Irreverent or insane? A $76K sandal cut from real Birkin bags
A US art collective has ripped apart four Hermès Birkin bags in order to create what could be the world's most expensive sandal.
The pair of so-called "Birkinstocks," which has no official affiliation to German shoe brand Birkenstock, are priced between $34,000 and $76,000.
The Brooklyn-based group MSCHF, which has made headlines for its series of irreverent art projects, spent $122,500 in new Birkin bags -- the luxury fashion item made famous by British singer and actress Jane Birkin -- to use as raw materials for the project. The figure doesn't include the cost of the sandals' cork-latex sole, custom-made gold vermeil buckle and the actual production of the shoe -- the latter of which was challenging given the first handful of leather workers approached by MSCHF refused to participate. That reticence may be indicative of the bag's cult status -- a diamond-encrusted Birkin for instance has broken the record twice for the most expensive handbag ever sold at auction. First in 2016 for over $300,000 and again in 2017 for nearly $400,000.
"Just the act of cutting up a Birkin bag scared so many people," Lukas Bentel, MSCHF's creative director, said in a phone interview. "A Birkin bag is like an art object. It's so sacred, you can't damage it."
MSCHF were fascinated by this fear, which goes beyond a respect for fashion and into economics. "Birkin bags have an average 14% annual return on investment," read a manifesto published on the project's website, "consistently beating the S&P 500" -- an index used to gauge the value of large-cap US equities.
"It's also something where to actually benefit from that value increase, you should not do anything with your Birkin bag, you should keep it in your apartment (and) in your closet," said Bentel.
But adding value to items in counterintuitive ways is a specialty of MSCHF, who sold three six-foot-tall hand-painted replicas of US medical bills to a New York gallery for $73,360 last October. The money was used to pay off three participant's medical debts.
And they are no stranger to destruction -- especially when it comes to using expensive objects, as material for their works. In May 2020, the group purchased a $30,000 Damien Hirst print painting, and then cut and sold it in individual pieces, turning a profit.
The Birkin buzz
The art collective decided to emulate the high-low collaboration model, a format that has been sweeping the fashion world in recent years.
"The people that you see wearing Birkenstocks are not the same people you would assume own Birkin bags," said Lukas Bentel, "and this is just punching those two ends of the spectrum together."
Despite most luxury items promising some return on investment, the Birkin bag was an integral part of MSCHF's vision. "It's a more singular object" said Kevin Wiesner, "a Gucci bag means any bag that Gucci makes. A Birkin bag is always a Birkin bag."
The Hermès Birkin bag has enjoyed a steady rise in popularity ever since its creation in 1984. First flaunted on the arms of celebrities such as Kate Moss and Victoria Beckham (who reportedly owns 100 versions of the iconic bag, costing around $2mil in total), the Birkin bag is now a favourite of many US rappers.
Artists Saweetie, Cardi B, Drake, City Girls and Meek Mill have all made their penchant for the accessory clear through either Instagram posts or lyrics -- bypassing the fabled waiting lists and bringing a new demographic to the luxury signifier.
There are fewer than ten Birkinstocks available to buy on a made-to-order basis. R&B singer-songwriter Kehlani and rapper Future were among the first to buy a pair before Monday's official drop, according to MSCHF.
The assimilation of Birkin bags into hip-hop culture was important for MSCHF, who believe it's this multiplicity that makes them such compelling cultural objects.
"Cardi B purchased a Birkin bag and all sudden it was trending on Twitter, and you're just like, why?" said Bentel, "But the symbol of the bag is just so powerful culturally, it's the perfect building block to make something even crazier."