It’s incredibly ironic that the Birkin bag, the ultimate fashion status symbol, originated because the very bohemian woman who inspired it never carried a leather bag. According to industry legend, the bag was first conceived in 1981, when singer/Serge Gainsbourg muse Jane Birkin was seated next to Hermes exec Jean-Louis Dumas on a flight from Paris to London. She dropped her straw bag, and ended up explaining to Dumas that she chose this one because she simply couldn’t find a leather one she liked – an admission that prompted Dumas to comb through the Hermes archives and design a bag in her name.

Three years later, the Birkin bag was born, a product that quickly morphed from a beautifully crafted, chicly retrained prize for a lucky few to a full on sartorial phenomena and bona-fide fashion classic. Today, Victoria Beckham supposedly has over a hundred, Sienna Miller owns a simple black model, and Birkins seem to be on the arm of every celebutante with a desire for a certain brand of prestige and access to the requisite funds.

Birkin herself no longer carries the bag – her last one, a sticker and worry bead-covered worn-in black purse, was auctioned off for charity for a cool 163K in the spring of 2011 (“A Birkin bag is a very good rain hat; just put everything else in a plastic bag,” she told Vogue the week she sent it off) – but the purse does continue to serve as an exclusively ubiquitous—and for some, slightly tongue-in-cheek— reference to the woman herself.

The true Birkin legacy is arguably present in a much more vivacious form – through the icon’s three profusely creative daughters – photographer Kate Barry, Academy Award-winning actress and singer Charlotte Gainsbourg and the model/actress/model Lou Doillon – and the countless women (and men) who dress and take inspiration from Birkin’s indelible image—a plain white T with weathered denimimage-6240078-10451141 and flatsimage-6240078-10731106, worn with a sense of carefree abandon and an attitude of languid liberation that is decidedly French, and unquestionably Birkin.

-Ashley Simpson

November 2012