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Hermes sued over Birkin bag sales

Class-action lawsuit alleges the luxury brand allows only customers with ‘sufficient purchase history’ to buy its famed handbags

A Bonhams employee displays a Hermes: a Bambou Swift Leather Birkin 25 bag, at the auction rooms in London, on 26 February
A Bonhams employee displays a Hermes: a Bambou Swift Leather Birkin 25 bag, at the auction rooms in London, on 26 February (AP)

French luxury house Hermes has been sued in California over claims it unlawfully allows only customers with "sufficient purchase history" with the company to buy its famed Birkin handbags.

Hermes is violating antitrust law by “tying” the sale of one item to the purchase of another, two California residents alleged in the proposed federal class-action lawsuit filed on Tuesday in San Francisco.

The company's sales associates are driving the scheme by pushing customers to buy shoes, scarves, jewellery and other items to gain an opportunity to buy a Birkin, the lawsuit said.

Also read: Why Hermes Beauty refuses to follow trends

Hermes and attorneys for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit calls the Birkin handbags, long seen as a status symbol, an “icon of fashion.”

Consumers cannot purchase a Birkin online from Hermes, and the leather bags, which are handcrafted and can cost thousands of dollars each, are not displayed for sale in the company’s retail stores, according to the lawsuit.

“Typically, only those consumers who are deemed worthy of purchasing a Birkin handbag will be shown a Birkin handbag (in a private room),” the lawsuit claimed.

Hermes sales associates do not earn commissions on Birkin bag sales and are instructed to use the handbags "as a way to coerce consumers to purchase ancillary products," according to the complaint.

The lawsuit said it was seeking class action status for thousands of U.S. consumers who bought Hermes goods or were asked to buy them in order to purchase a Birkin.

Hermes operates about 43 stores in the United States, including eight in California.

The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified monetary damages and a court order barring Hermes' allegedly anticompetitive practices.

Also read: Hermes is in expansion mode

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