might online there long-term, as well as the response has frequently been yes. Yes, I believe to myself, yes, I might make a house in Lisbon, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Tokyo, Prague. as well as if I had a Birkin, it would be at house in all of those places, too.
On our penultimate day in Paris, my aunt as well as I returned to the store for the fourth as well as last time. instead of turning us away with a unfortunate shake of her head, the saleswoman led us to a pair of soft, deep leather chairs in a peaceful alcove as well as told us to wait while she “checked the stock.” She was completely pleasant—maybe since I talked to her in my finest French, perhaps since she was by nature a enjoyable person.
She returned with an orange box the size of a bassinet, as well as there, nestled in layers of tissue, was my Birkin in the ideal shade of cerise. When I gazed in the mirror, it dangled from my wrist like a graceful appendage. It transformed my fundamental cardigan as well as denim into minimalist masterpieces, like the very best Instagram filter; it made my heart race, like truly great drugs. All around me the Chinese tourists nudged each other as well as stared. A young lady with a shiny ponytail surreptitiously took a photo on her phone as well as grinned at me, as if buoyed by my success.
My aunt as well as I walked the two hundred meters back to our hotel, laden with huge orange buying bags, bright as stop signs.
“Careful,” she warned. “My buddy got pickpocketed, in this extremely spot, after buying at Hermès.”
We made it to our space unscathed. There, I lifted the lid of my orange box, peeled back the tissue, as well as ran my fingers over the lightly grained leather. then I pushed the box into the wardrobe as well as headed into the sunshine to lastly delight in my city. I would go to the Picasso museum, stride with the location de la République, eat a berry galette by the Canal Saint-Martin. I was in no hurry to bring my bag. A traditional would always be in style.
These days I’m back living in Singapore, as a writer in home at a university. My Birkin made the trip with me, tucked into a Longchamp Le Pliage carry to shield it from dust, scratches, as well as other indignities of flight terminal security. It’s been two decades because I’ve lived here, however I slip into Singlish the immediate I get in an Uber, switch to Chinese when ordering Singapore-style iced coffee with condensed milk (less sugar, please), revert to American English with expat colleagues. I pair my Birkin with cutoffs as well as shower slides to run errands, with a midi gown as well as block heels for dinner at my parents’ club, with a romper as well as wedges for drinks with old classmates. My Birkin is a chameleon, equal parts flamboyant as well as discreet, pointless as well as weighty. My Birkin will not be pinned down.
Kirstin Chen is the author of the novels bury What We Cannot Take as well as Soy Sauce for Beginners. She is currently working on a book about the counterfeit purse trade. You can comply with her on Twitter as well as Instagram.