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'Birkin man' made his fortune chasing the elusive Hermès bag
Miami Herald ^ | Apr. 30, 2008 | BY KATHRYN WEXLER

Posted on 05/25/2008 7:27:08 PM PDT by StilettoRaksha

Michael Tonello didn't grow up wearing Hermès, the venerable French label founded in 1837 by Thierry Hermès as a saddlery. He never coveted Hermès ties or scarves, hallmarks of the upper crust. And the American hairstylist certainly never gave a rat's arse about the world-famous Birkin bag, the clunky, rectangular satchel so elusive that billionaires can't always get their hands on them.

For the longest time, Tonello didn't even know what a Birkin was. He just wanted enough dough to live in dreamy Barcelona. But after falling into the resale business, he haphazardly discovered the formula for procuring Birkins.

And procure them he did -- by the hundreds.

Bringing Home the Birkin (HarperCollins, $25.95) is a memoir of Tonello's madcap travels, triumphs and humiliations as he peels back the layers of pretention at the eminent design house.

''I'm just like one guy who figured out some shtick that enables me to get some money,'' Tonello said recently at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink during a pre-release book tour.

``With a little luck and a little ingenuity.''

***

Men have their Aston Martins. Women have their Birkins.

When Hermès in 1984 introduced the Birkin, named after French singer and actor Jane Birkin, it immediately became the It-bag. Twenty-five years later, it still is. It helps that the handbags start at around $9,000 and reportedly reach $100,000.

''The majority of the public has never seen one. So people get silly,'' Tonello said. ``A woman walks into an elevator with a Birkin -- I've seen this -- and all the other women look this bag and think, this woman must be a celebrity, who is she? It's an incredible tool.''

As famous as the Birkin is, its wait list is more so. At first, Tonello just didn't get it. And then he just didn't buy it.

''This whole Birkin mystique, this wait list,'' said Tonello, wearing a navy Dsquared2 jacket, whale print belt, jeans and a preppy pompadour. ``I always thought it was a huge scam.''

Tonello's resale business began in the mid-1990s when he moved to Spain and started hocking his clothing and rare books on eBay. His old Hermès scarf sparked a bidding war. A light went on.

The first visit to the local Hermès shop for more resaleable scarves brought the sticker shock of his life.

''I felt the blood drain from my face when I looked at the price tag: $690 -- for a cotton shirt? Was that a misprint?'' he writes.

``Then it dawned on me. I was in a whole new league.''

***

Soon Tonello was darting around Spain in rented cars, hunting Hermès and maxing out his credit cards. The company's policy of restricting some scarves to certain stores only amped up his online business since the sale of every rare-pattern scarf earned him a handsome mark-up. At times, he ran 60 auctions simultaneously.

Then came the online request that changed everything.

''Oh wow, my first famous client!'' Tonello writes. ```Carole Bayer Sager! That woman wrote songs for everyone.''

She wanted a Birkin.

``How come Carol Bayer Sager can't get her own Birkin?''

He tried the Barcelona Hermès shop, only to be told, ''Sorry, no Birkins here.'' He phoned others and was told the wait could be two years. So he headed to France, gambling that Birkins were more plentiful across the border.

Bad call. In Marseilles, the saleswoman also rebuffed him, but added a wallop of disdain.

''What I couldn't figure out was why she hated me so much,'' Tonello writes. ``I mean, I was in Hermès, right? It wasn't as if I'd had ordered a Big Mac at Burger King.''

More Birkin failures followed. He was forced to stick with scarves. Until one day, after buying up a storm of silk in Madrid, where the salespeople already knew him by name, he let drop: ``Oh . . . and one more thing. . . . Do you have a Birkin?''

Came the magical response: ``Let me look.''

Tonello didn't trust his voice not to crack.

The saleswoman returned, holding a large orange box. She donned white gloves and lifted the lid. Ceremoniously, she gingerly unfolded four layers of white tissue, eased off the dustcover and revealed a classic Birkin in gray croc. Price tag: $18,000.

``I'll take it.''

***

Anyone who's ever stepped into a luxury boutique and felt the sting of the doorman's disapproval will find a hero in Tonello, equal parts wide-eyed, sarcastic and desperate.

The revelations that enabled him to snag Birkin after Birkin were astoundingly simple: Look the part, talk the talk, and drop a boatload of cash before so much as murmuring, ``Got a Birkin?''

Suited up in Prada, with an Hermès day planner in his pocket and an Hermès chain d'ancre bracelet on his wrist, Tonello was unstoppable. Hermès apparently wasn't keeping track of the stunning number of purchases by one Michael Tonello. The trip from Hermès ingenue to manipulator was a heady one.

''I was dealing with billionaires here,'' he said. ``When you go downstairs to the bar at the Ritz in Paris, you feel like you are part of that world.''

In 2005 alone, Tonello said, his Hermès receipts totaled $1.6 million. With a profit of up to $5,000 on a $22,000 Birkin, Tonello was making beaucoup bucks. But he seemed to be spending them just as quickly, mostly in transit.

''I'd hop on a plane, fly to Berlin and go to a second city the same day,'' he said. ``I started to come up with logistics problems.''

Getting more than two of the unwieldy Birkin boxes through security at airports was hard enough, but carrying three might have made him look suspicious. So he began shipping the purses to his parents in West Palm Beach, who sent them on to clients.

''I felt like a heroin dealer,'' he said. ``These people were so aggressive, relentless in wanting to get bags.''

Hermès was appreciative of his business, at least before it apparently put two and two together.

''A courier came to my door with an invitation the size of a poster,'' Tonello said. ''They invited me to go with the Hermès family on a private train from Paris to Chantilly for the Prix de Diane,'' the historic horse race sponsored by Hermès since 1983.

``I didn't go because I thought it would really blow my cover.''

***

The fax that came from Hermès headquarters in 2006 wasn't as friendly.

Citing ''serious problems with the supply of skin qualities,'' Tonello's orders had been canceled. It didn't come as a surprise, exactly.

''It doesn't take any genius to sit down at a computer at Hermès and look up my name,'' Tonello said. ``I'm sure if they did, their heads spun.''

But by that point, Tonello said, he had already soured on the whole Birkin world, his reasons detailed in the book. ``I just sort of felt like maybe it really was time to get off the roller coaster.''

He hasn't tried his luck at Birkin shopping since the day the fax came, he said.

``I'm a little shopped out.''

He turned instead to writing. Hermès did not respond to requests for comment before press time.

But if, somewhere, in the tower of Hermès, an executive in an orange scarf hopes this is the last she hears about how a wily stylist outwitted the iconic design house, she may be disappointed.

It's likely headed for the big screen.

''The book,'' Tonello said, ``has already been optioned.''


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Miscellaneous
KEYWORDS: bag; birkin; fashion; firstilookathtepurse; hermes; herms

1 posted on 05/25/2008 7:27:08 PM PDT by StilettoRaksha
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To: StilettoRaksha

“hermes bag” makes me think of Helen Thomas.


2 posted on 05/25/2008 7:29:14 PM PDT by the invisib1e hand (The road to hell is paved with euphemisms.)
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To: StilettoRaksha

Nice article by the Miami Herald.

Pity it’s a blatant rip-off of a Wall Street Journal story of at least 6 months ago.

Wonder if anyone in Miami can spell “journalistic integrity?”


3 posted on 05/25/2008 7:35:15 PM PDT by Redbob (WWJBD - "What Would Jack Bauer Do?")
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To: StilettoRaksha

If any of you guys wants to buy one, there’s a Birkin bag for sale on eBay right now, for only $45,000.

The seller lives in Florida. I’ll bet it’s this guy’s mother.

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=380031025337&ih=025&category=63852&ssPageName=WDVW&rd=1


4 posted on 05/25/2008 7:39:20 PM PDT by Cicero (Marcus Tullius)
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To: StilettoRaksha
Its a prestige clothier. Expensive and and as rare as is intimated by its boutique label. If you have a Hermes, you definitely belong in the world's elite.

"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." - Manuel II Palelologus

5 posted on 05/25/2008 7:42:54 PM PDT by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives In My Heart Forever)
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To: Cicero
I'd get that for my woman... if I could get a loan to pay for it. LOL!

"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." - Manuel II Palelologus

6 posted on 05/25/2008 7:44:14 PM PDT by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives In My Heart Forever)
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To: StilettoRaksha

inneresting


7 posted on 05/25/2008 7:47:23 PM PDT by dennisw
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To: dennisw
As a status symbol, a rare purse is so overrated. If you want to let a woman know you love her, buy her a diamond instead.

"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." - Manuel II Palelologus

8 posted on 05/25/2008 7:51:10 PM PDT by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives In My Heart Forever)
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To: goldstategop

Can’t you get a Hermes tie for under $200? It’s not like everything they make is like this bag.


9 posted on 05/25/2008 7:51:53 PM PDT by Arguendo
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To: StilettoRaksha
Countdown to first cheap Chinese copy:

5-4-3-2...

10 posted on 05/25/2008 7:52:35 PM PDT by ZOOKER ( Exploring the fine line between cynicism and outright depression)
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To: goldstategop

You need to pair it with a St. John Suit, Rolex and a pair of Jimmy Choo’s or Manolo Blahnik’s shoes, the look complete./Just Asking - seoul62......


11 posted on 05/25/2008 7:54:36 PM PDT by seoul62 (cC)
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To: goldstategop

I agree-— jewelry says it better than a stupid handbag made from alligator that matches the desiccated skin of the proud bearer. Plus I can see and appreciate the jewelry but not a handbag


12 posted on 05/25/2008 7:55:11 PM PDT by dennisw
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To: goldstategop

I’m a fan of Hermes; however, the Birkin is too gaudy.


13 posted on 05/25/2008 7:57:23 PM PDT by StilettoRaksha
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To: wardaddy

*ping*


14 posted on 05/25/2008 7:57:48 PM PDT by fieldmarshaldj (~"This is what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps !"~~)
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To: Arguendo
A boutique brand is timeless. But pray tell, why would us mere mortals need one?

"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." - Manuel II Palelologus

15 posted on 05/25/2008 8:06:45 PM PDT by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives In My Heart Forever)
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To: ZOOKER

Knock-off Birkins, and allother Hermes prods, have been on the market for 5 + years.

Where there’s a demand...there’s a knock-off!


16 posted on 05/25/2008 8:07:33 PM PDT by Tainan (Talk is cheap. Silence is golden. All I got is brass...lotsa brass.)
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To: StilettoRaksha
Here's my purse, $6 a few years ago.


17 posted on 05/25/2008 8:08:55 PM PDT by Dumpster Baby (Eschew obfuscation)
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To: goldstategop

Huh? No one needs this stuff, but they do make some nice ties.


18 posted on 05/25/2008 8:11:21 PM PDT by Arguendo
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To: Dumpster Baby

Vogue will feature it in its upcoming fall issue, titled: The Return Of Military Chic./Just Asking - seoul62.........


19 posted on 05/25/2008 8:11:45 PM PDT by seoul62 (cC)
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To: Tainan
There's always cheap Chinese made knockoffs of boutique luxury goods. But they don't have the same cachet as the original. The original is hand-made from the highest quality materials and is designed to last a lifetime. For those who have exquisite taste and demand nothing but the best, only boutique will do. They can well afford it.

"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." - Manuel II Palelologus

20 posted on 05/25/2008 8:12:46 PM PDT by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives In My Heart Forever)
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To: Arguendo
If you're not rich, you don't need it. Its struck me as overly pretentious. If you have show off how vain you are, then you're a fool. Death is the ultimate leveler of social status.

"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." - Manuel II Palelologus

21 posted on 05/25/2008 8:14:51 PM PDT by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives In My Heart Forever)
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To: Arguendo
I have a pretty good little Louis Vuitton, Chanel, St John, Bottega Veneta and Baccarat thing going on E-Bay now and I can understand Tonello's frustration at the extreme amount of work it is/was to have 30-60 auctions going on.

The money makes it worthwhile, though. I should be able to quit my corporate cubicle within a year.

Nice! -

22 posted on 05/25/2008 8:24:45 PM PDT by atc23
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To: StilettoRaksha

And I thought my recent purchases of my first Coach purses was extravagant (and a good investment, too)!


23 posted on 05/25/2008 8:35:54 PM PDT by Moonmad27 (Simplify, simplify, simplify. H.D. Thoreau)
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To: Arguendo
Their scarves and perfumes are also exquisite and are “affordable” compared to the price of the bags.
24 posted on 05/25/2008 8:36:11 PM PDT by khnyny (This is not a party where people know your name)
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To: khnyny
The reason for a boutique brand is to communicate exclusiveness. You have what no one else can get and knowing no one else can get it makes human nature truly fulfilled.

"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." - Manuel II Palelologus

25 posted on 05/25/2008 9:10:19 PM PDT by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives In My Heart Forever)
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To: Dumpster Baby
Personally, I'd take that over the pics of the Birkins I've seen. Had a similar bag I'd bought at a surplus store in Boston (the original Mass Army Navy store in Harvard, years ago.) Cost me about $15 clams and lasted me forever. Smelled real strange, though.
26 posted on 05/25/2008 9:25:11 PM PDT by RepoGirl ("Tom, I'm getting dead from you, but I'm not getting Undead..." -- Frasier Crane)
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To: RepoGirl
Smelled real strange, though

Yes, Eau de Fungicide.

:o)

27 posted on 05/25/2008 9:56:12 PM PDT by Dumpster Baby (Eschew obfuscation)
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To: fieldmarshaldj

My wife would love one but unless you can find a less expensive used one, it’s crazy.

My dad bought my mother Hermes scarves and a suede riding skirt and a cashmere sweater and my wife inherited all that.

Aside from that the only Hermes we own is parfum.

I am getting my wife some Christian Louboutin pumps for our anniversary. Toe cleavage and all.


28 posted on 05/25/2008 10:39:27 PM PDT by wardaddy (I want a woman POTUS like Elizabeth I in that last movie.....that is a she I could vote for. Balls)
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To: wardaddy

I’d just as soon have had Jane herself, circa 1967. ;-D


29 posted on 05/25/2008 10:48:03 PM PDT by fieldmarshaldj (~"This is what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps !"~~)
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To: goldstategop

Hah.....memories...

We used to go to Europe every fall and I always went to Hermes Paris store and got stuff. One day a woman came out the door walking like she owned the world (she probably did) and she was tall and had long black hair, was wearing sunglasses, over the knee red suede boots and a red fur coat - bright red to match her boots. Something you’d NEVER see in a 1000 years here in Portland! LOL


30 posted on 05/25/2008 11:16:24 PM PDT by Aria (NO RAPIST ENABLER FOR PRESIDENT!!!)
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To: StilettoRaksha

Hermes crocodile -$37,000

Chinese calfskin knockoff-$183

31 posted on 05/26/2008 3:25:57 AM PDT by Mila
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To: fieldmarshaldj

"I’d just as soon have had Jane herself, circa 1967. ;-D"


32 posted on 05/26/2008 3:43:14 AM PDT by Mila
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To: StilettoRaksha

Photo by Cheryl Clegg

Michael Tonello grew up in Massachusetts amidst the windswept dunes and ever-encroaching tourism of Cape Cod. He attended New York City's Fordham University for almost a full day, before beginning an ambitious field study of New York socialites in their native nightlife habitats.

A few months later, armed with a vast array of discotheque expertise, (but no longer possessed of parental financial support), he made his way out to San Francisco. The West coast would be his home for five years, and the start of his career in hair and makeup. Eventually co-founding a successful company—an innovative advertising collaborative called TEAM—Michael returned to his native Massachusetts, settling into the artists' colony of Provincetown. But a chance job assignment in Spain would prove fateful, and Michael went from P-townie to expatriate in a flash, resettling in Barcelona.

Pressed to find a profession that didn't necessitate working papers, he turned in his makeup bag for a laptop. Quickly finding his niche as an eBay luxury reseller, he soon after began his lucrative relationship with all things Hermès.

Michael lives in Barcelona with his partner Juan.

33 posted on 05/26/2008 3:52:10 AM PDT by csvset
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To: Mila

Boy, that’s a heck of a site! It makes me wonder about some of the bags I’ve bought in recent years.

Have you had an experience with them?

I’ve had my eye on a pricey Balenciaga bag for months and it’s available there. Are they otherwise reputable?


34 posted on 05/26/2008 3:54:17 AM PDT by BunnySlippers (Buy a Mac ...)
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To: Dumpster Baby
Yes, Eau de Fungicide.

Ah... one of the classic fragrances, I'm told! ;-)

35 posted on 05/26/2008 7:32:33 AM PDT by RepoGirl ("Tom, I'm getting dead from you, but I'm not getting Undead..." -- Frasier Crane)
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To: BunnySlippers

Good Hermes copies
http://www.omas2000.com/index.asp

lots of stuff here
http://www.ehbestfashion.com/


36 posted on 05/26/2008 7:34:57 AM PDT by Aria (NO RAPIST ENABLER FOR PRESIDENT!!!)
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To: Mila

I don’t purchase nor wear knock-offs. People who wear knock-offs are generally tacky.


37 posted on 05/26/2008 8:21:27 AM PDT by StilettoRaksha
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Comment #38 Removed by Moderator

To: BunnySlippers

Well, to be honest, I only referenced the site to show a cheaper comparison to the pricier model. I’ve never purchased anything for them.


39 posted on 05/26/2008 3:00:25 PM PDT by Mila
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To: BunnySlippers

Well, to be honest, I only referenced the site to show a cheaper comparison to the pricier model. I’ve never purchased anything from them.


40 posted on 05/26/2008 3:01:45 PM PDT by Mila
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To: BunnySlippers

Sorry for the double post.


41 posted on 05/26/2008 3:02:43 PM PDT by Mila
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To: StilettoRaksha

"I don’t purchase nor wear knock-offs. People who wear knock-offs are generally tacky."

As I mentioned in the above post, I have no experience with the Chinese site, but even if I had the wherewithal, I don't really think that I could bring myself to spend many thousands of dollars on something so frivolous as a handbag. I'll leave that to Posh and others of her ilk.


42 posted on 05/26/2008 3:16:34 PM PDT by Mila
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