Around 30 years ago, French fashion house Hermès debuted the Birkin handbag, and now, it's one of the most iconic status symbols in history.
Named after its muse, model Jane Birkin, the handbag itself isn't extraordinary in any one way.
Rather, it is its effortlessness that draws the attention of fashion's elite: It's roomy but not too big; simple but not boringly so; and well-constructed yet still feminine.
The Birkin became the It Bag, and its desirability is only boosted by its outlandish six-figure price tag and exclusive years-long waiting lists. To own one is to make it.
But that might all be changing, thanks, in no small part, to PETA.
Recently, the animal-rights organization released a video documenting the horrific abuse inflicted on the crocodiles and alligators used to make the bags at one Texas farm.
The video report spawned an official investigation into Hermès practices, and it drew the attention of none other than Jane Birkin herself. Suffice it to say, she was not pleased.
In a statement released by PETA, Birkin implored Hermès to remove her name from the iconic bag until the company drastically improves its animal treatment practices.
Having been alerted to the cruel practices endured by crocodiles during their slaughter for the production of Hermès bags carrying my name…. I have asked Hermès Group to rename the Birkin until better practices responding to international norms can be implemented for the production of this bag.
The French fashion house has yet to rename the bag as asked, however, it did release a statement addressing PETA's very valid concerns.
The statement said,
Jane Birkin has expressed her concerns regarding practices for slaughtering crocodiles. Her comments do not in any way influence the friendship and confidence that we have shared for many years. Hermès respects and shares her emotions and was also shocked by the images recently broadcast. An investigation is underway at the Texas farm which was implicated in the video. Any breach of rules will be rectified and sanctioned. Hermès specifies that this farm does not belong to them and that the crocodile skins supplied are not used for the fabrication of Birkin bags. Hermès imposes on its partners the highest standards in the ethical treatment of crocodiles. For more than 10 years, we have organized monthly visits to our suppliers. We control their practices and their conformity with slaughter standards established by veterinary experts and by the Fish and Wildlife (a federal American organization for the protection of nature) and with the rules established under the aegis of the U.N.O., by the Washington Convention of 1973 which defines the protection of endangered species.
While that's all well and good, I can't help but feel both parties are missing the point. Crocodiles are endangered. No matter how kindly people treat them, slaughter is still slaughter.
Banning animal skins entirely, however, is not likely to happen in the near future. So for now, I just hope Hermès makes good on its vow to establish better practices among its suppliers.