Fashion is about more than practicality. Moving beyond functionality and being aesthetically pleasing, fashion serves as a dynamic expression on both a large and small scale. Clothing reflects a culture’s values and traditions and is a visual expression of one’s identity. It has the power to influence and shape a society. The power of a pretty dress should not be underestimated, but neither should the people seeking out fashion icons. Just ask Hermès, an international French luxury design house facing an antitrust class action case in California after former store clientele claimed unethical business practices aimed at monopolizing the highly coveted Birkin Bag.

Specializing in leather goods, accessories, perfumery, ready-to-wear, and more, Hermès has generated success through its scarcity-of-product approach, which is the phenomenon of offering products and services that are in extremely limited availability (or at least they are perceived as being limited in availability). When highly desirable products and/or services are harder to sink your teeth into, their values increase. The common phrase, “We all want what we can’t have,” rings a bell, thus contributing to perceived scarcity and making certain products and/or services more attractive. 

However, this business strategy may have been pushed too far by the French luxury design house. Hermès has been sued in California, with two Californian residents alleging that the brand unlawfully allows only customers with “sufficient purchase history” with Hermès to buy one of the famed Birkin handbags. This class-action lawsuit was filed on Tuesday in San Francisco, claiming that Hermès is violating antitrust laws by essentially tying the sale of one item to the purchase of another—simply put, you need to spend big first before you can even set your pretty little eyes on one of Hermès precious Birkin handbags.

When fashion extends beyond practicality, functionality, and even self-expression into tangible representations of what a person is “worth,” these Birkin bags are popular for more than great pockets and no-spill zippers. They are a symbol of luxury, rarity, status, and wealth. This recent lawsuit refers to Birkin handbags as a status symbol, an “icon of fashion,” making clear that they are more than just bags.

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The lawsuit alleges that Hermès’ sales associates, who do not earn commission on sales, are driving this monopolistic scheme by pushing the store’s customers into buying shoes, scarves, jewelry, and other expensive items just to buy a Birkin bag. Adding more prestige to these bags, Hermès does not permit the sale of their Birkin bags online, nor are they displayed for sale in the company’s retail stores, keeping them just out of reach.

The complaint argues that Hermès sales associates are instructed to use these handbags “as a way to coerce consumers to purchase ancillary products,” meaning you can possibly see or buy one when you buy enough of everything else. Further claiming illegal business practices, the lawsuit states that “typically, only those consumers who are deemed worthy of purchasing a Birkin handbag will be shown a Birkin handbag (in a private room).”

This lawsuit is seeking class-action status for thousands of US consumers who bought Hermès goods or were asked to make a purchase to buy a Birken. While this lawsuit may have started with a bag, it would be a big mistake to underestimate those looking to buy—just ask the Pretty Woman herself, Vivian Ward.