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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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow (April 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061473332
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061473333
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (121 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #322,408 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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

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Customer Reviews

This book was witty and fun to read because Tonello writes from his heart.
`Bringing Home the Birkin' by Michael Tonello is a delightful story about his adventures traveling to the swankest places in the world in search of Hermes treasure.
Catherine Healey
He's no artiste when it comes to writing style, but the story has good pacing, amusing anecdotes, and the always necessary side love interest.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

62 of 67 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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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Jesse Kornbluth TOP 500 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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26 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Karen on July 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I purchased this book following a glowing recommendation in the New York Times summer reading section. While I was looking forward to the read, I found myself slogging through a weak travelogue. Be prepared, much of the book reads like "went to Paris, encountered rude sales people at Hermes, bought 3 scarves, had a good meal, drank great wine". Repeat this around 25 times, and it gets old very quickly. If you found this book on a discount table, pick it up, but do not pay full prices-it is just not worth it.
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18 of 25 people found the following review helpful By movieaholic44 on September 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover
While reading reviews for this book, one thing you rarely see is the mention that it's also a scathing expose of Hermes' business practices. I also don't think their customers, and in particular those that pay ridiculous secondary-market prices, come off all that well. I'm sure that wasn't the primary intent of the author, but it is silly to pursue a status symbol to the point where you're willing to pay many thousands of Dollars over the regular price just to get a handbag.

What do you get for those thousands? The most well-known symbol for women to say "I've arrived" that's at least marketed by a major luxury firm. It has to be universally recognized, right? It reminds me of teens that say how individual they want to be, but they're really dressing like all of their friends. If everyone wants the same bag, and some women have dozens, does it really retain it's "status" or purported rarity? Doesn't the sheer number of bags that some collectors own prove the fact that they're not rare but rather marketed efficiently?

Hermes, of course, isn't alone in marketing this way, but they must be extremely irritated to have their secrets exposed so easily.
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