Fashion & Style:
For some, the coveted Birkin bag is a symbol of wealth and iconic luxury, but for American author, Michael Tonello, the handbag was a way of life. After years of success as a stealth Birkin bag-buyer and eBay re-seller, Tonello decided to ditch the profession and put pen to paper in his first ever memoir, Bringing Home the Birkin: My Life In Hot Pursuit of the World's Most Coveted Handbag
Released last April, the book became an immediate must-read, and has been the choice beach entertainment for fashionistas from the Hamptons to Bali. Coming off a whirlwind two-month book tour, this newly inked author took time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about getting his start in the business, how the tell-all has affected his life and the secret behind Hermès' inexhaustible appeal.
First thing's first, do you personally own a coveted Birkin bag?
No, although I currently have one for my tour, which is borrowed from another online luxury reseller.
What inspired you to write your first memoir?
Actually the answer to this question is the climax of the book, and it would spoil the story if I told you now.
Writing a tell-all about how to be successful in your niche business is a pretty risky venture. With so many entrepreneurs right on your heels, do you think this will hurt your success?
I did think long and hard about this. In my case, I was pretty well convinced that the writing of this book would put an end to my business?which it did. Fortunately my book has opened other doors for me: another book, a movie, speaking engagements.
How did you get started in the high-end market of hawking Hermès goods?
I moved to Barcelona from Provincetown, Massachusetts, with the promise of a job. Within days of signing my apartment lease in Barcelona my new job fell through. I decided to list some items?a cashmere Polo Ralph Lauren scarf, some first edition books?on eBay to raise money. I quickly discovered that there was an enormous market there for designer luxury goods, specifically Hermès.
Your memoir is filled with so many unbelievable experiences. What has been your favorite part of this adventure?
Through the power of the internet and eBay I have met hundreds, if not thousands, of people from all around the world. Some of these people have become very close friends who I cherish.
In your opinion, what is the driving appeal of a Birkin bag?
It's all about the inaccessibility of something. People desperately want what they can't have.
Do any other luxury goods hold such an attraction for fashionistas?
Not to such a degree?at least, not as far as I have seen. Hermès has been very clever in not flooding the market with their brand. It's really a situation of less is more for them.
The New York Times recently wrote a great review of your book. Does the success motivate you to try your hand at another memoir or novel?
Yes, most definitely! I have ideas for at least three more books, but was unsure of my ability to write them or the degree of interest I would receive. Now I am full-speed ahead on these projects.
What are your thoughts on how online sites are now mediating the traffic of fake luxury items?
: It's a huge problem. I started selling on eBay in 1999 and it was very different back then. I don't know that I would have had as much success had I been starting out now. One needs to be very careful these days when purchasing luxury/designer goods on eBay. Counterfeits are a major concern.
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