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Bringing Home the Birkin: My Life in Hot Pursuit of the World's Most Coveted Handbag Hardcover – April 22, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In a funny, whip-smart memoir sure to be a sensation among Vogue and W devotees, erstwhile hair and makeup artist Tonello (now a columnist for chronicles a surprising (even to him!) trans-Atlantic move from Provincetown, R.I. to a city he'd fallen in love with on a short trip: Barcelona, where he knows no one and doesn't speak the language. Tonello's initial euphoria dissolves when his new job fails to materialize. To stay afloat, Tonello starts selling items on Ebay with startling results: his first, heart-racing success, a year-old $99 Polo scarf he sold for $430 to a Midwesterner ("I guess he really liked plaid") makes Tonello an instant believer in the resale capabilities of high-end luxury items. Thus his new trade, and his quest for the Birkin, the "it bag" of all time, famous for its impenetrable waiting list ("What do you mean the waiting list is closed? It's a waiting list. So I can't wait?"). After many failed attempts, Tonello plans a weekend drive to Madrid in search of the haute couture holy grail; the result is a both a hilarious raid on fashion's strongholds and a memoir that satisfies like a novel. Fashion die-hards, and many others, will be delighted from beginning to end.
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From Booklist

Lives there a (female) soul so uninformed that heart and head do not flutter at the word Birkin? This luxe handbag, lovingly crafted by the artisans of Hermès, is reportedly sporting at least a two-year waiting list for would-be purchasers until Tonello, eBay reseller and gadabout hair stylist and makeup artist, literally stumbles across a method of Birkin acquisition. In this shopaholic-like memoir, the author begins his across-the-world searches from a humble base in Provincetown, Massachusetts; acquiesces to a Barcelona gig; falls in love with the city and a man; and moves—permanently. With the promise of a real job dissolving in one phone call, Tonello resorts to selling his own considerable wardrobe—and a few first editions—on the Web. Buoyed by success, his focus soon lingers on Hermès scarves—and, eventually, on the prize bag. In search of crocodile treasures, he (and we) meets every character in and out of high-end retail land, from buyers Ellen and Sarah to petty thief Luc and bedecked and bedazzled designer Lakis Gavalas. Chuckleworthy, with a few personal and sorrowful reminders that life simply happens … so enjoy! --Barbara Jacobs

"Under The Same Sky"
See this and more inspirational memoirs.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow (April 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061473332
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061473333
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (134 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #97,591 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

65 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Marcy on April 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book is the equivalent of all those mountain climbing, desert marching, storm sailing adventure books out there, but in this case the sport is shopping. (A sport I like to participate in myself, but my level is junior amateur in comparison.) It is also very similar to chick lit except that in this case instead of the typical spunky, unlucky in love, career, etc waiting for the big break heroine, this hero(ine?) is an openly gay man. who manages to turn a love and a knack for shopping into a business as well as quite a nice life for himself.

The book is subtitled My Life in Hot Pursuit of the World's Most Coveted Handbag. That handbag being the Hermes Birkin. I have heard a few stories of the famous Birkin waitlist and there was even an episode of "Sex and the City" that featured the same. I have only seen a few Birkins in person on the arms of clearly wealthy women, but they are distinct enough to be instantly recognizable. They are the ultimate elite status symbol.

Mr. Tonello's business involved luxurious travel to major European destinations to purchase Birkins from Hermes shops and then re-selling them on E-Bay from his envy-inspiring apartment in Barcelona. His trials and triumphs are amusing and the hotels and dining he describes could serve as a travel guide. The story works because the author never takes himself to seriously or fails to realize what a charmed life he's leading. Mr. Tonello has an amazing positive attitude self described as "Always half-full, that glass, always." Which is from a section describing a stay in a hospital where he was treated for severe anemia.

A family tragedy brings about the eventual end of his Birkin hunting in the way that kind of thing can do by making you take a look at what you're actually spending your time doing.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Jesse Kornbluth TOP 1000 REVIEWER on January 18, 2011
Format: Paperback
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 a bag with pockets, and he sent one to Birkin. Then he named it after her.

And then the fun began.

Everything at Hermès is expensive. Like: a scarf at $725. Or a leather shoulder bag at $6,500. The datebook Jane Birkin used? It now costs $1,025.

The Birkin bag, however, was in another league. Not only was it expensive, you couldn't get one. Why? Oh, because each bag required 48 hours of craftsmanship. You know: "This isn't a bag, it's a work of art."

Demand soon outstripped supply.

Well, not really. But that was the marketing line. And a genius one at that. Create a luxury item so special it doesn't need a logo. Then make it scarce. Very scarce --- at one point, Hermès announced there was a two-year waiting list. Which only made the Birkin more desirable.

It's a venerable truth: Deny the rich what they want, and they'll pay anything to get it.

It was only a matter of time --- and technology --- before Michael Tonello came along.

Our good fortune: Michael Tonello is a delightful writer, and "Bringing Home the Birkin" is one of the most enjoyable books I've read in years.

Tonello's outrageous story as a Birkin buyer --- and reseller, or, as he liked to think of himself, "leather liason" --- began with him living on Cape Cod and jetting off to exotic destinations for fashion shoots "with a can of hairspray and a powder puff." He gets an assignment in Barcelona.
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24 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Dr A VINE VOICE on June 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I casually picked up a copy after seeing a review in WSJ - and could not put the book down. Michael Tonello's taut narrative held my attention from the first page to the last. I am not a 'fashion person' and would not know a Birkin bag from a sow's ear. What gripped me was the story of how one man constructed his life - moving acress the ocean, creating a business, and enjoying life in the process. I have been recommending this book to my friends.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A reader on November 21, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The story itself has a really interesting setup...a glimpse inside of the luxury goods market. However, other reviews are correct - it does become repetitive and, at the end, pointless. I would have preferred more details on the actual business of being a reseller and been spared the author's personal & romantic stories. The author has a ton of personality, but juvenile isn't an unfair word here. I can't respect him as the frat boy persona turns into that of a drug dealer of sorts....from bad to worse. I give him credit for his savvy ways in pulling off a lucrative ride, but again I'm not sure that is something to brag about. I did learn about Hermes, no doubt, but if I could do it again I would skip this book. Not a satisfying read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Gail Cooke HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Many of us probably have an idea of what a dream job would be. How about one that takes you to some of the most beautiful cities in the world where you stay in the finest hotels and dine only at 5-star restaurants? Plus, when you're not in Paris or on Capri you don't even have to go to the office, you simply work at home in your pajamas.

Sound too wonderful to be true? Well, it surely is for most of us but not for Michael Tonello who tells us all about it in the highly amusing, can't-believe-he-really-did-this memoir Bringing Home The Birkin. As the affluent know a Birkin is a handbag made by Hermes with retail prices in five figures and more than difficult to obtain. Evidently the two-year waiting list makes a Birkin even more desirable.

Tonello had already seen a good bit of the world as a beautician
who traveled about prettying up the already pretty for commercial photo shoots. He was happy with his current home but had grown weary of the unfriendly Cape Cod winters. A recent assignment has taken him to Barcelona where he found he loved the people, the food, the sunny clime. When an opportunity to take a job there surprisingly appeared, he packed his designer duds and moved to Spain.

His euphoria was short lived because almost as soon as he had unpacked his job vanished just as quickly as it had appeared. What to do, how to make ends meet and keep wine at table? On an impulse he listed one of his Hermes scarves on eBay and it sold - at a nice price. Further, he was the recipient of emails from those who had lost out on his auction and wanted to know if he had more. Tonello soon realized that these were "serious collectors," and that there might be a great deal of money involved.

As he writes, "I didn't let my ignorance get in the way of my avarice.
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