LSoD Talks to Michael Tonello, Author of 'Bringing Home the Birkin'

Style :

The Hermes Birkin is without a doubt the most iconic bag of the decade, finding a rejuvenated profile thanks to numerous celebrities who have adopted the iconic style. Two years ago, Michael Tonello became a publishing sensation when he released his book, 'Bringing Home the Birkin: My Life in Hot Pursuit of the World's Most Coveted Handbag'. It documents his successful experimentation into reselling luxury goods on eBay, and then onto buying and selling the ultimate prize, the Birkin. The book follows the hilarious ups and downs of his pursuit as well as revealing some extraordinary revelations about a brand that is as secretive about its products as it is it's profits. 

Now in its second edition, Bring Home the Birkin can be bought from all good book stores and online, and here, Michael speaks to Last Style of Defense about Hermes, handbags and some exciting plans for the future. 

LSoD: Why did you want to write the book?  
Michael Tonello:  For those whom have read the book this is answered in the last chapter, for those who haven't it is perhaps the most important chapter, so I don't want to give it away here, now.

Do you think it would have worked well with another brand, e.g Gucci or Goyard.  
No. What I had going for me from day one was that Hermes produced (or had the general public at least thinking this) less merchandise than they could sell. Remember that old adage "It's all about supply and demand"? Well in this case Hermes had created the demand and I had the supply. 

What do you think has made people pick up the book?  
Several things actually. We got a nearly unprecedented amount of publicity when the book was published. The New York Times wrote about it no less than four times (once an entire full-page). On top of that their were several national television interviews and radio shows. But if I am to take your question literally, what "made people pick up the book?" was perhaps that it looked like an Hermes crocodile agenda crossed with a Birkin bag. 

Now with a flooding of counterfeits and Hermes ditching the waiting list, do you think the Birkin is still a hott item? 
I think Hermes occupies a very unique niche in the luxury goods market. They have the reputation of being the only brand that hand-makes, and hand-stitches, its leather-goods (which isn't actually true, but the general public doesn't know that). I think Birkin's are hot and will continue to be hot because they are ultra high priced and therefore serve as aspirational bags for the LV, Goyard and Chanel customer. Counterfeiting has little bearing on any of this, there has always been counterfeit LV, Gucci, Chanel, etc handbags and there always will be. A counterfeit handbag shopper has nothing to do with an actual Hermes shopper, it's two different worlds.

Has auction sites such as eBay devalued brands?
No, I think they have actually strengthened luxury brands. Wealthy people have always known that Hermes items (for example)  sold for high prices at auction, in places like Sotheby's and Christies. Now the general public is seeing how much second-hand luxury goods are worth, thanks to the global exposure of eBay. 

Would you consider working for Hermes? 
No; I enjoy being self-employed. I've been successfully self employed since the early 1980's.
That being said, I bet I could sell Hermes merchandise better than most of their salespeople, many of whom never seem to know very much about what's in the store or factual information about any of the merchandise.

What, if money was no issue, would be your chosen item from Hermes?
I can pretty much buy anything I want at Hermes, well, except for a WHY (Wally Hermes Yacht), but I am really not very interested in this brand anymore. It's all just "stuff" to me now. Honestly, I think the most valuable thing in an Hermes store is the Hermes label itself. An Hermes scarf, or shirt, or handbag, for example, is of very little value without the Hermes label.

So now that you have bought and sold millions of dollars worth of Birkins and have moved on, what's next?
Several interesting things are happening in my life...all quite exciting. I'm writing a second book (Barcelona Native: The Spanish Seasoning of an American Expat), which is already sold to my publisher, and will be coming out the end of 2011. The film rights to "Birkin" have been optioned and a screenplay is being written now. And perhaps most exciting, on a personal level at least, is that I'm working on a series of childrens books about my two cats, Gala and Dali. I am also involved with a new brand that is in the development stages right now, but legally I cannot tell you more about this quite yet. There is life after Hermes...LOL!
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