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Q&A: Machiko Takahashi of Maison L’ecrin tells all about sourcing for rare Birkin bags

Hermès arguably stands at the peak of luxury Parisian brands, and this is in no small part thanks to the Birkin bag. Probably the most exclusive and elusive purse there is, the Birkin is an enigma unto its own. Methods of procuring the bag, especially if you want a rarer design, are hit and miss — unless you happen to be a celebrity or person of great influence.

In comes Maison L’ecrin to crack the Birkin code. Established in 2011, Maison L’ecrin Tokyo is a specialised Hermès-only boutique that sells a variety of Hermès bags, including prized Birkins. Not affiliated with the French fashion house, Masion L’ecrin instead sources for bags independently and retails them at two private boutiques — one in Tokyo, and one in Singapore’s Palais Renaissance. 

Its repertoire of Hermès goods goes beyond the Birkin, spanning Kellys, Bolides, Picotin Locks, and other leather goods. We speak to Machiko Takahashi, the CEO of Maison L’ecrin to get an intimate look at her unique business, as well as how one can bag a Birkin of his or her own.

Lifestyle Asia (LSA): What made you decide on starting Maison L’ecrin Group, and exclusively selling Hermès bags?

Machiko Takahashi (MT): Prior to the establishment of Maison L’ecrin Inc. in 2001, I started my retail background in a department store in Japan. When I saw my mother carrying a black Kelly bag, I thought of getting involved in something related to Hermès. With my retail experience and the help from my friends in the industry, I was given an opportunity to venture into this current business of solely retailing Hermès products.

LSA: Does Maison L’ecrin Group have a special relationship with Hermès, which enables your team to be able to attain exclusive items in a shorter time frame?

MT: L’ecrin is not a franchise of Hermès, and neither is it affiliated. We have a team of staff in Japan that sources for Hermès bags worldwide. It is widely known that getting a bag from Hermès is challenging, so L’ecrin saw an opportunity in enabling [customers] to own one while skipping the long waiting list. L’ecrin is like a personal concierge that helps customers source for their ideal bag in the colour, size, leather and hardware they desire.

maison l'ecrin
Diana Ser, Machiko Takahashi, Tomoyo Toyoda and Vanessa Vanderstraaten at the opening of Maison L’ecrin Singapore. (Photo: Wardrobe Trends Fashion)

LSA: Tell us about the buying process in Maison L’ecrin Group. 

MT:  The L’ecrin staff members actively source for the Hermès bags that are highly sought after, as well as any customer’s specific requests. We constantly carry over 150 Birkin and Kelly bags in our inventory, ensuring our customers have a vast range of choices when it comes to shopping.

LSA: Would it be possible for a VIP customer to request for a fully customised bag? 

MT: We don’t offer personalised services. All bespoke Birkin or Kelly bag requests have to be ordered directly from Hermès. From accepting orders to the finished product, it may take more than a year. Sometimes, certain orders may not be completed due to a shortage of leather or certain parts. L’ecrin only brings in already-personalised, new Hermès Birkin and Kelly bags.

LSA: What are the price points like? Are they equal or comparable to that of Hermès boutiques?

MT: Most people would know that it is relatively difficult to score a bag from Hermès boutiques. Hermès’ iconic and highly sought after Birkins and Kellys sell out instantly worldwide. For consumers to purchase one at any Hermès outlet in Asia would be nearly impossible. There is also no guarantee that even after months of waiting, the bags available will be of the desired style the customer is looking for. L’ecrin prices are from S$19,000 onwards, and are largely dependent on the time and place where the item is sourced.

maison l'ecrin
A look at the store. (Photo: Maison L’ecrin)

LSA: Who are your most popular clients?

MT: Apart from Singaporeans, most of the boutique’s customers are from Southeast Asia — especially Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam. Many fly in just to purchase a bag from us.

LSA: Do you think Maison L’ecrin Group will ever include the sale of exclusive items from other luxury brands in the future?

MT: The company has never considered bringing in other brands. L’ecrin takes pride in retailing solely Hermès products. We will always be a specialised boutique and will continue to provide this unique service to our customers.

LSA: How many Hermès bags do you personally own, and which is your favourite.

MT: I own about 50 Hermès bags. One of my all-time favourites is the Hermès Kelly in box calf leather. The Hermès leather has a smooth and glossy finish that ages beautifully over time. The scratches and scuffs that come with regular usage, and the patina that develops on the leather gives the bag personality. This is the kind of weathered look I really cherish.

Maison L’ecrin Singapore, 390 Orchard Road, #01-10 Palais Renaissance, Singapore 238871, +65  6883 1161

Beatrice Bowers

Features Editor

Beatrice Bowers writes about beauty, drinks, and other nice things. When not bound to her keyboard, she moonlights as a Niffler for novels and can be found en route to bankruptcy at your nearest bookstore. Don't tell her boss.

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