How to get the Birkin bag look, at a fraction of the price

Jane Birkin
Jane Birkin
Jane Birkin with her titular bag
Jane Birkin with her namesake bag in 2009

The Hermès Birkin bag is renowned for being one of the most expensive in the world, with collectors keeping theirs in pristine condition. Yet the woman who lent the bag her name was not so scrupulous. In fact, the late Jane Birkin was at pains to customise hers with beads and trinkets (she was reportedly a little embarrassed to have such a “snobbish” bag named after her) and used it to showcase her political activism in particular, with “Free Tibet” stickers and others expressing support for Aung Sang Suu Kyi (prior to the Myanmar politician’s fall from grace).

Popstars Dua Lipa and Lily Allen are the latest disciples of the Birkin school of customisation, adding bag charms, tags and scarves to their own Birkins. Elsewhere, Balenciaga updated its classic Le Cagole bag with lock and key charms for Spring/Summer 2024, while Miu Miu’s models carried totes with neon yellow string tied around the handles. Dior currently offers a £900 gold and pearl bag chain featuring sun and zodiac charms and Loewe sells charms shaped like chow chows, mushrooms and even its iconic Puzzle bag.

Dua Lipa
Dua Lipa with the Birkin Bag in March - GC Images

Yet there’s no reason why you need a Birkin – or indeed any kind of designer bag – to make this trend work. And happily, you can find the pieces to customise your bag in any local Hobbycraft. In fact, on social media, users are “Birkinifying” their own bags, adding ribbons, beads and bows, with the term garnering 222 million views on TikTok to date. Over on Depop, bag charms have seen a 29 per cent increase in searches month on month, while searches for the original designer bag charm – the Fendi Karlito – have gone up 250 per cent.

It was in 2013 that Karl Lagerfeld first launched his Fendi monster bag charms, later adding one inspired by his own likeness. Another early adopter of the customisation trend was Anya Hindmarch, whose accessories have often been personalised via monogramming, patchworks or charms. “I love the way a charm messes up a beautiful bag and makes it your own,” she says. “Charms are a great way to update your bag seasonally and add a personal touch. My inspiration for creating my bag charms was a friend who always wore her grandfather’s old watch but had a Mickey Mouse charm tied onto it on a ribbon. Somehow it was irreverent and individual. The fun messed with the old school, in a good way – making it not about luxury or status, but about a story.”

Lily Allen’s go-to brand for customisation is String Ting, set up by Rachel Steed-Middleton in 2020. After launching with phone straps (the beaded strings used to hold your phone around your wrist or neck, seen in endless influencer selfies) she branched out into bag charms earlier this year, inspired by Birkin. “Her carefree style really appealed to me,” she shares. “I loved the idea of making little outfits for your bag, making something old suddenly look new and fresh again. It’s about making those designer bags somehow feel less ‘ladies who lunch’. It’s more about the energy and mood of the pieces rather than trends.”

So, how to curate the perfect mix of accessories? It’s all about being true to you. Whether that’s through having keyrings with your initials or star sign, or with stickers and patches that speak to something you care about, à la Birkin. While ribbons weaved into your bag straps feel a little 2013, tying them onto your handles is more now – particularly if you add locks and keys, like Balenciaga.

You can also use it as an opportunity to make your bag more useful: the actress Florence Pugh revealed in a recent “What’s In My Handbag” video for Vogue that she has a miniature hot sauce clipped to the outside of her bag, for example. This isn’t about looking pulled-together or elegant, in fact, that’s the antithesis of the movement. Instead, use it as an opportunity to have a little bit of fun and not take yourself too seriously. As Hindmarch says of her irreverent charms, which include a Carmex and After Eight mint design: “I like to bunch them together – they become a bit of a talking point.”

Try these

Big Chakra Energy gemstone charm, £90, String Ting and Leather Carmex coin purse, £225, Anya Hindmarch
Big Chakra Energy gemstone charm, £90, String Ting and Leather Carmex coin purse, £225, Anya Hindmarch

 Big Chakra Energy gemstone charm, £90, String Ting and Leather Carmex coin purse, £225, Anya Hindmarch

Leather mirror charm, £75, Aspinal of London, Brass and leather pebble locket charm, £325, Loewe  and Leather loop bag charm, £75, Coach
Leather mirror charm, £75, Aspinal of London, Brass and leather pebble locket charm, £325, Loewe and Leather loop bag charm, £75, Coach

Leather mirror charm, £75, Aspinal of London, Brass and leather pebble locket charm, £325, Loewe  and Leather loop bag charm, £75, Coach 

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