Retail Confessions: Hermès, Part II
"You think, who the F is going to spend $25,000 on a pair of gloves? And it's the person spending $60,000 on a crocodile handbag who wants the gloves to match."
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When Taylor (not his real name) started working at a new Hermès boutique in the northeast U.S. around a decade ago, he was stunned to see the clientele lined up starting at around 6 a.m. on opening day. Women had made special trips from cities across the East Coast in effort to be the boutique’s very first shoppers. “They knew there would probably be a Birkin on the floor,” said Taylor, who had been a sales associate at a different luxury leather goods brand previously but never seen anything like this. These weren’t just casual Birkin admirers. They were the diehards, the collectors — the coveted and rarified clientele the brand methodically worked to attract. “They knew that there would be special limited edition product that was made specifically for that store opening,” said Taylor. “They knew they were probably going to wind up with something that none of their friends would have.”
I talked to Taylor at length about his experiences working in the store, the lavish lifestyles of the clientele, and what it really took to be allowed to purchase a Birkin bag. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What was your training like?
I shadowed a top handbags person. We would be walking down the street on Madison Avenue, and he was like a superstar. We could not go to lunch. We couldn't leave the store without someone recognizing him, stopping him, coming up to him, begging him for things. It was crazy.
Do you remember what they would say to him?
There were offers — cash money, trips. It was very friendly and very polite, but it was very direct. They knew he was the gatekeeper. You didn't have to spend $15,000 in silks or whatever [to get a Birkin]. It was really up to the sales associate to make your case to the store director [who approved the sale of every bag].
So women would come up to him and be like, “Do you want to come to the Hamptons this weekend?” Stuff like that?
Oh, yeah. I was invited on trips. A lot of these women, we became close personal friends. Some of them I still travel with, I still see. I haven't been at Hermès for more than 10 years. You become very, very important in a very small pocket of the world, you’re talking the top 1 percent. A lot of times, they’re not listened to at home. So you become their confidante, and they trust you in a weird way, and you become very close to them.
You're let into this world that is kind of obscene and insane. You're invited — “Come to my birthday party.” “Oh, sure. Where is —” “Well, we're going to St. Barts for the weekend, so just be at Teterboro [a private plane airport] on Friday.” I'd be like, “Well, I can't do that. I have to work.” And they're like, “Oh, no, don't worry about it.” And I'm like, “I have to worry about it.”
But sometimes you did travel with them.
Certain times. But there were certain times that would just be like, on a Thursday — “What are you doing this weekend?” “Nothing.” And they're like, “Oh, come here.” And you're like, “I can't go to Jakarta for the weekend.” I've summered in the Hamptons with people who were clients and who are now personal friends. You're out to dinner, you mention, “I want to go skiing in February.” And they're like, “Take my place in Stowe.”
And these were genuine friendships.
It's not always like, “I'll let you use my house in the Hamptons if you get me a Birkin.” You genuinely become friends with these people. Their kids call me ”uncle.” For me, it was never about selling anything. When you're at Hermès, you don't really have to sell. It's more about managing and developing the relationships. Hermès was very much a curated client, and you were selecting what you would sell them — and almost holding back.
So who was the ideal client?
You wanted them to be wearing the ready-to-wear and you wanted them to be wearing the scents and you wanted them to buy the homeware and the gifts and things like that. That was the culture that they spoke about at corporate, making sure our clients were living the life of Hermès and not carrying it for status. You wanted it to be, those who know know. They didn't want the only purchase you were making that year to be your Birkin and your H belt and then not see you for 10 years. If that was the case, they'd be out of business.
How did you decide what to sell to people?
You were allowed technically to buy two Birkins or Kellys a year. If you were at a certain level, you were offered a [custom order]. If that was offered to you, that didn't count against your quota and you were allowed one special piece, either croc, ostrich, lizard, or diamond.
Talk a little bit about diamond Birkins.
If you wanted a diamond in Birkin back in the day, you could get one if you had the money. There was usually one in every major boutique on display that you could buy walking in off the street. Back then, it was about $183,000. It's a crocodile Birkin with solid gold hardware, all of the hardware is pavéed with VVS1 clarity diamonds. It's usually about 10 carats of diamonds on the bag. I sold one to a celebrity athlete. I sold one to a doctor for his wife. I was like, You could buy a condo in Miami for this. What is happening here?
When I first saw it, I was like, who the hell would spend this money? And then you wind up meeting these people. When you first see a pair of $25,000 crocodile gloves, you think, Who the F is going to spend $25,000 on a pair of gloves? And it's the person spending $60,000 on a crocodile handbag who wants the gloves to match.
How many diamond Birkins would you sell a year?
If your boutique sold two a year, that was a big thing. It was a different market then, but when I sold mine, the president of the company called me and congratulated me. It was a very big deal.
When you had random people coming in off the street to buy a Birkin, how would you deal with them?
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