Bringing Home the Birkin: My Life in Hot Pursuit of the World's Most Coveted Handbag

Bringing Home the Birkin: My Life in Hot Pursuit of the World's Most Coveted Handbag

by Michael Tonello

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An insider's hilarious, whirlwind account of his years spent globe-trotting in search of the holy grail of handbags: the Birkin

For more than twenty years, the Hermès Birkin bag has been the iconic symbol of fashion, luxury, and wealth. Though the bag is often seen dangling from the arms of celebrities, there is a fabled waiting list of more than two years to buy one from Hermès, and the average fashionista has a better chance of climbing Mount Everest in Prada pumps than of possessing one of these coveted carryalls. Unless, of course, she happens to know Michael Tonello . . .

Michael's newfound career started with an impulsive move to Barcelona, a vanished job assignment, no work visa, and an Hermès scarf sold on eBay to generate some quick cash. But soon the resourceful Michael discovered the truth about the waiting list and figured out the secret to getting Hermès to part with one of these precious bags. Millions of dollars worth of Birkins later, Michael had become one of eBay's most successful entrepreneurs—and a Robin Hood to thousands of desperate rich women.

With down-to-earth wit, Michael chronicles the unusual ventures that took him to nearly every continent, from eBay to Paris auction house and into the lives of celebrities and poseurs. Flirting with danger, Michael recounts the heady rush of hand delivering his first big score to famed songwriter Carole Bayer Sager in Paris; how he had to hire thugs to rescue a bag that one of his "shoppers" held for ransom; and the story of the Oscar-worthy performances that allowed him to snag "reserved" bags from other, less dogged Birkin seekers.

Whether he's relating his wining and dining, buying and selling, dodging and weaving, laughing and crying, or schmoozing and stammering, Michael is a master raconteur who weaves together tales of hunting Birkins in the world's most posh locales, memories of meals that would make any gastronome salivate, anecdotes of obsessed collectors with insatiable desires, and sweetly intimate stories about his family, friends, and finding true love. The result is a memoir that is distinctive, fun, page-turning, and as addictive as its namesake.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061734212
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/08/2008
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 272
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Originally from Massachusetts, Michael Tonello traveled the world as a makeup artist and hairdresser before resettling in Spain to become an eBay luxury reseller of all things Hermès. He resides in Barcelona with his partner, Juan.

Read an Excerpt

Bringing Home the Birkin

Chapter One

Barcelona on the Brain

I've always thought the use of a ringing phone to symbolize the onset of great personal change was a cheap plot device, and a gross oversimplification of the various factors that inspire human metamorphosis. However, now I know better: sometimes you really can trace it all back to a phone call.

In my particular case, that life-changing phone call came early one wintry Cape Cod day—early enough that my roommate, Kate, and I were still cheerfully ensconced in our morning routine of Peet's coffee, PJs, and Rosie O'Donnell. Neither the caller nor the subject matter was by any means unusual—it was the Boston-based agency that represented me, giving me my newest assignment. A weeklong hair and makeup job for IBM in Barcelona, it had the allure of an escape from the drab and drear of mid-March Provincetown. The call certainly felt routine at the time, but we don't always know our Rubicon when it rings . . .

At least workwise, things weren't so shabby. I had a career that people who didn't know better might consider glamorous. As a beautician who specialized in commercial photography, I had spent most of the last decade trigger-happy with a can of hairspray and a powder puff. And somehow, along my merry way, I had also cofounded a company. Named Team, it was an agency that represented artists who worked, in one capacity or another, in the photography and advertising industries. The concept was both convenience and strength in numbers. Normally, an advertising exec needed to make about half a dozen phone calls to pull together a photo shoot. What mycompany did was turn those six calls into one. Makeup artists, hairstylists, wardrobe stylists, location scouts, production managers, food stylists—we had it all under one roof. But good as it had been to me, my initial euphoria at being part of the fashion industry I had always worshipped as spectator was starting to wane. I had learned that celebrities were just people with name recognition, and photo shoots were as tedious as board meetings, once you had been to hundreds of them. Ten years of crafting updos and vanquishing shiny noses had driven me to uncharacteristic self-analysis. Was this really how I wanted to spend the rest of my life? Maybe not, but for now I knew one thing: I was going to Spain.

I loved traveling for work, eagerly snapping up what the industry called "go-away jobs." Nomadic by nature, I took the adage "home is where the heart is" literally—a hotel room morphed into home as long as I was in it (with the added bonuses of crisp sheets, fresh towels, and chocolates on my pillow). But lately I found myself becoming more jaded by my globe-trotting. Not because of the silly things you always heard those bridge-club biddies bemoaning in the airport—it wasn't lost luggage or the lack of a proper bagel that had me down. I didn't mind the calculus of currency conversion or the etymology of exotic entrées. No, it wasn't the inconvenience inherent to travel that was burning me out. It was boredom. I had increasingly noticed a sinister sameness about each of these foreign cities. Before my very eyes, every place was turning into every place else. I fervently hoped that Barcelona would prove to be the exception.

I sighed with disappointment and slumped against the hot vinyl seat of the taxi. Other than the flamenco music on the radio and the blinding glare of the Catalan sun, so far Barcelona felt about as foreign to me as Boston. Tacky billboards advertising electronics and cheap hotels flashed by my window at an alarming rate. Was there any place left in the world that didn't look like one giant strip mall? Maybe it was time for me to settle down. Maybe I needed the white picket fence and the Weber grill after all.

A mere five minutes later, my cynicism forgotten, I was as mesmerized by the view as a midwesterner crossing the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan. I didn't know which way to look. To my left loomed the impressive bulk of the 1992 Olympic Stadium, capped off by a towering white spire that was an unlikely mating of futuristic space station and computer-generated sculpture. To my right, the Mediterranean. I was dazzled not only by the turquoise shimmer of the sea but by the hundreds of boats lining the docks. Luxury cruise ships, privately owned yachts, behemoth tankers, modest sailboats—somehow, seeing one of the world's biggest ports was far more impressive than reading about it in Fodor's. Suddenly, I was as excited as a little kid on his first field trip.

But it wasn't until we left the highway and entered the city's perimeter that I truly fell under its spell. None of my extensive jet-setting had prepared me for Barcelona's unique urban landscape—palm trees edged the narrow streets, ornate buildings leaned companionably against each other, and laundry adorned nearly every balcony. The architecture spanned centuries of design—gothic intermingled with modernist, contemporary coalesced with classic. It could have been jarring to the senses, but as I would later learn, Barcelona had a way of turning the incongruous into the harmonious. It looked like the European city I had always dreamed of but, of late, had despaired of ever finding. I was captivated.

My eight-hour days of grooming models and painting faces put a dent in what little time I had to prowl the city. However, even with the constraints of the IBM gig cutting into my tourist time, I still sampled enough of the Barcelona lifestyle to grow ever more enamored. My first instincts about the city's physical charm had been wrong—it was far more spectacular than I originally supposed. With a population of nearly two million spread out over sixty square miles, Barcelona is segmented into dozens of neighborhoods, each possessed of its own particular charm. I was hard-pressed to find an undesirable location; the place was a real estate agent's wet dream.

Bringing Home the Birkin. Copyright © by Michael Tonello. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

Prologue 1

1 Barcelona on the Brain 3

2 The Spanish Indecision 8

3 Vespas and Vespers 14

4 Warding Off Trouble 19

5 Career Chop Suey 24

6 Horseshoes and Handkerchiefs 28

7 Silk Serendipity 33

8 Le Monde d'Wish Lists 38

9 The Pyrenees Passing 42

10 Living It Up Between the Birkin and Barcelona ("Michael's Theme") 47

11 Birkin Bankruptcy 55

12 Orange You Glad You Asked? 60

13 The Formula 67

14 Smoke and Mirrors 71

15 Road Trip Redux 74

16 How Do I Buy These? ... Let me Count the Ways... 79

17 Knight in Shining Croc 88

18 Ping-Pong I'll Play, but Purse Penelope? No Way! 99

19 Parisian Purse Pipeline 108

20 Devilish Prada Pants and Heavenly Cuisine 114

21 Chilean Charades and Buenos Birkins 123

22 Blueberries and BlackBerries 130

23 A Roster of Reservations 137

24 A Yen for Hermès 151

25 Shop 'Til You Drop 158

26 Capricious Life 163

27 The Italian Way 172

28 In Hermès We Trust, Aston We Shall Receive 178

29 Creamsicles and Moonstones 190

30 There's More Than One Way to Skin a Crocodile 199

31 Hermès, We Have a Hostage Situation 204

32 Mr. Sherlock Hermès 213

33 Fellini Film Noir 222

34 Found Money, Hidden Grace 233

35 A Birkin for Mom 242

Epilogue 255

Glossary of Hermès Terms 259

Acknowledgments 262

What People are Saying About This

Tim Gunn

“Part comedy, part history, part treasure hunt, Michael Tonello’s memoir is a romping sociological inquiry. If you’re like me, you’ll be transfixed and wanting more!”

Arianna Huffington

“The one-step, one-stop shop guide to buying a Birkin.”

Jennifer Weiner

“I devoured, and adored Bringing Home the Birkin, the story of how one man turned the fashionable set’s obsession with Hermès’ signature handbag into a handsome, globe-trotting career.”

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Bringing Home the Birkin: My Life in Hot Pursuit of the World's Most Coveted Handbag 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 65 reviews.
KECKC More than 1 year ago
This was a great story, a great read!!! I didn't want to put it down. Very funny and witty! I highly recommend this book!
LegalBeagle More than 1 year ago
Michael Tonello has a rare and special talent: he is able to saunter into a store, throw down the American Express, and buy a purse! Not impressed? This is a purse that even singer/songwriter Carole Bayer Sager, a Tonello customer, cannot purchase from the retailer. This is the purse that until recently had a two year waiting-to-buy list and was the subject of a Sex and the City episode. In short, this purse is not just any carryall, but the super exclusive and ultra expensive Hèmes Birkin. In Bringing Home the Birkin, Tonello finds himself living in Barcelona without a job or a work permit, and a five year apartment lease to pay. Tonello is an entrepreneurial spirit who hocks his designer duds on ebay for spending money. During one auction, Tonello strikes gold when his Hèrmes scarf is the subject of a fierce bidding war. After the auction several frustrated bidders contact him for more Hèrmes. Tonello purchases several dozen Hèrmes scarves and soon acquires powerseller status on ebay. Thereafter the author is introduced to the holy grail of the House of Hèrmes: the Birkin, the coveted and scarce handbag for the rich and famous. Soon the intrepid Tonello cracks "the code" to purchasing a Birkin and profits handsomely. Tonello's Birkin jaunts require him to traverse far and wide across Europe and Latin America, slumbering in 5 star hotels and dining at Zagat rated restaurants, in hot pursuit of fresh Birkins. He details the stories of his conquests with wit and sarcasm: If there was a secret Birkin bunker anywhere, this was the store. It was enormous, an imposing limestone building. (I had tried to figure out which floors held what while lurking inconspicuously on the sidewalk on my last trip, feeling like a fifteen-year-old casing a theater that showed X-rated movies. I knew not all the floors were devoted to merchandise (and I assumed there was at least one floor devoted to housing the Oompa-Loompas). Well, I'd soon find out . . . . In Bringing Home the Birkin Tonello dishes up plenty of snark and sass for the perfect summer read! Review based on borrowed library copy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author doesn't even like the Birkin, but is able to get several of them. His trials and tribulations about attaining the world's most coveted handbag are funny and heartwarming. On the way, he finds love and happiness and discovers that he doesn't need the fashion. Fun read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was so true describing the Hermes in store experience!!!! A very funny, fast and easy reading. I couln't put the book down. After reading about the author's move to Barcelona..... It makes me want to go there on my next vacation!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book!! It was light and funny. Some of the language may not be suitable for ALL readers, but I really enjoyed this book. It is amazing what people will do for a handbag.
MinnesotaReader More than 1 year ago
Michael Tonello has brilliantly written a captivating memoir/travelogue chronicling his thrilling adventures as a Hermes reseller. After moving to Barcelona, his promised job falls through. To pay the bills, he begins selling his possessions on ebay. He soon realizes the luxury brand Hermes, especially the coveted Birkin handbag, evokes a flurry of extremely wealthy buyers. By feigning a 2 year waiting list, the Birkin has built a renowned mystique. After discovering "the formula", he is able to easily obtain numerous Birkin bags at Hermes stores all around the world. He makes a nice profit on each bag sold to his rich clients. Mr. Tonello is a gifted storyteller with an engaging and spirited writing style. His sparkling wit made this book very laugh-out-loud funny. As I read, his rich, vivid descriptions allowed me to experience the luxury, food and sights of glamorous places I can only dream about. I'm reminded of the cliché, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade". When his expected job fell through, rather than admit defeat, he instead chose to improvise a plan B. That is truly inspirational. His story also encourages me to take chances in life. I truly loved this very entertaining, fascinating book and I highly recommend it!
KathyB1230 More than 1 year ago
This is a fun lighthearted and very entertaining book. I'd seen the title many times and passed it over thinking " who wants to read about all of the trouble you go to to get a Birkin." I am so glad that I decided to read it. It is light reading yet interesting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Who would have thought buying and selling purses on ebay could be so much fun, or at least that is the impression one walks away with. Bravo, a fun and interesting read.
AMS79 More than 1 year ago
Omigosh, I absolutely LOVED this book!  I could not put it down, for real! his sense of humor, perspective and the storyline.  
reader72 More than 1 year ago
I remember hearing about the book when it first came out, and finally had a chance to read it. The author takes you on an adventure across Spain, France, Italy, Greece, and South America as he hunts down and captures the elusive Hermes Birkin bag. While the story itself is quite entertaining, Tonello probably makes a better E-bay seller than author. His writing is amateurish - where was his editor on this one? Lots of cliché's. Lots of unnecessary "filler" material - I think you get recipes for every meal he ever ate - none of which has anything to do with the story at hand. But then again, you're not reading this book as great literature - you're reading it to be entertained and to learn how he was able to stumble on his chosen, albeit short-lived, career. And using just those 2 measures, it's a success.
MANOLOLVRNJ More than 1 year ago
I found this book quite entertaining hearing of the adventures for these highly coveted bags. It was a very easy read and was able to read it in one night ... I just could not put it down.

Its amazing to think that Hermes could create such a fervor for a simple handbag and the lengths people will go to get one! I will be trying out Michael's formula coming up soon! Wish me luck!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I randomly picked this book up in the non-fiction section (the cover caught my eye) and was pleasantly surprised at what a fun read this was. Tonello is very witty and entertaining. Reading this book felt like you were sitting there with him over cocktails while he told you his tales of globetrotting and wining/dining. The only thing I'd say is I would have like to seen an epilogue or something of that nature that gives you an update on what he is doing now. Highly recommend this book!
GailCooke More than 1 year ago
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. I intimated that this was only the tip of the iceberg. Well, I've always been a strong believer in the power of positive thinking - I really wanted it to be the tip of the iceberg."
For Tonello wanting made it so. It wasn't a great leap from scurrying around, finding and buying older patterns of Hermes scarves for his burgeoning list of clients to buying and reselling (at a healthy profit) the extravagantly priced, impossible to get Birkins. How could he possibly climb to the top of the daunting two-year waiting list? Where would he find the funds to purchase these more than pricey handbags?
He is one dauntless, determined fellow and his story is a carousel of chuckles, costly cuisine, and luxurious lodgings. Michael Tonello really brought home the Birkins and lives to tell his fascinating story while still enjoying Spain where, as he puts it "excuses to celebrate include getting out of bed in the morning and the ability to breathe for long periods of time."
This reader doesn't need an excuse to celebrate the refreshing honesty, wiles, and wit found in this memoir .

- Gail Cooke
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a lover of handbags and know all about the Birkin bags. This book was highly entertaining and made my laugh. I just imaged myself going along on the buying trips with him.
abycats on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After moving from Provincetown to Barcelona, Mr. Tonello made a successful living by serving as intermediary between the makers of overpriced status goods and people desperately eager to buy those items. He does a good job describing his successful techniques. The book may fascinate or amuse those hoping to cut him out as middleman but is a bit too cute for me. A middling read.
Cyberlibrariannyc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the funniest, most entertaining books I've read in a while. I just loved it.
jonesjohnson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As one who has been on those wretched waiting lists, this book flew off the shelf into my arms. Ever wondered about the authenticity of those Createurs de Luxe bags? Ever thought Hermes sales staff had a type? All my questions were answered and I thoroughly enjoyed the lesson. Tonello is the sort of author you want to invite over for drinks, then make him promise not to talk about Birkins. Yes, the bags are pretty. But you can tell he is more interesting than that- and fortunately, in the end, we all get over those waiting lists. We stop waiting. Period. A fast and witty read, and a great book.
cotto on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Can't imagine anyone not having fun reading this book or not reading most of it in one sitting. The Birkin bag...for anyone with some clue about fashion, is the known Holy Grail of many fashionistas. Notoriously hard to obtain but even harder to afford. I mean $20k+ for a croc Birkin. Come on. Tonello demystifies the whole Birkin quest but it's not really a strategy that your average woman can use to snag her own Birkin, unfortunately. You still need a bit of dosh to start off with which is what he has. Wonder if his strategy still works? He was found out by Hermes by the end of the book, though. It's a crazy journey that he has had as an eBay reseller. A welcomed bit of frivolity in the days of the credit crunch.
Lenaphoenix on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Michael Tonello never planned to start a business selling Hermès on eBay; he stumbled into it when he began offloading his own designer duds to raise cash after he found himself jobless in Barcelona. This memoir about how his personal closet-cleaning lead to a lucrative career procuring and reselling Hermès' elusive Birkin bag is a highly entertaining, funny, and unexpectedly exciting read. Though the book got off to something of a slow start for me, by the time he got to writing about sticker shock on his first visit to Hermès (on comparing a $4,770 leather jacket to his own "investment quality" Prada, he writes "¿what more could this one do? Take out my f*ing trash for me? Shine my shoes? Maybe it doubled as a parachute¿") Tonello had my attention and wouldn't let it go. Anybody who has ever gotten caught up in the thrill of an eBay auction will easily relate to Tonello's growing excitement as he discovers American Hermès collectors will pay big mark-ups for merchandise he can easily access from his new European location. He has a nice little business hunting down back stock scarves for his wish-list customers when he gets his first request for a Birkin, the ultimate designer handbag that has a waiting list of two years. Though it takes Tonello some time to crack the Hermès fortress, he eventually stumbles across "the formula" and soon finds himself the Birkin bag it-boy. Though not written as a how-to manual, Tonello's book showcases the recipe he used to become such a big success in his luxury niche. Luck, and being in the right place at the right time, clearly had a lot to do with it. But it was Tonello's business savvy that really catapulted him into the big time; he took the niche he'd stumbled across and ran with it, learning everything he could about Hermès in the process. Reading about the strategies he employed to liberate the elusive bags from their gilded prisons is detective story fascinating, and only becomes more so when one of his $22,000 croc bags suddenly becomes the subject of what he referred to as an "international hostage situation." Tonello's witty storytelling, combined with the addictive nature of quests and auctions, made this book particularly hard to put down. I can't say it made me want a Birkin, though.
fanoftheoffice on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the story of how one man accidentally stumbled upon an ebay goldmine when he sold an Hermes scarf on the site and made a sizable profit. After selling a few more, he was asked to track down the famed Birkin bag for a buyer, and the rest is history. The rest of the story is about his adventures traveling the globe to track down the bag. Contrary to what Hermes would like you to believe, there really is no "waiting list" for the bag - you just have to know what to do to get one once you are in the store. I expected him to come off as pretentious given the fact that the book is about buying and selling a handbag that can be priced into tens of thousands of dollars, but in fact, I found the opposite. He has a healthy sense of the ridiculousness of the frenzy around the bag and treats his business as just that - a way to make money. Along the way, he introduces us to some of his clients, one of whom collects these bags like Paris Hitlon collects dogs. Towards the end, he sums up his clientele with this sentence: "Every day I fielded frantic phone calls and pleading e-mails from people who lacked for nothing, but who longed for more." This is a book that kept me interested the entire way through and had a satisfying ending. I loved this book.
Cigani on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this book as part of the Early Reviewers Group, and I thought it was a fun read. It was light and charming! I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a quick's like candy for your brain. :)
ladydzura on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found myself unable to put down Michael Tonello's "Bringing Home The Birkin" the evening I received my ARC, and made it more than halfway though before calling it a night. I fully enjoyed the glimpse into the world of ridiculously priced handbags, high fashion, and the lengths to which women [and men!] are willing to go to obtain such a bag. Michael writes well, and I enjoyed his commentary on the high-end black market in which he found himself.I'll admit, I was put off at first by the annoyingly alliterative path Michael threatened to take at the beginning of the book, but got caught up in the tale of moving to and finding love in Barcelona, perfecting "the formula" and charming the Hermès associates, and the lengths to which he would go to obtain a coveted "croc" bag.All in all, an enjoyable read, and one I plan on sharing with friends.
jaltergott23 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I received this book way back in March '08 as an advanced readers copy, read it right away, loved it, and somehow didn't get around to writing a review...until now (October '09). I started leafing through the book to remind myself of Michael's adventures, and his writing is so engaging that I ended up reading the entire book over again and enjoying it just as much the second time! I love his wit as he deals with Hermes obsessed buyers - I can only dream of ever owning a Birkin myself (although, even if I had unlimited funds, I probably couldn't justify it. $25,000 for a bag? Please!) .It was fun to get a peek at the lives of the upper ,upper, way upper class. I am glad that Michael took me along on his travels...twice!
jjo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I practically read this book in one sitting. It's light - but it's fun! Michael Tonello made me want to visit Capri (and pronounce it correctly!) and even though I'm certainly not in the market for a Birkin bag (or anything Hermes), every time I see one it makes me wonder just where it came from. Thanks for an entertaining & enlightening book.
smac1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
inspirational true story of a make-up artist who moves to Barcelona on a whim. To make money, he starts selling his belongings on ebay.great memoir