The handbag wars are heating up in China, the world’s largest luxury market, and one particular runaway-hit TV show, Nothing But Thirty, pits the two most prestigious luxury brands in the world, Chanel and Hermès, against each other.
In a pivotal moment of the series, which has gone viral on Chinese social media, one of the main characters carries a Chanel 2.55 bag at a social event with fellow tai-tais (socialites or ladies who lunch), who are all sporting much more expensive and luxurious Hermès Birkin bags.
The group of fashionable ladies document their gathering with a commemorative photo-op but when they share it on social media, they crop the friend’s Chanel bag from the picture.
Her poor choice of handbag, according to the rarefied gang of sophisticated ladies, disqualifies her from being front and centre in the photo. Chanel 2.55 bags cost around €4,000 (US$4,750) while Hermès Birkin bags start at €10,000.
An Hermès Birkin (top) and a Chanel 2.55 handbag.The slight weighs heavily on the woman, who goes on a frantic search for a Birkin bag in order to make up for her fashion faux pas and to fit in with her Hermès-loving friends.
Since the episode aired last month, the topic has been trending on social media channels such as Weibo and Little Red Book, highlighting the hierarchy and prestige associated with luxury bags in China, and around the world for that matter.
Chanel and Hermès are considered the top luxury brands in the world. Both privately owned and operated and with a focus on sophisticated luxury, the brands have fared much better than their competitors during the coronavirus pandemic and global economic downturn.
However, while both make ultra-expensive items, such as tweed jackets in the case of Chanel and crocodile leather bags in the case of Hermès, Chanel has always been more approachable than its main competitor, with a wider selection of entry-level products, ranging from nail polishes to skincare.
Hermès has also dipped its toes in beauty, with a line of lipsticks that debuted earlier this year – and also does brisk business selling accessible items such as men’s ties and fragrances – but the brand’s broad offerings still come with a sense of exclusivity, enhanced by the scarcity of those Birkin and Kelly bags that have become collector’s items and are much harder to get than Chanel handbags.
Comments from Chinese social media about the scene in Nothing but Thirty.
The TV show episode, which has resonated with fashion fans in China and cemented the status of the Birkin as the holy grail of luxury handbags, is an accurate reflection of a long-standing rivalry between the most prestigious brands in the fashion world.