There’s no denying a Hermès bag is the epitome of luxury. While everything about the French fashion house conjures luxury, its bags are no doubt the Hermès calling card, works of art in their own right. 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 virtu. But who is the Hermès Kelly?
Who is she?
In 1930, a legend was born. Hermès, a house that specialised in saddles for royalty and the aristocracy, finally opened the doors of its saddle-making workshops with a small ladies bag featuring straps. Created by artistic director Robert Dumas (the grandson of Émile-Maurice Hermès), the bag had a trapezoid shape, two triangular gussets, a sculpted flap, a handle, and good storage space. While it was nothing fancy, it was functional – intended for the independent, energetic women of the time. All it needed was a name…
In 1956, a pregnant Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco, hid her baby bump behind an Hermès bag with straps. Using the bag to conceal her pregnant belly from the prying eyes of paparazzi, the photo swiftly went around the world, culminating in the cover of Life Magazine in 1956, which featured both her and the bag. Behold, the bag was instantly crowned and the Hermès Kelly Bag was born.
the cost of kelly
Today, the Hermès Kelly Bag continues to be made – and loved – around the world. But because of the sheer craftsmanship involved and rarity of the style, securing a Kelly is a pursuit both challenging and costly. Unlike other Hermès bags, one cannot simply add to cart on the designer’s website or waltz into a boutique and purchase one (there are lengthy wait lists for that). Therefore, resale of the Kelly is big business.
Along with the Birkin, it is one of the most sought-after fashion items ever, with resale of Hermès Kelly Bags both elusive and lucrative. For Lisa Caldwell, Founder of Pre Loved Closet – a luxury resale site that deals in the currency of Kelly’s and the like – the retail value of an Hermès Kelly Bag varies greatly. “Like any Hermès Bag, there is a variety of factors that are taken into consideration when pricing an Hermès Kelly for resale,” she explains. “The type of leather, colour, size, type of hardware, year and condition of the bag are only a few factors taken into consideration prior to pricing for resale.”
On luxury e-tailer Farfetch, a pre-owned Hermès Kelly Bag can fetch up to $120,000, with a 2011 Kelly 35cm Picnic Bag currently listed at a staggering $120,153. Other Kelly’s on the site’s “Pre-Owned” skew include a chocolate brown 2006 Kelly Raki Bag which retails for $34,181, a 1999 Mini Kelly 15 Bag in emerald green for $52,454, a 1998 Kelly Bag in tan for $27,147 and a 1969 Kelly 35 Tote Bag for a more modest $15,014 (also, imagine the stories she could tell!).
The evolution of an icon
Kelly has had a lot of transformations throughout the years, all singularly spectaurly. From her black box calfskin version in 1968 to 2011’s wicker wonder made for soft-boiled eggs and picnics on the lawn (or rather, country club luncheons), the Kelly Hermès Bag has had her fair share of (chic) facelifts. She’s been rendered in wood, silver plate, organdy, cardboard, chocolate, straw, silk, wire mesh – even bread.
In 2004, she even received a zipper – both radical and revolutionary. The Kellylakis bag featured two zippered exterior pockets in the front, and came in sizes great and small – from a teeny-tiny 15 cm to a gargantuan 50 cm.
Special customer requests continue to see new twists and turns in the Kelly legacy; pinned with press-studs, made of feathers, rendered in denim or sheared mink, the potential of the Hermès Kelly Bag is seemingly endless.
kelly vs birkin
When it comes to the most exclusive – and indeed expensive – bag in the world, the Kelly’s only competition is its sister, the Birkin. Similar in structure and stature, what are the differences between the Kelly and the Birkin? Its history, for one. The Birkin came along much later, designed specifically for Jane Birkin in 1984, after then-chairman Jean-Louis Dumas took a chance flight with the English actress who lamented that she couldn’t find a shopping bag big enough to carry her daughter Lou’s bottles. Et voila! The Birkin was born.
Aside from their age, their destiny was a little different. Kelly was a bag fit for a princess (literally), designed as an object of pure luxury and sophistication. The Birkin, on the other hand, was intended for more everyday use; a supple, hardworking tote to hold everything (including babies bottles).
There are also slight stylistic differences, the most obvious evident in their strapping. The Hermès Kelly Bag has one handle on the top, plus a shoulder strap, whereas the Birkin has two handles and no shoulder strap, again evoking their varying tone. Although more subtle, the other difference is their closure system. Unlike the Birkin, which doesn’t require its lock done up, the Hermès Kelly Bag requires its flap to be closed to avoid strain to the handle.
While the Birkin will always steal the spotlight (particularly thanks to its flashy celebrity fans), the Hermès Kelly Bag has seen current “it” status. According to Caldwell, it’s currently even trumping the Birkin when it comes to requests. “In terms of Hermès handbags, it seems the Hermès Kelly is the current It-bag and highly sought after,” she says. “I have had a lot of private requests asking if I get a Kelly in, with potential buyers open to a variety of colours and size, whereas on the other hand, most potential buyers have a set size in mind prior to sourcing.”
Emblematic of that iconic, nonpareil Hermès design, she’s both highly desirable yet discreetly anonymous and herein lies her charm (and value). Quite simply, the Hermès Kelly Bag has no age – because who else could look this good after almost 100 years?