Some years ago at a hotel press luncheon, a distinguished silver-haired gentleman from Hermes boasted to the assembled fashion journalists, “At Hermes we are highly selective about the skins we use for our leather goods. We can even identify which particular calf supplied the hide by its unique markings.”
Given the Hermes’ reputation for quality control and that ole-time, artisanal approach to manufacturing, it’s more than a little surprising to see that their public response to accusations of animal torture at the farms that supply “exotic” skins for the famed Birkin bags—costing upwards of $220,000— is a Gallic shrug.
The style was created for British actress and singer Jane Birkin in 1984 after a serendipitous meeting with Hermes chief executive Jean-Louis Dumas during a flight from Paris to London. However, recently, after seeing brutal footage of the cruel slaughtering practices, Birkin has requested that her name be removed from the bags. Hermes says they have no business connection with the reptile farm, despite years of swirling rumours long before the actual videos turned up.
It’s been a bad week for animal killers. Take Walter Palmer, a dentist from Minnesota, who paid $55,000 to maim and murder Cecil, a protected lion in Zimbabwe. (Palmer has a criminal record of illegal hunting.) The discovery of Cecil’s skinned and decapitated body has sparked a global outrage. A whiz with a bow and arrow, the good dentist seems to have momentarily misplaced his courage. Zimbabwean police have issued an arrest warrant for illegal poaching and now Walter’s closed his practice, River Bluff Dental in Bloomington, folks, and is on the run. Long may he be.
Hermes, on the hand, can’t hide. They have an obligation to address these allegations promptly and in an honest and forthright manner. One of the implied benefits of making purchases from a respected European manufacturer who charges full freight and then some, is the assumption of responsible and humane behavior toward employees and community, as well as animals and the environment. (The discussion about whether any animal should be made into a handbag, wallet, carpet or umbrella stand in the first place, is an important question but beyond the scope of this piece.)
Just like I disbelieve Walter, who, when he realized the wrath of the world was against him, whimpered that, had he known Cecil was so beloved, he never would have killed him. Rubbish. He knew exactly what he was doing and to whom when he lured Cecil away from the protected area by dragging an animal carcass off the back of a truck as bait.
Ditto for Hermes. Knowing the firm as I do and the inordinate pride they take in controlling every facet of the manufacturing process, I cannot believe they didn’t know about the appalling mistreatment of animals at the Texas farm. After all there are long waiting lists for these bags and most people who buy them don’t give a toss how the skins are obtained, they just want the status symbol on their arms. Despite the artsy la-di-dah of their marketing, Hermes, like every other manufacturer, is in business to make money. They have no great interest in stopping the flow of exotic skins—unless it becomes bad for business.
As painful as it is to become aware of animal suffering, casting the perpetrators out of the shadows is the first step to stopping the misery.
As for me, I’ve just saved myself $220,000.