Sought after celebrity handbags
First, there’s the Birkin (named for Jane Birkin, British actress and singer) and then there’s the Kelly (coined after Grace Kelly, Hollywood actress turned princess of Monaco). Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before Hermes is stitching up a (Katie) Holmes or (Victoria) Beckham inspired bag.
But, be forewarned, these luscious leather goods are not for the penny pincher think upwards of $10,000.
Cecile Van Rookhuijzen, Hermes craftsman, sheds some light on why Birkins, Kellys and other handcrafted Hermes collections come at such a bountiful toll.
“They are lovely . . . and will last you an eternity,” she says, smiling.
Van Rookhuijzen flew in from France to stop by Calgary’s Hermes Boutique, in Holt Renfrew, last month to demonstrate her work. She is one of about 800 people, trained by Hermes, who craft at the famous design house located in the Paris suburb of Pantin.
First, she coats each thread in a thin layer of beeswax. Then, she carefully hand saddle stitches the pink hued pieces of calf’s leather together, buffs, paints and polishes the edges of the bag’s seams, finally flipping it inside out to make a size 35 Kelly bag.
The intricate process takes the craftsman several days and upwards of 20 hours to complete and she doesn’t touch a sewing machine once through the process.
As Van Rookhuijzen artfully assembles the leather, it becomes apparent why this particular purse will cost more than $8,000 to purchase.
“I do this because I love handbags. I used to be a secretary, but I was annoyed that I wasn’t doing anything with my hands,” she says.
“Everything that is made by hand, well, it’s just better looking you will keep it for life.”
Knock off purses and other fake designer goods have become big (and illegal) business around the globe. Almost anyone can purchase their very own “designer purse” if they’re willing to forgo the real deal for an ideal look.
But for Van Rookuijzen, the idea of carrying around a pseudo Kelly or Birkin bag is not only offensive, it’s completely unfathomable.
“Why would anyone want a fake bag?” she says.
The leathermaker’s intolerance for forgeries becomes understandable when you catch a glimpse of her stitching in action.
Van Rookuijzen trained first at an independent leather college before being accepted to the Hermes school, where she took an additional year of school before earning the title of craftsman.
Today, Van Rookhuijzen is one of the few Hermes craftsman who can work with crocodile leather as well as calf.
“The crocodile is very hard to work with, it’s very fragile and you can accidentally make finger prints on it mulberry bags easily if you’re not careful,” she says.
“But mulberry bags I love it. When I can work on these types of bags I am very happy. I love arts, crafts and lovely things.”
It’s an ethos shared by the Parisian company, which is steeped in tradition.
Established in 1837, Hermes began life as a family owned horse and carriage accessory and saddle making workshop. It has since grown into a high end fashion house famous as much for silk scarves, horse saddles, and luxury accessories as they are for the beautiful Birkin.
While mulberry bags the Hermes family still controls 70 per cent of the shares, the once small family business has grown into a fashion empire.