In 1984, the English actress Jane Birkin hopped on an Air France flight from Paris to London. As she hurried down the aisle, the contents of her handbag spilled to the floor. Luckily, she happened to be sitting next to Jean-Louis Dumas, then the executive chairman of Hermès, and somewhere over the English Channel, the two came up with the design for her now-iconic namesake carryall, which they sketched out together while on board. The Birkin would be bigger than the Kelly, but smaller than the Haut à Courroies, and contain interior pockets for storing belongings, as well as a burnished flap top with the house’s signature saddle stitching and a turn-lock swivel clasp. It became the most coveted of Hermès’s handbags, with yearslong wait lists and limited editions in numerous colorways and skins.
Recently, the house introduced the Birkin 3-in-1, a practical new riff on the original design. In a nod to modern-day needs, it includes a canvas pochette bearing the bag’s classic leather flap that can be removed and carried as an envelope clutch (ideal for stashing a phone, a mask and a few other essentials). When the pouch is attached to the bag — its flap lies across the top and fixes to the gussets, while the Birkin’s handles pass through the clutch’s slits to keep it in place — it looks like a classic Birkin. But when the clutch is taken out, the bag becomes an open, spacious tote, roomy enough to fit a laptop for working on the go and available in a caramel-coloured Barenia Faubourg calfskin or a Togo calfskin in gold, biscuit, black and sapphire. “The Birkin 3-in-1 is constructed as a puzzle,” says Catherine Fulconis, who oversees Hermès’s equestrian and leather goods. “One bag, two elements, three uses: It can be a tote, a pouch or a tote and pouch combined. It becomes everything in one.” A versatile trompe l’oeil, indeed.