As my handbag collection slowly evolved over the past decade, I’ve added a few classic pieces, plus a couple trendier styles…but there was always an elusive one that I was hoping would find its way into my closet. An iconic bag that should stay in style for my lifetime and become an heirloom that can be passed down (at least I hope so…because that’s partially how I rationalized my purchase).
But part of what made it so elusive, was the mystique (and at times, downright confusion) around the finding and buying process. So now that I’ve had my Kelly for a while, I wanted to answer some common questions I’ve gotten from those looking to make a first Hermes bag purchase. This post only applies to certain handbags, as the process for buying accessories like belts, scarves, bracelets and shoes at their store or website is pretty straightforward.
Tourist vs Locally serving boutique
From my experience and research, each Hermes boutique operates fairly independently and orders their own handbag inventory up to a year in advance. The bag shopping experience can vary WIDELY from location to location. Certain locations cater more to tourist customers (such as the Paris flagship and Las Vegas boutiques – let me know any other major ones!), while others like the Boston boutique primarily serve the local customer base.
At the tourist-centric boutiques, they anticipate a lot of new customers coming in just asking to buy the most popular styles like Birkins, Kellys, and Constance bags. And depending on luck and good timing, it IS possible for someone with no purchase history to be offered one of those bags for sale on the same day. At a boutique serving mostly local customers, having a relationship with a sales associate is much more key.
My experience at the Paris Flagship Store
There are many reasons for Hermes fans to plan a visit to the flagship 24 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honorè location while in Paris. The store is a trove of beautiful accessories, but also this is one of the main locations where a customer can walk in for the first time and potentially purchase a bag that same day. From my personal observations when I visited and from my friends’ experiences, the bag-buying process at this location seems more “equitable” and subject to random luck compared to the majority of other Hermes boutiques. And lastly, Hermes retail pricing in Europe is more favorable, especially with a VAT refund and the EUR to USD value in recent years.
1. Request an appointment online (via this site that works ONLY on mobile phones).
Appointments are required for those looking to buy certain leather bags, as you won’t see any on display for sale just by walking in. However, the number of appointments each day are limited so it might take a few tries over several days to get a slot. If you’re unable to get an appointment online, I’ve had friends had success by visiting the store anyways and finding a nice SA to ask whether there were any appointment cancellations that day.
When I went a few years ago, this picture below was the scene outside the store 30 minutes prior to opening – most people in line were purely waiting to make an appointment for later in the day to buy a leather bag. The online appointment process was implemented in recent years, so be sure to try and request one prior to visiting!
2. Look out for appointment time updates.
If you’re able to get an appointment slot assigned to you, be aware that the slot can be pushed back or moved up several times due to how other appointments are going that day. I believe they send out email alerts with appointment updates.
3. Arrive at the store and check in
After a wait, your assigned sales associate comes out and asks what you’re looking for in terms of bag style, size, leather, hardware, and color then jots it down. So do your research ahead of time. The SA then disappears to see what they can “find” in the back room. They’ll say that deliveries of bags from the Hermes atelier / workshop are completely unpredictable, so they have no idea what bags they’ll receive or when. Some days there will be no bag deliveries, while on other days there might be a handful that’ll get offered to customers who made bag buying appointments.
4. Cross your fingers but expect disappointment due to very limited inventory
At this point, the SA will likely return with an expressionless face and say “sorry, nothing today.” If instead you get presented with a big orange box, the contents will probably not be in the exact size, color, or material you wanted, but be warned that adrenaline may cause your eyesight to blur and it’ll morph into your “holy grail bag.” Most likely, though, it’ll just be the SA with a blank face. Before heading out however, you can ask to see and try on any sample handbags they have for size reference since this isn’t something you can do on your own around the store.
I’ve visited the flagship store with an appointment a few times and was never offered any handbag from my wishlist to purchase. Despite this, if you’re in the area I still do believe the Paris flagship store is one of the best bets for someone looking to buy a first Hermes bag. Two friends of mine each purchased a bag they love at this location under the same process. During my last visit, I also randomly met a reader ahead of me in the appointment process, who was ecstatic from a Birkin purchase in the color and size she had asked for – she said she had never bought anything from the brand before and got lucky.
My experience at my local store
From what I understand, when a shipment of handbags arrive at an Hermes boutique that serves more local clientele, sales associates review their client profiles of customers who’d be interested in each bag. The inventory is then allocated with priority given to certain sales associates and customers, rather than through a chronological waitlist system. Thus, having a personal relationship with an SA is usually important for getting a handbag at this type of store location.
I had purchased a belt at the Boston store a long time ago but didn’t really connect with the individual who helped me. Years later when I went in to get another belt, though, I met a kind sales associate who was very knowledgeable and easy to talk to. I told her about my bag wishlist and waited without any expectations.
About half a year later, the phone rang and my SA had a Birkin that wasn’t from my wish list, but asked if I wanted to see it. I was just a little ecstatic, but reminded myself this was not going to be a drop in the bucket budget wise and to not sway from what I’ve been searching for. The bag was a Birkin 30 in Etain gray, which was gorgeous but not the right color or size for me.
Fast forward to a few days before Nori was due, Nick and I were enjoying one of our last solo meals for a while at our usual hole in the wall spot in Chinatown. I got a call from my SA and pretty much hop and skipped (well, waddled actually) right over to the Hermes Boston boutique with a couple bags of Chinatown takeout in tow. This color was not specifically one from my wishlist, but the size was one of two Kelly sizes I was hoping for, and black with gold is timeless so I knew I would have no regrets. This baby came home with me that day and is a piece that I treasure … after using it for a while I’ve only fallen more in love with the style and am holding out hope to add a smaller Kelly (to be worn more casually) to the collection one day!
Since my buying history at my local Hermes was not robust, I know that I fell into the graces of a great SA who helped make this purchase happen. If you don’t have a friend who can recommend a good SA, I would try visiting your local store a few times if possible if you’re planning on making any non-handbag purchases. If a handbag is on your longer-term wishlist, maybe talk with a few SAs across your visits so you can start a relationship with someone whom you connect with, versus buying through the first person that assists you.