Bringing Home the Birkin
By Miranda McCrea
The secret has been revealed: millions of wealthy women across the world have been dying to figure out how to purchase the Birkin bag. Made by the French designer Hermès, this coveted handbag could be yours, too, that is, if you want to be on a two-year wait list and pay between $8,000 and $150,000. Michael Tonello, bestselling author and co-owner of TEAM, an innovative styling company located in Boston, Massachusetts, revealed in his memoir Bringing Home the Birkin that acquiring one of these handbags isn’t all that hard. “It’s kind of funny because it’s such an iconic bag, yet none of the general public has seen it in person,” said Tonello. The Birkin is made of an eclectic array of hides, such as calf leather, ostrich, lizard, and crocodile, in a large selection of colors and sizes and with various hardware fixtures. It can be purchased by using a simple formula. Tonello selects at least $1,000 in merchandise before asking if the sales associates have the handbag in stock.
“Just as there are people who collect stamps, or collect coins, or collect salt and pepper shakers...there are rich people that collect Birkins. And there are a lot of very rich people in the world...When [women] go out on Saturday and they buy themselves a new dress, and a new pair of shoes to go with it, they want a new Birkin bag to match …and they have the money to do it. But they can’t get the bag at Hermès. If they had known to buy their dress and shoes at Hermès, then they would have gotten a Birkin bag,” said Tonello.
Tonello moved to Barcelona, Spain, from Provincetown, Massachusetts, in the hopes of creating a more satisfying life for himself. “I think that I moved to Barcelona without honestly knowing it at the time, but I think that I was subconsciously chasing a dream or looking for some sort of fulfillment…There was a void in my life…I think that as much as I enjoyed doing hair and makeup [at TEAM], it didn’t satisfy me…and I think that [Barcelona] offered me that new beginning.”
After moving into his new apartment with no work visa or any plans for securing a job, Tonello needed to think fast. He spotted an orange scarf in his closet, made by Hermès, and decided maybe it was time to start selling some of his prized possessions to make money fast. After selling his first item on EBay, Tonello began his lifestyle as a reseller of Hermès merchandise. He tried endlessly to purchase a Birkin, but it wasn’t until one day he realized he was going about it all wrong. Only by first adding up $1,000 in scarves, notebooks, and shawls could Tonello ask if the store had a Birkin in stock.
“One night I was on the phone with my mom and it dawned on me…Maybe they only sell these bags [to people] who spend tons of money in the store and then ask for the bag,” said Tonello. The next morning he went into Hermès, and when the salesperson came back with a big orange box, “it was right then and there that I knew that that was a secret formula. Because it had happened to me two times in a few days.”
Tonello traveled in Europe to every Hermès store, raiding their drawers of last season’s scarves, notebooks, shawls, and other miscellaneous items to fulfill the wish lists of desperate wealthy women across the world. His mother and father lived in Florida, so when Tonello traveled, his parents became his shipping center. After his mother’s passing, he started to think about the next phase of his life. “I finally thought one day on a flight…I would start writing down all the crazy, weird little things that happened to me in the process of doing this Birkin thing. And when I got off the plane I had like forty pieces of scrap paper…A few weeks later I started reading the notes and I thought, there really is a book here,” said Tonello.
Tonello completely stopped selling Birkins when the book published, and then he went on a book tour. The book was number three on the Boston Globe Bestseller List. “I’m at the point where I’m thinking about the next step, and I’ve been approached by some producers that are interested in trying to make the book into a movie or a TV series…and I’m also thinking about writing another book,” said Tonello.
Tonello is currently spending his days doing press interviews for Bringing Home the Birkin, thinking about writing a second book on his journey to Barcelona, and devoting his time to his partner Juan, their two cats, and their friends and family in Barcelona and Provincetown.