US

Hermès has been sued over claims it unlawfully allows only customers with “sufficient purchase history” with the company to buy its famous Birkin bags.

Two residents in California allege Hermès is violating antitrust laws by “tying” the sale of one item to the purchase of another, according to the proposed federal class-action lawsuit filed on Tuesday in San Francisco.

The company’s sales associates are driving the scheme by pushing customers to buy shoes, scarves, jewellery and other items to gain an opportunity to buy a Birkin, the lawsuit said.

‘Only consumers deemed worthy can purchase one’

Consumers cannot purchase a Birkin online from Hermès, and the leather bags – which are handcrafted and can cost thousands of dollars each – are not displayed for sale in the company’s retail stores, according to the lawsuit.

“Typically, only those consumers who are deemed worthy of purchasing a Birkin handbag will be shown a Birkin handbag (in a private room),” the lawsuit claimed.

Hermès sales associates do not earn commissions on Birkin bag sales and are instructed to use the handbags “as a way to coerce consumers to purchase ancillary products”, according to the complaint.

Image:
File pic: Reuters

‘Icon of fashion’

The lawsuit calls the Birkin handbags an “icon of fashion”.

They are named after the singer and actress Jane Birkin, who died in July aged 76.

In 1981, Birkin was reportedly sat next to Hermès chief executive Jean-Louis Dumas on a flight from Paris to London, according to L’Officiel magazine.

Following a conversation between the two about how difficult it was to find a bag that could fulfil Birkin’s needs as a mother-of-two, the Birkin bag was born.

Image:
Jane Birkin with the bag she inspired

Mr Dumas designed the bag on the spot and named it after Birkin when it came into production in 1984, according to reports.

The handbag went on to become a status symbol, with some fetching well over $10,000 (£7,638).

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Image:
File pic: Reuters

The lawsuit said it was seeking class action status for thousands of US consumers who bought Hermès goods or were asked to buy them in order to purchase a Birkin.

Hermès operates about 43 stores in the United States, including eight in California.

The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified monetary damages and a court order barring Hermès’ allegedly anti-competitive practices.

Hermès has been approached for comment.

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