Everything You Need To Know About The Hermès Kelly Bag

While the Hermès Birkin often gets a lot of airtime, the Hermès Kelly Bag in fact has a much richer – and longer – history with the house. For almost a century, the Hermès Kelly Bag has been an icon, transcending fashion as a keepsake, an heirloom, an object of virtue. But who is the Hermès Kelly?

While the Hermès Birkin gets a lot of attention, we view the Kelly bag as the richer and more fabulous sister. Keep reading if you’re wondering why the Kelly bag is known as a cult classic.


The History Behind The Kelly

The Kelly bag dates back to 1852 and was originally dubbed the ‘Haut à Courroies’, abbreviated as ‘HAC’. This directly translates to ‘strappy top’ and was used to hold saddles for equestrians.

It was then reintroduced in 1935 by artistic director Robert Dumas (the grandson of Émile-Maurice Hermès). The reinvented bag was then known as ‘sac à main pour la dame’, which directly translates to ‘bag for a lady’. 

So, why was the bag did the name change in 1954? 


Kelly Behind The Kelly

America’s sweetheart turned Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly turned the handbag from fabulous to fabulously iconic. In 1956 the fashionista hid her baby bump from the paparazzi. These black and white images quickly went viral after appearing on the cover of Life Magazine in 1956, referring to the bag as “The Kelly”. Hermés officially crowned the bag in Grace Kelly’s honour in 1977. 

Luxury Is In The Details

A luxury bag is a work of art. The Hermès Kelly is made up of 36 pieces of leather, 20 metres of thread and 680 handmade stitches to ensure that every single bag is nothing short of perfection.

The infamous sellier (saddle stitch), is the most iconic attribute of the Kelly a slanted stitch made by using an awl (a puncture tool) to first create a hole for the thread to pass. 2 pieces of thread are then interwoven in a single line, resulting in an indestructible stitch, so that even if the thread breaks, the stitch will remain intact.

Of course, this is no easy feat, each Hermès Kelly takes 18-20 hours to make. The distinct stiff top handle is the most intricate part of the bag to be made, and takes around 4 hours, and comprises layers of leather held together by stitches and finished with hot wax to secure it.

The Kelly Structures

There are two popular Kelly structures available today: Sellier and Retourne.

The original style is the ‘sellier’, structured and boxy, it is stitched from the outside in, and finished with a resin edge coat.

The ‘retourné’ style is stitched from the inside out. The bag is folded inside out, stitched, and then flipped back. Its edges are round, giving off a softer effect.

Sellier Mou

While the sellier and the retourné are the more widely available Kelly bags, there are more rare versions. The ‘mou’ (meaning ‘soft’) does not have the extra layer of leather lining found in other styles. This allows the bag to be foldable from the bottom.

The bag is discontinued, but if you’re lucky, you can find it on the pre-owned market. 

Kelly Flat

The Kelly Flat is also discontinued and can also completely collapse. It features a leather buckle, rather than the traditional touret (meaning turnlock) closure. 

Available Hermès Kelly Materials & Hardware

The Kelly is usually available in Epsom, Chevre, Box, Tadelakt and more exotic leathers like crocodile, alligator, ostrich, and lizard leather. 

When it comes to hardware, Hermès only uses the best. You can find Kelly bags with gold, permabrass, rose gold, guilloche, and PVC hardware. Hard to find and completely expensive, but you can find the Kelly with diamond and 18-karat white-gold hardware. 

Kelly Sizes

The traditional Kelly comes in a range of sizes. From the Micro Kelly (15 cm) to the new holy grails the Mini Kelly & Mini Kelly II (Kelly 20 cm), to the classic 25, 28 and 32, 35, 40 all in centimetres, measuring the bottom of the bag. 

Each Kelly bag has a matching strap that is 85cm long, however, straps in lengths of 70cm, 105cm and 120cm may be specially requested. Kelly bags which are larger than the Mini (20 cm) size also come with a clochette, lock, pair of keys for the lock, and even a rain jacket.

Kelly Versus Birkin

The Kelly’s only competition is its sister, the Hermès Birkin. Similar in structure, and stature, the two share only a few differences. 

The Birkin bag was invented in 1984, inspired by singer and actress Jane Birkin who happened to take a flight with Jean-Louis Dumas, the former Hermès owner. Jane Birkin stuffed her trademark wicker basket bag into the overhead compartment, the contents spilt out onto the seat and aisle below. 

Upon discussing with Jane Birkin, Dumas realised that there is a gap in the market for luxury shopping bags that are spacious enough to carry a woman’s essentials. Thereafter, the Birkin was born!

So, besides its stature, the only substantial difference between the Kelly and Birkin is the wearer. The Birkin is a luxurious everyday piece, while the Kelly is a bag fit for a princess (literally) designed as an object of pure luxury and sophistication. 


Where To Buy Hermès Items in South Africa

It can be hard to come by Hermès products in South Africa as there isn’t a single Hermès store on the entire continent. So, if you’re looking to purchase highly coveted and 100% authentic Hermès products, shop Bvaultre. Browse our online shop or visit us in-store today.

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