When World No. 3 tennis star Caroline Wozniacki strolled into the Auckland Airport arrivals hall this morning in casual tights and jumper, she was carrying over her arm the most recognisable symbol of status and success: the Birkin bag.
The Birkin bag is a tote by luxury brand Hermès handmade in leather and named after actress and singer Jane Birkin, currently in fashion as a symbol of wealth, due to its high price and use by celebrities.
Prices range from $15,500 to $450,000, depending on the size, type of leather and if exotic skins are used – and also because they are available on unpredictable schedules and in small quantities.
The bags are handmade in France using the company's signature saddle stitching, developed in the 1800s.
The most expensive are made from small-scaled saltwater crocodile skins – but Birkin, who was famous for her risqué 1960s love song "Je t'aime … moi non plus", asked Hermès to take her name off them for ethical reasons.
Because of the strong demand, the Birkin bag has a high resale value in many countries, especially in Asia, to the extent that some use it as an investment.
A 2016 study found that Birkin bags had average annual returns of 14.2% between 1980 and 2015 – significantly beating the S&P 500 Index on the US stock exchange.