Monthly Archives: July 2015

Bye-Bye Birkin

photo courtesy of Telegraph UK


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.


Luxurious Solitude

Armani and friend

Armani and friend

I’m just old enough to remember when Armani was it. The 1980s. A new luxury mall had just opened up in town with boutiques from most of Italy’s heavy-hitters like Versace, Ungaro, and, of course, Armani who was showing women’s shorts that season. All this and an indoor-skating rink too. It was a flop.

Fast forward.

On my way to Milan to interview Armani, of course I packed my one and only Armani item, a black-and-white satin blazer (Black Label, hello), to be worn with black slacks and white shoes. I suppose it was a small mercy that my luggage got lost at the Milan airport otherwise I would have looked like a waiter. The carousel went round-and-round. By the time I slipped into the back seat of the sleek black limo waiting for me and manned by a former Armani model—my personal driver for the week—I was wearing the only clothes I’d have during the whole trip. What’s that saying, ‘hubris, then nemesis’?

Armani was launching a woman’s fragrance, Sensei, with his new business partner, L’Oreal. They pulled out all the stops. Dinner at Nobu, discounted shopping sprees at Armani boutiques, an free night’s stay at the hotel, and a personal driver to get around Milan or anywhere else the mood might strike. (Lake Como, please and thank-you.) The fragrance was a flop.

I was shadowing make-up artist Pat McGrath backstage as she was prepping the models for the fashion show. Armani would appear and disappear, like a cat. Poof! He would bring a model to Pat, request a change here and there, and then, poof, gone.

Ahead of a group interview, his public relations attaché informed us that Armani had a birthday coming up in a few days’ time and he was in an uncharacteristically good mood. He must have been because one of the Italian journalists started her query with, “Mr. Armani, you’ve obviously had plastic surgery…” The PR-woman went limp. “Now, if I had had surgery, would my nose look like this?” Armani said with a smile. Still, it felt like we were on borrowed time and the interview wrapped up soon after.

By now I had been awake for over 48-hours and still in my original duds. After the fashion show, there was a simple buffet luncheon. I thought if I could just eat a few bites I might be able to keep standing for a few more hours. For insurance, I took my plate and leaned against a pillar. I hoped that when I lost consciousness I could simply glide down the pillar like a petal.  My back touched the cool marble. My eyelids closed. The thrum of the room began to fade.

“Bongiorno.” He was standing in front of me. I blinked hard. “Bongiorno,” I replied. Armani immediately switched to French and began to ramble about “Russe” this and “Russe” that. Naturally I assumed he was complimenting me on my red hair. I nodded vigorously and threw in some “Oui!” After a few long minutes, he shuffled off. Dang, if only I had my Armani jacket, that could have done the talking.

So funny to think that this fashion mogul started out as a window dresser but was fired because  his employer thought he was a daydreamer. Armani is one of the shrewdest businessmen on the planet. He owns the buildings that house his boutiques; he has expanded his brand to home decor, cosmetics, luxury hotels, yachts, chocolate, and now that most of it is manufactured in China, his pockets are even more flush. This is one savvy cat.

Armani never looks more miserable than when he’s hobnobbing at the Met Ball—and never happier than at home with his cats, or on his yacht with his cats, or on his island in Pantelleria—with his cats.

You know you’ve made it when you’ve got luxurious solitude. Hold the cats.