I am thrilled to share my latest interview with you! Michael Tonello, author of the New York Times and USA Today best seller Bringing Home the Birkin, graciously agreed to answer some questions for MoS! I am sure many of you have read Bringing Home the Birkin already, but if you haven't, it is a fascinating read! Michael chronicles his experiences as an American expat living in Barcelona. He uses his business acumen to launch a wildly successful eBay business after figuring out "the formula" for how to score a Birkin, any day of the week, in any city in the world, every single time!
MoS: In your book, Bringing Home the Birkin, you talk about moving to Barcelona and beginning to sell Hermes accessories on eBay. Were you well-versed in luxury accessories before you moved to Barcelona, or was this a new venture? Tell us a little about how you started your business.
MJT: I have always enjoyed nice things. I would not say that I was well-versed in luxury accessories, more like I was well-versed in shopping on my day(s) off and spending money :-).I started my business out of necessity. I suddenly found myself living in Barcelona without a job (the 'without a job' part was the surprise) and needed to find a way to make a living.
MoS: Your entrepreneurial spirit is inspiring, and I think it is a quality that manifests itself at a young age. Have you always been a bit of an entrepreneur?
MJT: Yes, most definitely. When I was 13, I created a mini-carnival in our backyard and charged the visitors to pay the games. Then at 16, I started a weekend summer business selling soda and sandwiches (which yours truly made) at my dad's country club. That summer business funded my first trip to Paris.
MoS: Before you landed your first Birkin, you tried unsuccessfully to buy one, despite spending thousands of dollars at Hermes on scarves. Tell us a little about how your first Birkin purchase transpired.
MJT: That's right; I tried for several months in numerous Hermes stores (mostly in the south of France) to buy a Birkin but was shot down in each and repeatedly told there was a multi-year waiting list. Fortune struck when I visited the Hermes store in Madrid and was sold a 35cm crocodile Birkin. That purchase lead to my discovery of what I refer to as "the formula".
MoS: You said in the book that at first, you weren’t sure why Hermes had decided to sell you a Birkin when they did. Your mom encouraged you to analyze the situation and figure out “the formula.” At what point did you figure out “the formula?”
MJT: Good point...it was my mom who encouraged me to think it through. I was at the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz in Paris and I called her from my cellphone. My mother's questioning me is what lead to my initial hypothesis which later became the formula.
MoS: I understand that you have to edit, but I could have read a whole book about the Hermes auction in Paris! Can anyone attend?
MJT: Yes, the auctions are open to the general public. And now there are two auctions houses in Paris (Artcurial and Gros & Delettrez) that both hold twice yearly Hermes vintage auctions. For any Hermes lover, the auctions are truly a special opportunity to purchase rare vintage pieces of Hermes.
MoS: Do you think “the formula” still works today? When was the last time you tried it?
MJT: The formula most definitely works today (better than ever). I occasionally receive emails through my website from people who have read my book and used my formula and are excited that it worked for them. I haven't used the formula since I wrote BHTB back in 2008. Actually, from what I've heard recently, if you don't use the formula you most likely won't get a Birkin. (laughing)
MoS: Was there any reaction from Hermes to your book? Were they aware that you were writing it? Did you hear from any of the sales people you referenced?
MJT: Hermes' initial reaction was "No comment." But then when I started showing up on tv and the book became a bestseller, Hermes was somewhat forced to make a comment. Their comment (and I'm paraphrasing here) was, "We have discovered over the years that many of our clients have come to find the wait-list off-putting, so we encourage them now to establish a relationship with a salesperson who will help them obtain a Birkin." I'm not about to comment on what "establish a relationship" might mean.
MoS: So the infamous “waiting list”… Does it actually exist?
MJT: No, never. The only thing Hermes is waiting for is a customer to spend enough money in the store and then they will reward you with the opportunity to purchase a Birkin.
MoS: If you walked into my local Hermes store in Charlotte, NC, could you walk out with a Birkin? Does every store have Birkins in stock, waiting for the right customers?
MJT: I literally received an email this morning about an Asian couple that bought five Birkins recently using my formula. So yes, I would say that the chances are very good that you could buy a Birkin in Charlotte today. It was very rare for me not to get a Birkin when I used the formula, and I've visited approximately 130 Hermes stores. That would seem to suggest that all Hermes stores have Birkin bags in stock (in the back room).
MoS: Are you involved in any ventures you can tell us about right now?
MJT: I've a few things in the works. I'm just finishing another book which has already been sold to a publisher. This next book, tentatively titled Barcelona Native, is about Barcelona and my life there as an expat. I'm also working on another book with my friend, Dwayne Raymond. Dwayne wrote Mornings With Mailer.
And finally, I'm developing a new brand of handbags and handbag accessories called No Sacrifice Bags. The bags are made in the USA of Toray Ultrasuede® (the fabric immortalized by Halston) which is eco-friendly and made from 100% recycled materials. With a bit of luck this new brand will launch this coming autumn.
MoS: When I studied abroad in Sevilla in college, Barcelona was my favorite city to visit. From the unique architecture to the world-class dining, the unique influence of the Basque culture is so inspiring. Tell us about your everyday life in Barcelona now.
MJT: I'm a bit of a lazy bastard. I love hanging out in my pajamas. It's not that I don't work, its that I work from home and enjoy being comfortable while being productive. I'm a morning achiever.
Give me a pot of Earl Grey and a computer and I'll get lots accomplished before noon. I relish the fact that my home is only a couple of blocks from La Boqueria, Barcelona's open air market, which I visit almost daily to the components to fix each day's dinner.
MoS: It’s a typical Saturday in Barcelona, and you need some inspiration. Where do you go? (besides Hermes of course:)
MJT: The port and beach (also only a couple of blocks from my home). Having grown up on Cape Cod, the ocean feels like home to me. There is nothing like the fresh ocean air to clear one's head (I think it has something to do with an abundance of negative ions). People are always happy when they're at the beach and that happiness is contagious. There is also art and sculpture to be found along the way. My favorite Saturday is to go to an 11AM movie and then a walk along the beach and lunch at a chiringuito.
Rebecca Horn's L'Estel Ferit on Barceloneta Beach
Frank Gehry's Whale
I would like to sincerely thank Michael for his kindness in sharing his experiences and insight with us! He is a fantastic writer with such interesting stories who is also a genuinely kind and funny person. It is so refreshing to meet someone with his success who is so down-to-earth and approachable. We will definitely stay tuned for Barcelona Native and No Sacrifice Bags!