Retail Confessions: Hermès
"I don't think a sales associate was actually allowed to go on a private plane to the Cannes Film Festival [with a client] — it was just too extravagant."
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You can tell a fake Birkin, quite often, by the handles. “A lot of the handles are stretched really big,” said Liam, a former sales associate at the Hermès boutique in Manchester’s Selfridges. “But it's the leather as well.” Liam fell in love with Birkins when he was around 16 years old and started filling his camera roll with photos of the bags he’d saved from the internet. “I think anybody who loves Hermès could look at a bag and know if it's real or fake, just because in the Hermès world, you probably research it all the time.”
Today, he and his partner James document Birkins they spot in the wild on their popular TikTok feed angelllboys. They think they’ve seen nearly every type of Birkin, including the rare matte black crocodile one with the matte black hardware that retails for around £150,000 ($185,000). “If you know your Birkin bags, you can see it a mile off,” said Liam.
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“It's probably been at auction twice. It's just so rare,” interjected James. “And there it was in the street.” (The one bag they haven’t yet spotted is the Himalaya, made from crocodile and so named because the color gradation resembles the snow-capped mountains.) An authentic Birkin, James added, “is honestly perfection. I can't explain what it is, but when you see the stitching, it is so straight. It is even, there's no holes where the stitch has gone through the leather. It honestly is art.”
I asked Liam to share more about his experience working at Hermès around five years ago, and the kinds of customers who shopped there. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What’s the clientele like?
The clientele is super, super affluent and absolutely loves fashion. They've had everything — every Chanel bag, everything from [Louis Vuitton], they've had it all. And now they want something that nobody else has. This customer wants something super-luxurious, maybe that they can take to dinner with the girlfriends and they're the only one with that bag, while all the other ladies have the Chanel bag.
How much do people spend at one time?
We're talking about a client that really does not care about money. It doesn't matter how much it is, they just want it. And £60,000 later [around $74,350], they walk out of the boutique.
Were they demanding?
A lot of them would be a bit older, so they've probably had the times where they've been demanding in Chanel and been demanding in Louis Vuitton when they were younger. But by the time they've reached that stage, they know what they're after, so they're so generous. They bring in gifts, some cupcakes, and you really do have that amazing relationship with them. The SA is the gatekeeper. So if you upset the SA by being demanding, you are not going to get the bag. And probably a lot of clients know that they have to win over the SA ultimately to get the bag. So maybe that is why they're not so demanding.
What other gifts would clients lavish upon the SAs?
They used to take people out for dinner. A lot of them had private planes. They’d invite people on the private planes. You'd have to go through the boutique manager. I don't think the SA [who was invited by a client] was actually allowed to go on a private plane to the Cannes Film Festival — it was just too extravagant.
Did you ever go to dinner with anybody? What was that dynamic like?
I went to dinner loads of times to the best restaurants. People used to take me to London, the Ritz and the Savoy. Say if you got taken to London, you would stay over in a suite, a different room from the client. But it would all be expensed on the client's behalf. As you work there over a few years, you do really start to care about the clients. So you do see them as a friend, but there's always that professional boundary, which the client would always respect and you would always respect. A lot of the clients have built up amazing businesses, have a lot of disposable income. A lot of them could be widows, just looking for a companion where you both love fashion.
One of them actually I met yesterday and she was a really, really big spender in Hermès, and she's in the process of currently buying her own private plane now. So they have a lot of spare cash to share.
Did any clients have crazy requests?
There was one demanding client actually that I do remember very well.
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