The Hermès Kelly bag | Complete guide: History, style, sizes and prices
In 1837 Thierry Hèrmes opened up a harness workshop in Paris and Hermès became renowned for being one of the best saddlers. Over the years they expanded into producing leather bags from which to feed horses and then luckily for us on to bags for humans!
Inspiration for both the Hermès Kelly and Birkin bags can be traced back to 1982. They are both the development of a large bag named the Haut à courroies – known as such because of its high handle. The “HAC” bag was originally produced for cavalry soldiers to store their boots and saddles in. Still around but rarely seen the Hermès HAC bags have been referred to by one blogger as the “Unicorn of Hermès bags” as they are so rarely seen. This could be due to the fact that they are a pretty impressive size and weight – especially once full, arguably not the most practical of weekend bags. Anyway, thou shall not insult Hermès…
In 1922, Émile-Maurice Hermès and Ettore Bugatti designed a simple bag for Hermès's wife Julie who had complained that she could not find a bag to her liking. A few years later in the 1930s, Hermès's son-in-law Robert Dumas redesigned this as a spacious travel bag and named it the Sac à dépêches. It was a sharp contrast to the purses of the time, which were small and flat envelope style pieces.
In 1954, the costume designer for the film “How to Catch a thief” starring Grace Kelly purchased Hermès accessories. The American actress who went on to become the Princess of Monaco loved the design of the bag and commissioned six to be made in different colours. Two years later in 1956, the bag she brought along shielded her from paparazzi while pregnant with her daughter. After featuring in various magazine shoots and paparazzi shots, the bag soon started to be referred to as the “The Kelly bag” however it was not officially renamed until 1977.
The keen Hermès fans among you will know that they have now named another model the Sac à dépêches and this is more of a briefcase-style bag.
THE DESIGN & ANATOMY
The Kelly bag is a trapezium closed with two straps. Four studs on the bottom, itself made of three layers of leather, enabling it to stand on the ground. The padlock, keys and hardware are generally gold plated or palladium but custom finishes are also available. The construction of each Kelly bag requires 18 to 25 hours of handicraft, with each item being created by a single artisan.
Kelly bags have the same draw-strap and lock mechanism as a Birkin bag but have a single leather top handle. They also have an optional non-adjustable shoulder strap that was introduced as standard in the 1980's prior to that, they were special. In 2000, the double loop metal strap holder was added.
LOCK – for securing the bag
TOURET – where the lock hooks in the centre
CLOUCHETTE – the leather cover over the keys
TIRET – thin piece of leather that holds the keys & clouchette
SANGLES – thin leather straps that fasten the bag over the top of the straight flap
PLAQUE – hardware at the end of the Sangles that goes over the Touret
FLOUR CLOU – four feet at the base of the bag
The Hermès Kelly is available in eight sizes – the number relates to the length of the base on the bag in CM: Kelly 15 (K15) • Kelly 20 (K20) • Kelly 25 (K25) • Kelly 28 (K28) • Kelly 32 (K32) • Kelly 35 (K35) • Kelly 40 (K40) • Kelly 50 (K50). The K40 and K50 are more rarely selected sizes, but work well for travel.
It is also available in two styles: Retourne and Sellier.
The Kelly Sellier, or “rigid” Kelly has a boxy, structured look. Its side stitches show on the outside. The sharper edges give the Kelly Sellier an air of chic formality. Because of its shape and the strong leathers used, like Epsom and Box, Kelly Sellier bags hold their shape exceptionally well as time goes by.
As you can see, the Retourne version, also referred to as “souple,” has softer, more rounded corners. Its slouchy feel makes it a favourite among Hermès lovers who enjoy wearing Kelly bags on an everyday basis, to complement a more casual wardrobe. During the manufacturing process, the bag is turned inside out. The result is a softer look with rounded edges and visible piping. The stitching on a Retourne is on the inside.
In the mid-1990s, a Kelly bag was priced at US$3,500 and as of March 2017, prices range from US $7,400 to US $12,000 - naturally more for rare skins. The Sellier is generally more expensive model than the Retourne.
Hermès bags are very much considered to be investment pieces as their rarity (Hermès limited the supply) and the consistent price rises mean that they not only hold their value but increase over time.
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