The History Of The Hermès Kelly Bag
The first of the “It” bags, the Hermès Kelly bag has a long and storied history rich in glamour, royalty, and supreme quality. In fact, a chronicle of 20th-century fashion would not be complete without the Hermès Kelly bag history.
The First Hermès Bag
The Hermès Kelly bag history began in 1892 when the atelier released the Haut à courroies. It was the first time the design house, devoted to manufacturing exquisite tack and saddles for the French nobility, released an Hermès bag. It was designed to carry a saddle, riding boots, and other essential equestrian gear. The early seeds of the Kelly and Birkin bags can be seen clearly in this original style. The signature flap that secures over the single rolled handle, leather sangles, metal plaque, and touret were all a part of the original design.
The Sac à Dépêches
In 1928, Robert Dumas reimagined the Haut à courroies as a smaller, elegant bag for transporting important papers and files. He named it the Sac à Dépêches, or “dispatch bag.” It was readily adopted by the fashionable women of the day as an elegant and practical bag. With its strong trapezoid shape, rigid structure, and top handle, the Sac à Dépêches was a significant departure from the popular bags of the time, which were all much smaller, resembling an envelope and held in the hand. It was one of the first true “handbags.”
The Sac à Dépêches was broadly popular among the elite, and it retained the appeal of its original intent. Many prominent men, including John F. Kennedy, the Duke of Windsor, and eminent poets and businessmen, carried a large Sac à Dépêches as a briefcase. However, it was not yet the international sensation that later qualified it as an “It” bag. For the next stage in the Hermès Kelly bag history, we head to Hollywood at the height of the Golden Age.
The Sac à Dépêches Meets Grace Kelly
The “Grace Kelly” bag history dates back to the Alfred Hitchcock film To Catch a Thief, which was released in 1955. The film starred Cary Grant and legendary beauty and actress Grace Kelly. Award-winning costumer Edith Head had chosen the Sac à Dépêches as part of Kelly’s wealthy character’s wardrobe. The star was already a fashion icon, and she loved the bag so much that it is reported that she refused to return it at the movie’s end.
Two years later, Grace Kelly married Prince Ranier III of Monaco, becoming Princess Grace of Monaco. Within a few months, the new princess became pregnant. Their love story seemed like a fairy tale: a small-town American beauty marries a handsome European prince. The media went crazy, and the paparazzi followed the couple everywhere. To shield her growing belly from the cameras, Kelly would hide behind her Sac à Dépêches. A photo of her holding the bag was featured on the cover of Life Magazine, prompting fashionable women the world over to flood Hermès boutiques asking for the “Kelly bag.”
Sales of the Sac à Dépêches skyrocketed. However, it was not until 1977 that Hermès bowed to inevitability and officially changed the name of the Sac à Dépêches to the Kelly bag. The Kelly bag became a cultural touchstone.
What Is a Kelly Bag?
The Kelly bag is now the official name for the Sac à Dépêches, an iconic leather handbag by the high-fashion luxury goods manufacturer, Hermès. Each Kelly bag is handcrafted by a single artisan who constructs the bag from 36 pieces of leather using precisely 680 saddle stitches. The luxury handbag is cherished by heads of state, CEOs, celebrities, and fashionable women around the globe.
The Kelly bag is a wearable piece of functional art. Crafted from sumptuous leathers and exotic skins, the Kelly bag is now available in eight sizes. The options include the Hermès Kelly 15cm, 20cm, 25cm, 28cm, 32cm, 35cm, 40cm, and 50cm.
Hermès Kelly Bag History Continues
The history of the Hermès Kelly bag doesn’t end with the renaming. Hermès realized they had an international sensation, so they worked to improve it. Over the decades, the design house has managed to maintain the classic essence of the Kelly bag while continuing to update it to make it ideally suited to contemporary women. In 1985, a matching, detachable shoulder strap was added to the bag, affording greater versatility.
The Kelly bag is crafted in two primary styles, the Sellier and Retourne. The Kelly Sellier is a highly structured bag with crisp, clean lines. The look is sharp and utterly feminine. The Retourne is a more relaxed style, with soft sides that can bear a bit of overstuffing. The distinction is in the method of manufacture. The Sellier features seams with exposed top-stitching, and the cut edge of the leather is finished in a colored resin coat. The Kelly Retorne is first constructed like the Sellier, but then the leather bag is turned inside out, so the seams are inside the bag. This imparts a slightly slouchy look and a more casual feel.
Limited Edition Kelly Bags
In the history of the Hermès Kelly bag, several stunning, Limited Edition releases remain some of the most coveted bags to this day.
The Kelly Doll
Originally named the “Quelle Idole,” the Kelly Doll is undoubtedly the most adorable design in Hermès Kelly bag history. This whimsical style turned the highly sophisticated accessory into a charming buddy bag with the addition of a face, arms, and feet. First introduced in 2000, the Kelly Doll was an instant sensation. Initially offered in just eight colors, the bag was retired in 2005. Collectors clamored for more. In 2008, several limited runs were released in an array of colorful patterns. Again, the Kelly Doll was retired in 2010. Today, new Kelly Dolls are available only to those lucky enough to custom order a bespoke Hermès Special Order bag designated by a Horseshoe stamp on the front.
Another Limited Edition style that stands out in Hermès Kelly bag history is the Osier Wicker Picnic Kelly, released in the spring/summer of 2011. With this bag, the formal Kelly bag is crossed with a classic woven wicker picnic basket for a fresh, new look. The natural wicker is trimmed out with leather for the top flap, handle, strap, and sangles.
Who is Team Kelly?
Some celebrities are team Birkin and others are team Kelly. Below are some celebrities who love the Kelly bag!
Leslie Mann uses the detachable strap for hands-free travel. Laverne Cox loves a structured Kelly. Miroslava Duma loves small Kelly bags, specially in exotic skins.
Chiara Ferragni loves Birkin bags, but is known to wear a Kelly when she prefers to have her hands free. Miranda Kerr loves Kelly bags in neutral colors. Rachel Zoe carries a large Sellier Kelly and the slouchy feel fits her boho personality.
How to Buy a Kelly Bag
Beyond the romantic history of the Hermès Kelly bag and its exquisite quality and style, there is another secret to the enormous demand for this bag. Hermès has instituted a marketing strategy of extreme scarcity, where they manufacture a far smaller number of the bags each year than they can sell. This naturally drives up the demand and the price.
Collectors can spend years cultivating a relationship with a sales associate at an Hermès boutique, buying plenty of brand apparel, often spending five figures, all in the quest for a chance to purchase a Kelly bag. For those who enjoy the chase, it is a great quest.
For women who wish to own a Kelly bag, Madison Avenue Couture offers another path. We are one of the world’s leading Hermès resellers with an extensive selection of authentic collectible and hard-to-find Kelly bags. We specialize in store-fresh, new and never-worn and bags and rare vintage bags. Each is in stock and available for immediate delivery. Shop Madison Avenue Couture with confidence.