Thursday, March 27, 2008

Bringing Home the Birkin by Michael Tonello

What other bag can create such a frenzy? Victoria Beckham has more than one, Lindsay Lohan possesses a few. Of course Gisele Bunchen has a couple as do Nicky Hilton and Kelly Osbourne, just to name a sliver of the celebs who carry the luxurious and highly regarded bag. I'm talking about a Hermes Birkin of course!

I knew I would just love Bringing Home The Birkin by Michael Tonello. Reading this book was probably as close to holding a real Birkin in my hands as I'll ever get!

Michael fell in love with Barcelona, Spain on a trip. So he went home, packed up his belongings on the east coast and relocated himself to Europe. But what would he do to earn a living? Call it luck, good fortune or a case of destiny, Michael found himself brokering Birkin bags for women all over the world! He was a dealer, an import-export professional of the status symbol known as a Birkin. He writes about his escapades in the new book, Bringing Home the Birkin which is a fun and entertaining book. I ended the book not knowing whether I wanted to hang out with Michael in Barcelona or obtain a Birkin. I'm leaning towards Barcelona.

The book was really funny and charming! I think you did a great job of infusing the book with your personality. What kind of comments do you get most from people who have read the book?

Not a huge number of people have read the book yet because the publication date is April at this point, it has been read by people who fall into three categories--those working with the project at HarperCollins, those who know me personally or professionally, or those who are somehow involved with the book or media industry as a whole.

However, those that have read it say that they expected the book to be about handbags (namely the Birkin) and come away pleasantly surprised that it's so much more than that. Some have mentioned staying up late to finish it, which is a wonderful thing for an author to hear. And those who know me personally are always telling me that as they read it they feel like I am in the room, telling them a story. I always think that particular feedback could go either way, depending on how they feel about me!

You have traveled extensively. Tell me your favorite places. If I could only visit one place in Europe , where should I go?

I'd love to own a small home on Capri....that is my "if i won the lottery" dream. But if you can only visit one place in Europe, make it Barcelona. It has it, culture, big urban vibe, small town manageability, great food and wine, amazing architecture, centuries of history....I could go on and on. I guess I am probably biased, considering I live there, but it really is an amazing city.

What were some of the low points during the Birkin days?

The endless travel with accumulating baggage. It's not easy traveling with huge shopping bags. People often think that sounds silly and I say to them: okay, you fly to Zurich with two suitcases and then take the train to two or three other cities and collect a shopping bag (keeping in mind that an Hermes shopping bag with a Birkin in it is bigger than most suitcases) at each of your stops and then continue on....and on and on. It's not fun. There are no porters standing on street corners or at entrances to train stations after the taxi just dumps you there. I only have two hands.

On a more serious note, it also began to distress me how obsessive some of my clients were. After all, at the end of the day, a Birkin is just a really, really nice purse that costs a lot of money. It isn't a life or death situation, but sometimes when my Blackberry was beeping, my cell phone was vibrating, and my inbox was overflowing, all with Birkin requests, it was difficult to remember that I wasn't some kind of heart surgeon or something! You do start to think about where people place their priorities.

How did the book come about?

I bet my cousin (who had often talked about writing a book) that I would write my book first....and I only said that to get her to write hers! I really had no actual plan of writing a book. Then a week later on an extra-long flight i started making notes of all the strange things that happened to me in my little "Birkin world"....and it just went on from there. So I did end up winning the bet, too.

What are some of your hobbies?

Fine, travel (for pleasure!), theatre, film.

Living in Europe you get to see a lot of art, culture and history. Who are some of your favorite artists? Dali, Picasso and George Condo. On a related note, I have toured one of Dali's homes (it's in a tiny village in Spain), and it is one of Europe's best-kept secrets, in my opinion. His home decor ideas are as original (and occasionally disturbing) as his art.

Do you keep in touch with the women you procured Birkins for?

A few. Some have become friends.

What is the attraction of such an expensive bag- is it that is so well made, beautiful or the thrill of the chase because obtaining one is so difficult?

All of the above. They are amazingly well made and luxurious, there is no question of the quality. And beauty, while in the eye of the beholder, is sort of a given for any item that is made with such exquisite care to detail. But I believe that in some degree or another, it's the mystique of the bag that is the big allure....the idea of not being able to get it. Hermes took the old adage of wanting what you can't have, and used it as a marketing paradigm. In doing so, they created the ultimate it-bag, and an enduring symbol of luxury.

What are you doing these days?

Getting ready for book tour. Writing. I'm collaborating on a childrens book set in Barcelona, featuring my two Bengal cats, Gala and Dali.

Where do you see yourself in the next few years?

If you mean geographically, chiefly in Barcelona. Professionally, I see myself continuing with the childrens' books (I envision a series.). And who knows....maybe making them into movies. Maybe making this book into a movie. I don't see myself toting orange Hermes bags all over creation again, that's for sure. I have always been a "carpe diem" kind of person, so I would have to say I will go where opportunity beckons. And if I knew where I would be in the future, where would be the fun and excitement in the journey?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...
I have just heard about this book today, and have been reading various articles about it. It seems paradoxical that the author implies that the "wait lists" are a lot of smoke and mirrors and that he "cracked the code" to show "anyone" how to get one, while simulataneously describing the ridiculous lengths to which he had to go to keep pulling his "trick" with the boutiques.

If you've got to put on thousands of dollars of clothes, spend a few thousand on other stuff to set the tone, fly all over the world while visiting no one boutique too often, and carrying awkwardly oversized shopping bags everhwhere (what do you do, check those when you fly? How do you keep them safe in your hotel rooms?) .... adding in travel time ...

Sounds like he just made one more case for how difficult it is to get your hands on one. He doesn't understand why his customers went to such trouble "just for a purse", but it looks like he went to more trouble than anyone.

Very strange fellow. Although he got a book out of it, that will surely sell well. Rather than diminish the bag's cache, I think this book just reinforces how inaccessible the bag is to most of us. @ 1:59 PM  
Blogger Joanne B. Shubert said...
Fabulous tale from the Michael that has helped me procure many Hermes "goodies." Now I know what he was doing when travelling the globe! I happen to be one of the Hermes clients who has waited for a few years for a handbag. Necessity is the mother of invention and HE had the reason to go Birkin hunting (you MUST read the book to understand this). So much for the myth of the waiting list. @ 9:37 PM  
Anonymous Roselyn said...
Pretty helpful material, thanks so much for the article. @ 10:26 PM  
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