It was the shrunken T-shirts, cropped jeans and espadrilles that she preferred. It was the babydoll dresses that few except the actress Mia Farrow ever wore with greater elan. It was the striped Breton sweaters that she helped popularize. It was the dress embroidered with transparent daisies that she once wore to a French art union party, one whose plunging neckline was strategically, if barely, secured with a brooch. There were the ragged bangs she had kept all her life and which looked as if she had cut them herself with cuticle scissors.
“Her style was very different from American style,” Ms. Sui said, and it introduced “something new to our fashion vocabulary.” What exactly was that style about, asked the designer? “There was something British about it, that slightly shabby English look but fused with the classic French codes,” she said.
Perhaps, after all, the Hermès Birkin bag provides the best example. Before its invention, Mrs. Birkin was often photographed carrying a straw market basket filled with make-up, keys and various accessories. “I was known for carrying a basket,” she explained in a 2018 interview on YouTube. “So I obviously knew that girls like to have loads of stuff in their handbag.”
It was her bulky basket and its overflowing contents that caught the attention of Jean-Louis Dumas, the chief executive of Hermès, on a flight from Paris to London and inspired him to create a container large enough for all her things. “I’d like to be kind of a proper person and carry a Kelly,” Ms. Birkin once explained, referring to an elegant, boxy-style handbag created and named for the movie star Grace Kelly. “But I never thought you could get enough of it.”
The bag-style Birkin, made of flexible leather, was based on an earlier design, the Haut à Courroies, created by Hermès around 1900. With its loop handles, closed with a strap fastener anchored to a signature piece of hardware (and typically left). unlocked to display the Hermès logo), the bag became a globally recognized emblem of status and wealth. With a base price of over $10,000, Birkins remain endlessly coveted and customizable (a Diamond Himalayan version became the most expensive handbag ever at auction when Sotheby’s sold it in 2022 for over $450,000) and are worn and collected by celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Kylie. Jenner, whose handbag wardrobes constitute a subset of online fashion pornography, as do Jennifer Lopez and Cardi B.