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Bringing Home the Birkin by Michael Tonello

Birkin handbags. I had never heard of them before they started popping up in paparazzi shots left, right and centre. Lindsay Lohan has several, so does Posh, Nicole Ritchie, Brooke Shields... the list goes on. 

The design wasn't really my cup of tea (clunky, with a weird tassel that looks like it's been ripped off one of my dad's moccasins) so I was curious to find out why they were so popular with the celebs. What was I missing?

My question was answered when I found out it's not possible to buy a Birkin from the Hermès official website, or even from the shelves of a Hermès store. There is a much publicised two year waiting list for the privilege of owning one, and getting on the list isn't as simple as requesting to be added.

Yet somehow Michael Tonello managed to crack the secret of the waiting list while trying to earn a living in Barcelona. Bringing Home the Birkin follows him in hot pursuit of the world's most coveted handbag, as he discovers the truth about the Birkin waiting list and figures out the secret to getting Hermès to part with one.

Millions of dollars worth of Birkins later, Tonello has become one of eBay's most successful entrepreneurs-and a Robin Hood to thousands of desperate rich women.

Tonello is a natural business entrepreneur, and it is his story rather than his prose which sells this book. His early descriptions of Barcelona are somewhat earnest and overly descriptive - like a twenty-something's first OE emails home - and his love of alliteration in the first few chapters is quite disconcerting.  "Velma Vinklemeyer from Vinalhaven, Vermont"&(!) Let's just say I wasn't exactly gripped.

However, if you keep reading past the wobbly beginning, Bringing Home the Birkin turns into a fascinating tale. Tonello goes from selling his first-edition of Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's in order to make ends meet, to regularly jetting around Europe on Birkin buying sprees.

He manages to crash the Athens Hermès opening party; simultaneously own 12 different cash flow cards; hire several thugs in France to rescue a kidnapped bag; and buy a staggering 130 Birkins from Hermes over a three-month period in 2005, making a mockery of the official two year waiting list.

If someone wanted to buy a Birkin handbag right now, and were prepared to trust the reseller on 'craigslist', they could purchase one for the bargain price of $US9,500. Michael Tonello may have stopped reselling and returned to a more conventional way of life, but his legacy lives on, and Bringing Home the Birkin is a chance to explore where it all started.

3 out of 5 stars.

Bringing Home the Birkin
Available: Now
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers