The story of the world’s most coveted handbag…

Within the past 48 hours, the story of Nigeria’s First Lady Aisha Buhari totting a Hermès Birkin 35cm Porosus Crocodile Gold Hardware Bag worth $105,000 (N40, 950,000) as she arrived the United States on a visit, has caused a meltdown in the Nigerian social and traditional media space leaving many wondering what is so special about a handbag that it costs a whopping N40 million.

Most Nigerians have expressed outrage over the development, coming at a time the Nigerian government had officially declared that the country is in recession.

SIGNAL first broke the story on Thursday morning with a tweet disclosing the details of Mrs. Buhari’s Hermès handbag, immediately throwing the Nigerian social media home and abroad into commotion. Again, the question resurfaces. What is so special about the Hermès Birkin?

Birkin is not your average handbag. According to a report by US-based Fashionista.com in June 2016 and reposted by the website on its official Twitter page @Fashionista_com, a few hours ago, the legend of the Hermès Birkin is the tale of a bag known for its superior craftsmanship and jaw-dropping price tag, with standard models starting around $12,000.

aisha-hermes

“Hermès refuses to release the number of Birkin bags that it manufactures each year, limiting the elusive supply to an elite group of customers. Thanks to this

tight control, the brand has succeeded in maintaining the bag’s reputation as one of the world’s most desirable and unobtainable luxury items. A recent study showed Birkin bags are actually a better investment than stocks or gold, increasing in value by 14.2 percent on average each year. And in June, the item became the world’s most expensive handbag ever auctioned when an anonymous buyer in Hong Kong spent the equivalent of $300,168 on a single style”, Fashionista.com reports.

Named after Jane Birkin, a French style icon in her own right, the idea for the Hermès’ Birkin bag came from a serendipitous airplane encounter in 1981 between the stylish Ms. Birkin and Jean-Louis Dumas, the late chief executive of Hermès. The well-known story involves Ms. Birkin spilling the contents of a straw tote bag everywhere, inspiring the French label’s executive to create a bag that would be suitable for jet-setting women with too much to carry. Four years later, their airplane “collaboration” resulted in what we now know as the Birkin bag, and voila! A star was born.

Hermès is now best known for selling the Birkin, among other socialite-approved purses and printed scarves despite its historic recognition and association with finely crafted horse harnesses and carriages.

Although it’s difficult to imagine now, the bag was far from an overnight success. As noted in Vogue, Chanel had dominated the luxury bag market in the 1980s. Although the Birkin bag was first introduced in 1984, it didn’t take off until the mid-to-late 1990s, at the dawn of the so-called “It-Bag” era. In fact, the only exposure that the bag got in Vogue until that time was in an Hermès advertisement that ran in 1989.

The iconic tote became forever known as the ultimate status symbol when it was used as a plot-point in a 2001 episode of Sex and the City. In the episode, Samantha Jones uses one of her celebrity client’s names in order to skip the “five year” waiting list for the coveted bag. After the episode aired, the Birkin’s actual waiting list tripled in length, which is a true testament to the cultural impact of the show.

A recent study showed Birkin bags are actually a better investment than stocks or gold, increasing in value by 14.2 percent on average each year. And in June, the item became the world’s most expensive handbag ever auctioned when an anonymous buyer in Hong Kong spent the equivalent of $300,168 on a single style.”

In 2005, the bag became even more widely-known when Gilmore Girls featured a storyline involving Rory Gilmore’s boyfriend Logan bequeathing her with the precious handbag, only to discover that — gasp! — Rory had no idea what made the bag so special.

Today, Birkin bags can be found on the perfectly toned arms of many female celebrities. It has also become increasingly popular for stylish celebs to subvert the precious bag by customizing it, like Lady Gaga did by basically turning hers into a very expensive sketchpad.

In recent years, there has been some notable tension between Ms. Birkin and Hermès over the production methods that are used to create her namesake bag. PETA revealed in July 2015 that the French label was purchasing crocodile skins from a Texas farming factory employing inhumane practices towards its animals. Ms. Birkin publicly acknowledged the report and asked that her name be disassociated from the handbag. Although Hermès agreed to conduct an investigation in order to help clear its name and make-good with Ms. Birkin, PETA took it one step further by purchasing a single share in the company in order to gain access to its shareholder meetings. A few months later, Hermès announced that everything was “all-good” with Ms. Birkin, as she had been “satisfied by the measures taken by Hermès” to ensure that all skins were obtained ethically.

Aisha Buhari told the Voice of America on Friday that she travelled to the United States to raise funds for starving women and children displaced by the Boko Haram scourge in Nigeria’s North-East. According to her, “Our children in the various camps are in dire situation and the government alone cannot do it, we have to get help.” Mrs. Buhari’s comments have drawn further outrage from many Nigerians who say she should commence her fundraising efforts by selling off her N40 million ($105,000) Hermès Birkin and many other luxury items in her closet that we don’t know anything about.

Worse still, one reason Mrs. Buhari’s N40 million handbag is causing so much controversy is the circumstance under which her husband President Muhammadu Buhari was elected President in March 2015. Prior to the elections, Buhari ran a campaign premised on frugality and a strong anti-corruption stance. Buhari underlined his humble credentials by raising money from ordinary voters with salacious tales about how he was a pastoral farmer who had only 150 cows. He was even said to have borrowed to buy his presidential nomination form on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Recharge cards were even sold to raise money for his campaign. It appears all that story about the poverty of the Buharis has since been buried inside Aisha Buhari’s N40 million Hermès Birkin!

Only on Friday, moments after SIGNAL broke the news of Aisha Buhari’s multi-million naira handbag, the BBC, in contrast, filed a report of Ho Ching, the wife of Singapore’s PM, carrying an $11 blue, dinosaur-printed pouch during a state visit to the White House. Priced at just $11 (£8), the pouch was designed by a Singaporean student at Pathlight, the country’s first autism-focused school. Once it was discovered to have been designed by 19-year-old autistic Singaporean Seetoh Sheng Jie, sales of the pouch jumped.

ALSO READ: Ho Ching: Singapore PM’s wife chooses $11 pouch for state visit

Aisha Buhari first came into the limelight as a woman given to brazen ostentation when she was pictured wearing an expensive-looking watch at her husband’s inauguration in May 2015. The wristwatch, a Cartier Baignoire Folle 18-carat white gold diamond timepiece was estimated to have cost around $50,000 – more than £30,000 or about 17 million Nigerian naira. Report of the development sparked public outrage, making international news headlines.

For those who say a $105,000 handbag is not a big deal for the wife of Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, reports indicate that more than 50 percent of Nigerians live below the international poverty line of $1.25 per day, according to the United Nations.

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