Bringing Home the Birkin: My Life in Hot Pursuit of the World's Most Coveted Handbag

Bringing Home the Birkin: My Life in Hot Pursuit of the World's Most Coveted Handbag

4.2 51
by Michael Tonello

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For more than twenty years, the HermÈs Birkin bag has been the iconic symbol of fashion, luxury, and wealth. With a fabled waiting list of more than two years to purchase one, the average fashionista has a better chance of climbing Mount Everest in Prada pumps than of possessing this coveted carryall. Unless, of course, she happens to know Michael Tonello. . .


For more than twenty years, the HermÈs Birkin bag has been the iconic symbol of fashion, luxury, and wealth. With a fabled waiting list of more than two years to purchase one, the average fashionista has a better chance of climbing Mount Everest in Prada pumps than of possessing this coveted carryall. Unless, of course, she happens to know Michael Tonello. . . .

With down-to-earth wit, Michael Tonello chronicles the unusual ventures that took him to nearly every continent—and from eBay to Paris auction houses and into the lives of celebrities and poseurs alike—on the road to becoming a successful entrepreneur and Robin Hood to thousands of desperate rich women.

Editorial Reviews

First, a one-stop tutorial on the title: Hermès Birkin handbags set the standard for female accessories. Prices for this French high fashion item begin at $7,500; reputedly, there is a two-year waiting list for prospective buyers. Michael Tonello's Bringing Home the Birkin chronicles his hunt for not one prize Birkin but a whole multitude. Gaining access to Hermès's elite hierarchy, this resourceful wheeler-dealer learns seldom-revealed secrets about the coveted accessory. Short of a Birkin, the best fashion tote around.
Kirkus Reviews
Periodically charming but fluffy comic memoir. Semi-bored Massachusetts-based hairstylist Tonello "had spent most of the decade trigger-happy with a can of hairspray and a powder puff" and was ready for a change. A temporary gig in Barcelona convinced him that Spain was the place he really ought to be and that having "too much shit to move" wasn't a good enough reason to stay put. He took the plunge and happily relocated. Once settled across the pond, Tonello drifted into a new business venture: reselling Hermes products on eBay. The most exciting pieces of merchandise he dealt with were the infamously high-end Birkin handbags, and eventually he became obsessed with them. Can the average reader relate to a several-hundred page search for personal and professional Birkin Nirvana? Probably not, but the primary problem with Tonello's debut is bigger than that. The "in search of . . . " subgenre is just about played out. Considering how many of these books clog the shelves, chances are good that a title will blend in with its brethren unless either the object sought or the author is utterly compelling. Despite Tonello's deft sense of humor, sharp observational skills, an appreciation for the absurd and some positive energy, his confessional travelogue/how-to is relatively undistinguished and indistinguishable. Clever yet unremarkable. Agent: Laura Yorke/Carol Mann Agency
Charlotte Observer
“A deliciously quick nonfiction read.”
“The fashion world is about to be handed its own Da Vinci Code with Bringing Home the Birkin.”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“A witty and engaging retrospective on [Tonello’s] long career traipsing the globe as a purveyor of the Birkin bag.”
New York Times
“This summer’s most adorable chick-lit book. . . . It’s smart. It’s fizzy. It’s amusingly snarky, with attitude to burn. ”
“The perfect, fluffy and fun beach read.”
“In his peppy, addictive memoir . . . [Tonello] details the comical lengths to which he’s gone to snag hundreds of Birkins that he then sells (with a steep mark-up) on eBay.”
New York Daily News
“Hermès’ worst nightmare.”
Wall Street Journal
“[A] sunny memoir. . . . The prose is vivid, the tone lighthearted. Mr. Tonello comes off as the fantasy gay best friend immortalized in contemporary women’s fiction: sassy, plucky, optimistic—oh, and he can get you a Birkin.”
“A deliciously addictive true tale of continent-hopping, celebrity-schmoozing, and a crazy-like-a-fox quest for that Hermès “it” bag, the Birkin. Haute read, indeed.”
Boston Herald
“ [Tonello] reveals the key to scoring that Holy Grail of handbags in a clever memoir.”
Miami Herald
“[A] memoir of . . . madcap travels, triumphs and humiliations. [Tonello] peels back the layers of pretension at the eminent design house. . . . Anyone who’s ever stepped into a luxury boutique and felt the sting of the doorman’s disapproval will find a hero in Tonello.”
Huffington Post
“The one-step, one-stop shop guide to buying a Birkin.”
The Globe and Mail
“Tonello recounts the strange and serendipitous tale of how he went from cleaning out his closet to being one of the busiest Internet resellers of Birkin bags in the world.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Fascinating. . . . The sassy and resourceful Tonello built a very lucrative eBay resale business from his apartment, specializing in Hermès scarves and the French luxury purveyor’s highly desired Birkin bag. It’s hard not to be swept up in his delightful one-man Birkin Brigades.”
No Source
Boston Globe bestseller
Arianna Huffington
“The one-step, one-stop shop guide to buying a Birkin.”
Tim Gunn
“Part comedy, part history, part treasure hunt, Michael Tonello’s memoir is a romping sociological inquiry. If you’re like me, you’ll be transfixed and wanting more!”
Jennifer Weiner
“I devoured, and adored Bringing Home the Birkin, the story of how one man turned the fashionable set’s obsession with Hermès’ signature handbag into a handsome, globe-trotting career.”
"The Year in Books 2008
“Funny, thrilling, chock-full of great cocktail-party stories told with the flair of a natural raconteur.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.94(d)

Read an Excerpt

Bringing Home the Birkin

Chapter One

Barcelona on the Brain

I've always thought the use of a ringing phone to symbolize the onset of great personal change was a cheap plot device, and a gross oversimplification of the various factors that inspire human metamorphosis. However, now I know better: sometimes you really can trace it all back to a phone call.

In my particular case, that life-changing phone call came early one wintry Cape Cod day—early enough that my roommate, Kate, and I were still cheerfully ensconced in our morning routine of Peet's coffee, PJs, and Rosie O'Donnell. Neither the caller nor the subject matter was by any means unusual—it was the Boston-based agency that represented me, giving me my newest assignment. A weeklong hair and makeup job for IBM in Barcelona, it had the allure of an escape from the drab and drear of mid-March Provincetown. The call certainly felt routine at the time, but we don't always know our Rubicon when it rings . . .

At least workwise, things weren't so shabby. I had a career that people who didn't know better might consider glamorous. As a beautician who specialized in commercial photography, I had spent most of the last decade trigger-happy with a can of hairspray and a powder puff. And somehow, along my merry way, I had also cofounded a company. Named Team, it was an agency that represented artists who worked, in one capacity or another, in the photography and advertising industries. The concept was both convenience and strength in numbers. Normally, an advertising exec needed to make about half a dozen phone calls to pull together a photo shoot. What mycompany did was turn those six calls into one. Makeup artists, hairstylists, wardrobe stylists, location scouts, production managers, food stylists—we had it all under one roof. But good as it had been to me, my initial euphoria at being part of the fashion industry I had always worshipped as spectator was starting to wane. I had learned that celebrities were just people with name recognition, and photo shoots were as tedious as board meetings, once you had been to hundreds of them. Ten years of crafting updos and vanquishing shiny noses had driven me to uncharacteristic self-analysis. Was this really how I wanted to spend the rest of my life? Maybe not, but for now I knew one thing: I was going to Spain.

I loved traveling for work, eagerly snapping up what the industry called "go-away jobs." Nomadic by nature, I took the adage "home is where the heart is" literally—a hotel room morphed into home as long as I was in it (with the added bonuses of crisp sheets, fresh towels, and chocolates on my pillow). But lately I found myself becoming more jaded by my globe-trotting. Not because of the silly things you always heard those bridge-club biddies bemoaning in the airport—it wasn't lost luggage or the lack of a proper bagel that had me down. I didn't mind the calculus of currency conversion or the etymology of exotic entrées. No, it wasn't the inconvenience inherent to travel that was burning me out. It was boredom. I had increasingly noticed a sinister sameness about each of these foreign cities. Before my very eyes, every place was turning into every place else. I fervently hoped that Barcelona would prove to be the exception.

I sighed with disappointment and slumped against the hot vinyl seat of the taxi. Other than the flamenco music on the radio and the blinding glare of the Catalan sun, so far Barcelona felt about as foreign to me as Boston. Tacky billboards advertising electronics and cheap hotels flashed by my window at an alarming rate. Was there any place left in the world that didn't look like one giant strip mall? Maybe it was time for me to settle down. Maybe I needed the white picket fence and the Weber grill after all.

A mere five minutes later, my cynicism forgotten, I was as mesmerized by the view as a midwesterner crossing the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan. I didn't know which way to look. To my left loomed the impressive bulk of the 1992 Olympic Stadium, capped off by a towering white spire that was an unlikely mating of futuristic space station and computer-generated sculpture. To my right, the Mediterranean. I was dazzled not only by the turquoise shimmer of the sea but by the hundreds of boats lining the docks. Luxury cruise ships, privately owned yachts, behemoth tankers, modest sailboats—somehow, seeing one of the world's biggest ports was far more impressive than reading about it in Fodor's. Suddenly, I was as excited as a little kid on his first field trip.

But it wasn't until we left the highway and entered the city's perimeter that I truly fell under its spell. None of my extensive jet-setting had prepared me for Barcelona's unique urban landscape—palm trees edged the narrow streets, ornate buildings leaned companionably against each other, and laundry adorned nearly every balcony. The architecture spanned centuries of design—gothic intermingled with modernist, contemporary coalesced with classic. It could have been jarring to the senses, but as I would later learn, Barcelona had a way of turning the incongruous into the harmonious. It looked like the European city I had always dreamed of but, of late, had despaired of ever finding. I was captivated.

My eight-hour days of grooming models and painting faces put a dent in what little time I had to prowl the city. However, even with the constraints of the IBM gig cutting into my tourist time, I still sampled enough of the Barcelona lifestyle to grow ever more enamored. My first instincts about the city's physical charm had been wrong—it was far more spectacular than I originally supposed. With a population of nearly two million spread out over sixty square miles, Barcelona is segmented into dozens of neighborhoods, each possessed of its own particular charm. I was hard-pressed to find an undesirable location; the place was a real estate agent's wet dream.

Bringing Home the Birkin. Copyright © by Michael Tonello. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.


What People are saying about this

Tim Gunn
“Part comedy, part history, part treasure hunt, Michael Tonello’s memoir is a romping sociological inquiry. If you’re like me, you’ll be transfixed and wanting more!”
Arianna Huffington
“The one-step, one-stop shop guide to buying a Birkin.”
Jennifer Weiner
“I devoured, and adored Bringing Home the Birkin, the story of how one man turned the fashionable set’s obsession with Hermès’ signature handbag into a handsome, globe-trotting career.”

Meet the Author

Originally from Massachusetts, Michael Tonello traveled the world as a makeup artist and hairdresser before resettling in Spain to become an eBay luxury reseller of all things Hermès. He resides in Barcelona with his partner, Juan.

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Bringing Home the Birkin: My Life in Hot Pursuit of the World's Most Coveted Handbag 4.2 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 51 reviews.
KECKC More than 1 year ago
This was a great story, a great read!!! I didn't want to put it down. Very funny and witty! I highly recommend this book!
LegalBeagle More than 1 year ago
Michael Tonello has a rare and special talent: he is able to saunter into a store, throw down the American Express, and buy a purse! Not impressed? This is a purse that even singer/songwriter Carole Bayer Sager, a Tonello customer, cannot purchase from the retailer. This is the purse that until recently had a two year waiting-to-buy list and was the subject of a Sex and the City episode. In short, this purse is not just any carryall, but the super exclusive and ultra expensive Hèmes Birkin. In Bringing Home the Birkin, Tonello finds himself living in Barcelona without a job or a work permit, and a five year apartment lease to pay. Tonello is an entrepreneurial spirit who hocks his designer duds on ebay for spending money. During one auction, Tonello strikes gold when his Hèrmes scarf is the subject of a fierce bidding war. After the auction several frustrated bidders contact him for more Hèrmes. Tonello purchases several dozen Hèrmes scarves and soon acquires powerseller status on ebay. Thereafter the author is introduced to the holy grail of the House of Hèrmes: the Birkin, the coveted and scarce handbag for the rich and famous. Soon the intrepid Tonello cracks "the code" to purchasing a Birkin and profits handsomely. Tonello's Birkin jaunts require him to traverse far and wide across Europe and Latin America, slumbering in 5 star hotels and dining at Zagat rated restaurants, in hot pursuit of fresh Birkins. He details the stories of his conquests with wit and sarcasm: If there was a secret Birkin bunker anywhere, this was the store. It was enormous, an imposing limestone building. (I had tried to figure out which floors held what while lurking inconspicuously on the sidewalk on my last trip, feeling like a fifteen-year-old casing a theater that showed X-rated movies. I knew not all the floors were devoted to merchandise (and I assumed there was at least one floor devoted to housing the Oompa-Loompas). Well, I'd soon find out . . . . In Bringing Home the Birkin Tonello dishes up plenty of snark and sass for the perfect summer read! Review based on borrowed library copy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author doesn't even like the Birkin, but is able to get several of them. His trials and tribulations about attaining the world's most coveted handbag are funny and heartwarming. On the way, he finds love and happiness and discovers that he doesn't need the fashion. Fun read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was so true describing the Hermes in store experience!!!! A very funny, fast and easy reading. I couln't put the book down. After reading about the author's move to Barcelona..... It makes me want to go there on my next vacation!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book!! It was light and funny. Some of the language may not be suitable for ALL readers, but I really enjoyed this book. It is amazing what people will do for a handbag.
MinnesotaReader More than 1 year ago
Michael Tonello has brilliantly written a captivating memoir/travelogue chronicling his thrilling adventures as a Hermes reseller. After moving to Barcelona, his promised job falls through. To pay the bills, he begins selling his possessions on ebay. He soon realizes the luxury brand Hermes, especially the coveted Birkin handbag, evokes a flurry of extremely wealthy buyers. By feigning a 2 year waiting list, the Birkin has built a renowned mystique. After discovering "the formula", he is able to easily obtain numerous Birkin bags at Hermes stores all around the world. He makes a nice profit on each bag sold to his rich clients. Mr. Tonello is a gifted storyteller with an engaging and spirited writing style. His sparkling wit made this book very laugh-out-loud funny. As I read, his rich, vivid descriptions allowed me to experience the luxury, food and sights of glamorous places I can only dream about. I'm reminded of the cliché, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade". When his expected job fell through, rather than admit defeat, he instead chose to improvise a plan B. That is truly inspirational. His story also encourages me to take chances in life. I truly loved this very entertaining, fascinating book and I highly recommend it!
KathyB1230 More than 1 year ago
This is a fun lighthearted and very entertaining book. I'd seen the title many times and passed it over thinking " who wants to read about all of the trouble you go to to get a Birkin." I am so glad that I decided to read it. It is light reading yet interesting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Who would have thought buying and selling purses on ebay could be so much fun, or at least that is the impression one walks away with. Bravo, a fun and interesting read.
AMS79 More than 1 year ago
Omigosh, I absolutely LOVED this book!  I could not put it down, for real! his sense of humor, perspective and the storyline.  
reader72 More than 1 year ago
I remember hearing about the book when it first came out, and finally had a chance to read it. The author takes you on an adventure across Spain, France, Italy, Greece, and South America as he hunts down and captures the elusive Hermes Birkin bag. While the story itself is quite entertaining, Tonello probably makes a better E-bay seller than author. His writing is amateurish - where was his editor on this one? Lots of cliché's. Lots of unnecessary "filler" material - I think you get recipes for every meal he ever ate - none of which has anything to do with the story at hand. But then again, you're not reading this book as great literature - you're reading it to be entertained and to learn how he was able to stumble on his chosen, albeit short-lived, career. And using just those 2 measures, it's a success.
MANOLOLVRNJ More than 1 year ago
I found this book quite entertaining hearing of the adventures for these highly coveted bags. It was a very easy read and was able to read it in one night ... I just could not put it down.

Its amazing to think that Hermes could create such a fervor for a simple handbag and the lengths people will go to get one! I will be trying out Michael's formula coming up soon! Wish me luck!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I randomly picked this book up in the non-fiction section (the cover caught my eye) and was pleasantly surprised at what a fun read this was. Tonello is very witty and entertaining. Reading this book felt like you were sitting there with him over cocktails while he told you his tales of globetrotting and wining/dining. The only thing I'd say is I would have like to seen an epilogue or something of that nature that gives you an update on what he is doing now. Highly recommend this book!
GailCooke More than 1 year ago
Many of us probably have an idea of what a dream job would be. How about one that takes you to some of the most beautiful cities in the world where you stay in the finest hotels and dine only at 5-star restaurants? Plus, when you're not in Paris or on Capri you don't even have to go to the office, you simply work at home in your pajamas.
Sound too wonderful to be true? Well, it surely is for most of us but not for Michael Tonello who tells us all about it in the highly amusing, can't-believe-he-really-did-this memoir Bringing Home The Birkin. As the affluent know a Birkin is a handbag made by Hermes with retail prices in five figures and more than difficult to obtain. Evidently the two-year waiting list makes a Birkin even more desirable.
Tonello had already seen a good bit of the world as a beautician who traveled about prettying up the already pretty for commercial photo shoots. He was happy with his current home but had grown weary of the unfriendly Cape Cod winters. A recent assignment has taken him to Barcelona where he found he loved the people, the food, the sunny clime. When an opportunity to take a job there surprisingly appeared, he packed his designer duds and moved to Spain.
His euphoria was short lived because almost as soon as he had unpacked his job vanished just as quickly as it had appeared. What to do, how to make ends meet and keep wine at table? On an impulse he listed one of his Hermes scarves on eBay and it sold - at a nice price. Further, he was the recipient of emails from those who had lost out on his auction and wanted to know if he had more. Tonello soon realized that these were "serious collectors," and that there might be a great deal of money involved.
As he writes, "I didn't let my ignorance get in the way of my avarice. I intimated that this was only the tip of the iceberg. Well, I've always been a strong believer in the power of positive thinking - I really wanted it to be the tip of the iceberg."
For Tonello wanting made it so. It wasn't a great leap from scurrying around, finding and buying older patterns of Hermes scarves for his burgeoning list of clients to buying and reselling (at a healthy profit) the extravagantly priced, impossible to get Birkins. How could he possibly climb to the top of the daunting two-year waiting list? Where would he find the funds to purchase these more than pricey handbags?
He is one dauntless, determined fellow and his story is a carousel of chuckles, costly cuisine, and luxurious lodgings. Michael Tonello really brought home the Birkins and lives to tell his fascinating story while still enjoying Spain where, as he puts it "excuses to celebrate include getting out of bed in the morning and the ability to breathe for long periods of time."
This reader doesn't need an excuse to celebrate the refreshing honesty, wiles, and wit found in this memoir .

- Gail Cooke
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Very entertaining for a mindless read
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adorable and super funny