Former staff of the luxury French brand Hermès have appeared in court accused of faking designer handbags including the celebrated “Birkin” named after the British singer Jane Birkin.
A total of10 people are on trial, seven of them former workers at the company who are alleged to have made dozens of fake bags sold for tens of thousands of euros.
The court heard that investigators stumbled across the forgery network after bugging the apartment of a man suspected of selling handbags stolen in France to customers in Asia.
As part of that investigations, police overheard conversations revealing the existence of a “secret atelier” making the fake handbags.
The accused, aged between 30 and 61, are alleged to have produced dozens of fake Hermès bags between 2013 and 2014 that were sold for between €23,500 and €32,000 each for a total profit of more than €2m (£1.8m). Among them were Birkin bags, the most famous and sought after of the company’s handbags.
Prosecutors told the court three friends had originated the fake bag production, two of whom had worked at Hermès, while the third handled imports of crocodile skins from Lombardy in Italy from which the copies were made. Five other people who worked at the company are also in court: one supplied jewels to decorate the bags and the four others were skilled leather workers who put the bags together incorporating the company’s signature saddle stitching by hand.
A number of the accused are charged with having stolen leather offcuts, tools, zips and “seconds” that were to be destroyed to help produce the bags.
They are being tried for forgery as part of an organised band and several face charges of abuse of confidence. One suspect, resident in Vietnam, was not present in court and is the subject of an arrest warrant.
The Birkin is a range of exclusive hand-made leather tote bags that were introduced in the 1980s and became a byword for luxury chic, prompting waiting lists to buy that still exist today. They are a popular collectors bag and in May 2017 a Birkin bag was sold at auction in Hong Kong for a record $380,000 (£305,000).
The bag was named after Jane Birkin after the former. Hermès chief executive Jean-Louis Dumas sat next to the singer and actress, married to French star Serge Gainsbourg, on a flight from Paris to London during which she complained of the difficulty in finding a good leather weekend bag. Dumas instructed his workers to make a bag with pockets for her and the Birkin was born.
The trial continues until Friday.