Gift Idea for the Fashionista

51rNhd2ClgLBringing Home the Birkin

by Michael Tonello

My Life in Hot Pursuit of the World’s Most Coveted Handbag


In the words of Monty Python …

and now for something completely different. 

If you could see me right now in ratty jeans and a favorite soft sweatshirt found at Goodwill, you’d seriously question why I would read, let alone recommend, this book.

And you’d be right, I could care less about designer clothing labels or bling from Tiffany’s — but I do have a weakness for a good bag.  (There was an incident at a Coach factory store in New Hampshire [no sales tax], where mid purchase, my credit card company shut me down thinking my card was in the hands of a thief on a spending spree — but the incident was all sorted out and we shall speak no further of it.)

75430039 Back it in the 90’s, Hermès was known for their coveted Birkin handbags – and the infamous five year waiting list to obtain one of the bags. This urban myth was perpetuated through the cultural icons of the time such as a Sex and the City episode and Victoria Beckham’s astonishing pink Birkin. They were (and still are – just checked eBay – yikes) the ultimate elite status symbol.

At a starting price of $8,000, a Birkin is well beyond my means or my conscious.  But still, a girl can dream right?

That’s why I stopped short when I came across Bringing Home the Birkin. I found myself turning the pages, warily thinking — this is not the book for me, I’ll just read a little bit…and before I knew it, I was enthralled by this frothy, engaging and funny tale.

Michael Tonello moves from Cape Cod to Barcelona, Spain, but once there the job he has lined up, falls through.  Having fallen for both Barcelona and a new man, Mr. Tonello turns in desperation to his favorite pastime — shopping, which leads him into Hermès stores where he buys scarves to resell (at a very good profit) on e-Bay. When one of his scarf buyers asks him to obtain a Birkin, (at any price) he takes on the challenge.

This proves to be a formidable task as Hermès made sure the Birkin bag remained ultra exclusive, by instituting a waiting list with high-profile customers, limiting the number of Birkins sold to each customer and  putting a “reserved” sign on display bags.

Mr. Tonello riffs on the likelihood of the “reserved” ploy with this passage:

I could only imagine the conversation:  “Oh yeah, the croc Birkin, right, great.  But I only have half the money now,  — repairs on the yacht this week you know how it is…don’t sell it, just put in the window, pop a reserved sign on it or something.  I’ll send the chauffeur by with the other half by next Sunday at the latest — Great great.  You guys are the best…”

Hermès‘ strategy worked and customers fell for it–blinded by the rarity and social status. Mr. Tonello knew this human failing only too well and he finds it fairly easily to obtain numerous bags, but only after he develops a buying formula, a special outfit (!) and profiles of typical Hermès sales personnel in order to befriend them (one of the funniest sections of the book are these employee “profiles” – and their accompanying illustrations).  He journeys to Luxembourg, Capri, Santiago, Paris –all in search of Birkins, which he sells at a tidy profit to his shamefully rich clients.

Just when this tale of over the top consumerism is almost getting to be too much, a family tragedy causes Mr. Tonello to examine his conscious.  He reflects on what is actually important in life and discovers he can no longer deal with “people who lacked for nothing, but who longed for more”. 

With that said, Bringing Home the Birkin is not high moral reading.  This is a guilty pleasure — a fun peek into the world of high fashion, high stakes shopping and the extraordinarily rich.  But it also shines with beautiful locations, great hotels, top restaurants — and most of all the fascinating, funny and outrageous Michael Tonnello.


Why is it called a Birken?  Well the story goes that Jane Birkin was flying from London to Paris in 1981 when she reached into her bag for her datebook and everything fell out. “I’d love a bag with pockets,” the English singer/actress told her seatmate.  Her seatmate just happened to the chairman of Hermès. He was a good listener. He had his designers make not only a bag with pockets, but also a spill-proof closure. He sent one to Birkin and then he named it after her.

red croc birkin




Three Things you Need to Know About Rockets by Jessica A. Fox

indexJessica Fox was living in Hollywood, an ambitious 26-year-old film-maker with a high-stress job at NASA. Working late one night, craving another life, she was seized by a moment of inspiration and tapped “second hand bookshop Scotland” into Google. She clicked the first link she saw.

A month later, she arrived 2,000 miles across the Atlantic in Wigtown, on the west coast of Scotland, and knocked on the door of the bookshop she would be living in for the next month .

This book had me from the above back cover copy.  Could it be because it takes place in a bookstore or because I spent time in Scotland during college and still have a soft spot for its enchantment or a certain young Scotsman?  Nonetheless, this memoir is a fun, escapist read…and you’ve got to admire a writer who dares bring such a title to a publisher.

It takes awhile for the story to take off (i.e. going to Scotland), but the background of L.A., NASA, and film writing was interesting.  Her melt-down and eventual lay off were nicely developed.  But I was finally glued to the book once Jessica is actually in Scotland, working at the bookstore and experiencing much of what I did – deciphering the accents, dealing with “American” stereotypical reactions, experiencing the gorgeous countryside and getting to know and understand  the  hard to get to know and understand people.

Jessica’s voice starts out a bit youngish —  after all she is in her twenties, but at times she seemed adolescent in her actions and thoughts.  Her boyfriend Euan is a whiny, wimpy – dare I say – nutso boyfriend, whom I would have dumped,  fast. But Jessica forges ahead with trying to make the relationship work – despite his passive-aggressive behavior.  I found myself rooting for her while also secretly hoping she tells him off and slams the door behind her.  It’s a slow delight, to watch her mature during her time in Scotland, her reactions to things, her voice, her moods all grow and enlarge as the book progresses.  That’s a real challenge in memoir writing —  to realistically reflect one’s own voice expanding and growing.

I underlined some great sentences:  ” Grant’s house was something he was constantly working at but never quite completing — like Sisyphus attempting DIY”; “You’re so American, always wanting to talk about feelings”;  “(Outings) reminded me of childhood where outings, no matter where or with whom, were filled with possibility and opportunity for excitement.”.

A small joy — each chapter starts with a quote from a book and its location in the Wigtown bookstore – (aptly named “The Bookshop”).

In the end nothing is totally resolved – except she is staying in Scotland.  An enjoyable memoir whose storyline interested me on many levels – her NASA career, adapting to Scotland, the used bookstore, the town, and of course the story of her relationships with not only her crazy boyfriend, but also the quiet and hard-working locals.   I also enjoyed the very realistic glimpse into rural Scotland and the used book business in Wigtown.