Since 1984, various incarnations of the handbag bearing her name have broken world records selling at auction for hundreds of thousands of pounds, and graced the arms of too many of the rich and famous to list.
But actress and singer Jane Birkin is now seeking to disassociate herself from the iconic Hermès Birkin, requesting the brand rename the style following concerns about the provenance of crocodile skin.
In a statement released this week, she said: "Having been alerted to the cruel practices reserved for crocodiles during their slaughter to make Hermès handbags carrying my name [...] I have asked Hermès to debaptise the Birkin Croco until better practices in line with international norms can be put in place". It is unclear whether the request extends to the versions of the bag made from other materials, such as calf skin.
Animal rights group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) recently published a video on the exotic skins trade shot undercover on crocodile farms in Texas and Zimbabwe that appears to show crocodiles mistreated and killed inhumanely, and farm staff claiming to supply Hermès. PETA alleges it takes two or three crocodiles to make one of the bags.
The bag was created for Jane after a chance meeting with the French manufacturer's chief executive Jean-Louis Dumas on a plane in 1981 led to her sketching her ideal design on the back of a sick bag, and it was released three years later.
Jane, 68, recalled in a 2012 interview, "Everything fell out of whatever bag I had, the man next to me said: 'You should have one with pockets'. I said: 'The day Hermès make one with pockets I will have that', and he said: 'But I am Hermès and I will put pockets in for you' [...] And I think I drew it on the sickbag - or the not-be-sick bag. And he said, 'I'll make it for you'."
The bags have become exclusive status symbols thanks to unpredictable releases and small quantities, and can cost up to £100,000 retail (though certain editions have gone for twice that at auction). The most expensive tend to be made from crocodile skin.
PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk said in a statement that the group "thanks Ms Birkin for ending her association with Hermès", adding, "We call on Hermès to stop plundering wildlife, factory-farming crocodiles and alligators and slaughtering them for their skins.
“Once, Birkin bags marked people as celebrities or at least members of the super-rich, but soon, no one will want to be caught dead carrying one, and animal advocates will then breathe a sigh of relief".
An Hermès statement meanwhile denied that the crocodile skins shown in the video were used for Birkin bags. A spokesperson told People: "Jane Birkin has expressed her concerns regarding practices for slaughtering crocodiles. Her comments do not in any way influence the friendship and confidence that we have shared for many years. Hermès respects and shares her emotions and was also shocked by the images recently broadcast.
“An investigation is underway at the Texas farm which was implicated in the video. Any breach of rules will be rectified and sanctioned. Hermès specifies that this farm does not belong to them and that the crocodile skins supplied are not used for the fabrication of Birkin bags.”
Images: Rex Features