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Hermes told to rename Birkin bag; actress decries crocodile skinning

Actress Jane Birkin demanded that Hermes International stop using her name on its bestselling bag after objecting to the way some crocodiles are skinned in the making of the world's most-expensive tote.

The 68-year-old asked that the bag be renamed until better practices replace the "cruel" methods that have been used at some slaughter facilities, she said in a statement released on the website of animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Hermes said it will penalize any breach of its animal welfare code.

The demand risks upsetting a collaboration that started in the 1980s and had led to a bag that's among the biggest fashion status symbols. Birkins cost from about $9,400 for an entry model to $68,000 for a new 40-centimeter (nearly 16 inches) version, and have a yearslong waiting list. The bag's list of celebrity owners includes fashion designer Victoria Beckham and entertainer Jennifer Lopez.

A video released by PETA in June showed an alligator farm in Texas, where belly skins are used for watch bands.

PETA depicted alligators still moving after being shot by a bolt gun, and said some workers at the farm were told to cut into 500 conscious alligators with knives when the gun wasn't functioning. It described how workers would shove metal rods into the animals' skulls to destroy their brains.

Iconic product

Hermes said that it's investigating the Texas farm, which it doesn't own, and that crocodile skins it gets from that supplier aren't used for Birkin bags. The company added it has visited suppliers monthly for more than a decade to make sure they comply with its standards.

Hermes procures exotic hides in "strict compliance" with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, according to its 2014 annual report.

Birkin bags are the company's most iconic product, accounting for about 15 percent of sales, according to analyst Luca Solca at Exane BNP Paribas in London.

A shiny fuchsia crocodile Birkin set an auction record when it was sold for about $223,000 last month by Christie's International in Hong Kong.

Shares of the French company were unperturbed by the release of the statement, trading 1.6 percent higher at 349.55 euros as of 1:18 p.m. in Paris.

Accessories are the largest category within the industry, accounting for 29 percent of total 2014 sales. It's also the fastest growing, at 4 percent year-on-year, Bain analysts including partner Claudia D'Arpizio wrote in a 2014 report.

Rarity mystique

The Birkin bags are "franchise builders," in the sense that "they overwhelmingly contribute to define what Hermes is," Exane's Solca said by email. "Many customers purchase other Hermes products to graduate into buying one of these bags, which are not easy to find and build a rarity mystique."

Hermes's Birkin was created after a chance meeting in the 1980s between former CEO Jean-Louis Dumas and Jane Birkin, who told him what she wanted in a bag after the contents of the one she was using fell out of an airplane overhead compartment, according to Time magazine.

Hermes said its relationship with Birkin isn't endangered.

"Her comments do not in any way influence the friendship and confidence that we have shared for many years," the company said. "Hermes respects and shares her emotions and was also shocked by the images recently broadcast."


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