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Hermès Hit With Class Action Lawsuit Over Exclusivity of Birkin Bags

Hollywood’s favorite accessory is coming under fire, with French luxury house Hermès facing a lawsuit over barriers to purchase its coveted Birkin handbags.

A proposed class action filed in California federal court on Tuesday alleges that Hermès violates antitrust laws by requiring consumers to have a “sufficient purchase history” of buying the company’s secondary products, such as shoes, scarves and jewelry, for the opportunity to buy a handbag.

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A-listers across Hollywood are regularly photographed with a Birkin bag in tow. From Kim Kardashian to Jennifer Lopez, it’s become a status symbol largely driven by quality and scarcity, with prices reaching hundreds of thousands of dollars. While other luxury brands have pivoted to marketing to the masses, the company has embraced mostly catering to the highest tax brackets, even as it expands into selling cheaper products.

Consumers take issue with an allegedly illegal scheme in which Hermès ties the ability to be offered one of its bags to the purchase of other ancillary products.

According to the complaint, sales associates screen consumers who they deem are qualified to purchase a handbag. Criteria include a sufficient “purchase history” of the company’s other products, such as shoes, scarves, belts, jewelry and home goods.

The lawsuit says this process is reinforced through a compensation structure in which sales associates are paid by the hour and receive a commission on their sales. The rates differ based on products, with workers getting three percent on ancillary products and nothing on the sale of Birkin bags. Associates are instructed to use the bags as a tactic to “coerce consumers” into buying nonbag products to “build-up the purchase history required to be offered” a Birkin handbag, the lawsuit alleges.

“Typically, only those consumers who are deemed worthy of purchasing a Birkin handbag will be shown a Birkin handbag (in a private room),” states the complaint. “The chosen consumer will be given the opportunity to purchase the specific Birkin handbag which they are shown.”

Tina Cavalleri says she spent tens of thousands of dollars at the store in order to obtain access to bags. She reached out to the company in 2022 about purchasing another bag but was told that it was going to “clients who have been consistent in supporting our business,” the lawsuit claims. The other named plaintiff, Mark Glinoga, claims he was never given the opportunity to buy a bag.

The proposed class action seeks to represent consumers who purchased or were asked to purchase ancillary products in order to buy a bag and an order barring the company from continuing to engage in practices that allegedly violate antitrust laws. It brings claims for a violation of section two of the Sherman Act, which prohibits acquiring or maintaining a monopoly through anticompetitive means, the Cartwright Act, a California antitrust law that bars certain restrictions on commerce and attempts to prevent competition, and unfair competition.

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