In the 1980s, Actress and singer Jane Birkin agreed to lend her name to the now all too popular and coveted Birkin bag after sharing a flight with the charismatic late head of Hermes , Jean-Louis Dumas. But she has just asked Hermes to remove her name from one of the luxury goods maker’s best-selling bags due to what she called “cruel” crocodile farming and slaughtering practices.
“I have asked Hermes to rename the Birkin Croco until they adopt better practices that meet international standards for the production of this bag,” she said in a statement to the media on Tuesday (28th July).
Birkin said she had signed actor Joaquin Phoenix’s Mercy For Animals petition to “shed exotic skins from your wardrobe” in protest against the “millions of reptiles slaughtered each year and turned into shoes, handbags, belts and other accessories”.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said it had released a video, narrated by Phoenix and which Birkin had seen, showing how live reptiles were skinned or sawed open on farms that supplied luxury brands.
In the video, a PETA investigator documented that workers crudely hacked into the necks of some alligators and tried to scramble their brains with metal rods – all in the name of “luxury”. Some animals were still conscious, flailing and kicking, even minutes after workers tried to kill them.
You may (or may not) watch the video below. But we need to warn that it isn’t for the weak-hearted:
Needless to say, the “disgusting truth” caused an uproar amongst fans of high fashion and Hermes lovers.
PETA US has since filed a complaint with Texas authorities over the apparently illegal acts of cruelty to animals that were caught on video. The animal rights organisation even held a protest outside Hermes’ flagship store in New York because of their use of reptiles to make luxury bags and watches.
In its defense, Hermes said the crocodile skins it sourced from a Texas farm in the above video were not used for Birkin bags and stressed that it did not own that farm. The luxury brand also said that an investigation was being conducted into the farm’s practices and that “any breach of rules will be rectified and sanctioned”.
Hermes said it imposed on its suppliers the highest ethical standards regarding the treatment of crocodiles and for more than a decade, had conducted monthly checks on them to ensure that they were respected.
Upon hearing that Jane Birkin wants her name removed, the company said in a statement:
Hermes respects and shares her (Jane Birkin’s) emotions and was also shocked by the images recently broadcast. Her comments do not in any way influence the friendship and confidence that we have shared for so many years.
The crocodile Birkin and the Kelly bag, named after actress Grace Kelly, are among the most sought-after luxury goods – even though the starting retail price is more than 20,000 euros (US$22,096) – partly because shops routinely run out of them.
Customers can obtain one either by putting their name on a waiting list or by paying hefty fees to specialised buyers who scout for the bags on their behalf.
A fuchsia Hermes crocodile Birkin bag with a diamond-studded clasp and lock set a record as the most expensive handbag ever sold at a Christie’s auction in Hong Kong last month, fetching US$222,000.