The ultimate status handbag, the Holy Grail of luxury accessories, the indication of style and wealth – Hermes Kelly has got dozens of epithets to be described with! Simple and elegant, this designer purse is one of the most expensive and coveted items by fashionistas across the globe.
The history of this purse dates back to the 20th century, and thousands and thousands of articles have been written about this everlasting classic. Think that you know everything about this bag? Get ready to be amazed.
On this journey through time and space, we’ll take you across the entire world to witness the creation of the handbag legend: you’ll learn how a simple accessory has turned into the stylish it-bag and why it’s considered to be truly royal. Be sure to stay with us until the end, because we’ll reveal a secret of how an ordinary person can purchase this iconic purse and join the ranks of celebrities, like Beyoncé, Miranda Kerr and Kylie Jenner.
History of the Hermes Kelly bag
In 2035, Hermes Kelly will be celebrating 100 years since its creation. There is no doubt that the fashion house will surprise us with an exclusive release to mark the anniversary.
However, let’s not rush to the future, but pay attention to the past instead.
1890s: An Hermes Kelly predecessor
In the late 1800s Hermes came up with a large travel bag, Haut à Courroies. It was the very first Hermes bag designed to carry a horse’s saddle and boots, and the handles were large. Later, this shape served as inspiration for the Hermes Kelly bag’s silhouette.
1920s-1930s: creation of the Hermes staple bag
1920s and 1930s turned to be prosperous for the company. In the course of these years, two important events happened in the history of the Hermes fashion house.
In 1922, Hermès introduced their first ever marketed line of women’s handbags. Shortly after that, Hermès established their first ever international presence in the United States in 1924.
Hermes continued experimenting with their handbags designs for a dozen of years, which in 1935 finally lead to the debut if the Sac-à-Depêches, a re-designed version of their previous models and the Hermes Kelly predecessor. At that time, it was one of the handbags they’ve been producing and there was nothing special about it until 1956.
1950s-1970s: Why is the Hermès bag named Kelly?
In 1956 the bag suddenly gained its international popularity due to Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco, a celebrity of that era. It was eventually named after her.
Here’s how it happened.
Before she became known as Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly was an actress. In 1954, she was working on her third film with Alfred Hitchcock, To Catch A Thief. The costume designer of the movie brought several items from the Hermes fashion house to dress the main female character, a black Sac à dépêches in classic Box leather. As Grace Kelly fell in love with this stylish accessory and received it as a gift on her last day on set in Hollywood before departing to Monaco. You probably know that next year she married the Prince of Monaco and left her acting career and homeland to perform royal duties on the other side of the world.
In 1956, the now iconic image of Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco shyly hiding her alleged baby bump behind the Hermes Sac-a-Depeches appeared in Life Magazine. The photo appeared on the covers of multiple newspapers and magazines across the globe, creating an iconic status for a simple leather accessory in Grace’s hands. No need to say that the purse turned into the most sought-after item.
This photograph became so widespread that a lot of Hermès clientele started using Kelly’s reference to describe the bag. Eventually, Hermès dropped the previous Sac-a-Depeches and renamed the bag after Grace Kelly. However, it was not officially renamed after the Princess of Monaco until 1977.
What Did Vintage Hermes Kelly Bag Look Like?
As we’ve mentioned in our article on vintage Hermes bags, the oldest Kelly (precisely, Sac à dépêches) that you can find can be from the 1930s. However, as these handbags were not created with a 100 years in mind to last, coming across a 1930’s Kelly in good condition might not be realistic. It’s also unlikely that you would find a 1940’s Hermes Kelly as many productions stopped during the WWII. Therefore, your best chance is a 1950’s Kelly.
Hermes Kelly is one of the few handbags that almost did not change its appearance since 1930s. It’s clear that the handbag looks exactly the same as it looked in the hands of Princess of Monaco. Given it was designed almost 100 years ago, that’s a true masterpiece.
Take a look at this 1953 Hermes Kelly from ebay. The only giveaway it shows is the discontinued leather and some wear and tear.
There are some leather differences though. For instance, one of the most used materials for vintage Kelly handbags used to be Box leather. Since it’s currently discontinued, one can pick up that a handbag is vintage. Another leather widely used in the 1980-1990s was Doblis Suede (check out all Hermes leathers in our guide).
Hermes Kelly Sellier vs Retourne Comparison
Unlike many luxury accessories that exist in just one single version, the Hermes Kelly bag offers two main versions a lot of handbags that feature the same iconic look.
At the first sight, the difference might not be remarkable or even noticeable; it becomes obvious when you look closer, touch the leather or start matching the purse with your outfits.
The two most widespread Hermes Kelly styles are:
Each of these two has the same iconic trapezoid shape with one top handle, yet the difference lies in details. Sadly, it’s impossible to walk into a boutique with a suitcase full of money and ask to see all versions of Hermes Kelly to compare (spoiler: they are always out of stock). However, we, at Bagaholic, can offer you a detailed description + share an interesting fact about each style.
Look: The bag has a soft and relaxed look. The sides are a bit slouchy. Edges of the bottom are rounded. However, the model is sturdy and isn’t easy to fold.
Construction details: The word “retourné” in French means “reversed”, and the purse is actually crafted from inside out. An artisan puts pieces together and then turns the purse inside out. If you look at the pictures, there are no visible stitching along the sides. Traditionally, Retourné is made of softest leathers, like Togo, Evercolor, Swift or Clemence. This design was often crafted of the box leather too. You can read more on the leather differences in our Hermes Leather Guide.
Style: Relaxed look of this accessory gives casual vibes. Retourné is great for traveling or everyday wear, if you’re up to making a five figure accessory your every day purse. Due to its soft structure, the bag is easy to open and carry. Another great thing about this model – you can “wing out” the sides to get more space and a slightly different look.
Interesting fact: This model is also called “original Grace Kelly’s bag”. It’s that famous purse that the Princess was using to cover her pregnancy from curious paparazzi.
Look: This model has a geometric and sturdy look, if compared to the previous one. It gives the bag more boxy and structured shape. Stitching is visible, edges are sharp.
Construction details: For this type of Kelly, artisans are using rigid leathers like Tadelakt, Epsom and Box. Just like any bag that’s made of strict leather, Sellier Kelly is a bit hard to open. The inside space is limited compared to the previous model, the bag’s sides can’t be stretched out.
Style: The sharp look of this purse gives formal vibes. It makes a perfect purse for business occasions. Fashionistas consider it the most elegant and chic Kelly design.
Interesting fact: Sellier has an additional layer of leather inside the bag. It makes it more expensive than the Retourné model.
What’s the difference between Hermes Kelly Sellier and Retourne?
Hermes Kelly Sellier is more structured and is made of rigid leathers, while Hermes Kelly Retourné is created using softer leather types. Sellier is also a little bit more expensive than Kelly Retourné . Which one is your preference?
Despite these differences, there are two things that unite all Kelly bags regardless of their style. First, it’s their unavailability (we are going to discuss that later). Second, it’s a long and meticulous manufacturing process.
Hermes Kelly Sizes Chart
The Hermes Kelly bag is available in 6 sizes:
- Hermes Kelly 20 mini
- Hermes Kelly 25
- Hermes Kelly 28
- Hermes Kelly 32
- Hermes Kelly 35
- Hermes Kelly 40
Each figure indicates the bag’s bottom width in centimeters. The most popular size tends to be Hermes Kelly 28, it’s neither too large not too small. Considering a string trend towards mini purses, an Hermes Kelly mini bag is also the fashionista’s wildest dream.
Hermes Kelly 40 is discontinued at the moment but can be still found at the luxury marketplaces.
As Kelly Sellier looks very different from Retourne depending on the size, here are separate size comparisons for every version of the iconic Hermes staple.
Hermes Kelly Sellier Size Comparison Chart
Even in a bulky 40 size Hermes Sellier looks nicely structured. In smaller sizes, it’s perfectly put together, from elegant to cute.
Hermes Kelly Retourne Size Comparison Chart
Hermes Retourne is a bit laid-back compared to her Sellier sister. It still feels very structured in smaller sizes, yet the bigger it gets though, the softer the leather looks.
Hermes Kelly Production: How Long Does It Take to Create a Kelly Bag?
What can surprise fashionistas even more about Hermes Kelly is the time required for production of a purse.
Each bag is hand-crafted from a piece of leather by the finest and the most skilled artisans. There’s a rumor going, that each leather specialist should take at least 3 or 4 years to train before he is allowed to work with the precious brand. No wonder that the number of these purses is limited.
The whole process of crafting Hermes Kelly consists of several stages:
- Examining the leather for defects.
- Cutting the material.
- Stitching the pieces together.
- Creating a chic look (hiding the seams and waxing them).
- Construction of the top handle.
- Adding hardware.
- Inspection of the finished bag and stamping.
In terms of the manufacturing process, Hermes Kelly is one of the hardest bags that the fashion house produces. The total time required to construct one bag differs depending on the skills and experience of an artisan. Each purse is made by a single person who works on every detail and every stitch day after day. For a beginner, it might take up to 40 hours to finish his first Kelly bag. The veterans of Hermes are capable of completing the task in 18-20 hours.
Surprisingly, the most complicated part of production is to construct the top handle. It might take up to 3,5 hours of hard work to finish the piece. The handle consists of the same type of leather as the purse itself, but has 4 or 5 layers of material that should be stitched together.
Seems too long, huh? What can be done in this time? It is almost the whole day of your life or 2 and a half working day of an office employee. It is even longer than the longest direct flight in the world (London-Sydney) that lasts 19 hours 20 minutes. By the way, if we compare the time needed to make one Hemes Kelly with an average flight, like New York – San Francisco or New York – London, you can fly up to 3 times while the bag is being made. If we take smaller benchmarks, then you can listen to about 400 songs if an average song lasts 3 minutes or watch 10 2-hour movies.
The Anatomy of the Hermes Kelly bag
“Do you speak Prada?” Rebecca Bloomwood vivaciously asked Luc, her new boss and boyfriend-to-be in Confessions of the Shopaholic.
That was meant to be a comic relief, yet there’s no joke without some truth behind it. Each of the famous high-end brands has their own set of terms applied to their goods. Not only each purse has its name, it also goes even further than that. Each purse detail has its special naming too.
So, how well do you speak Hermes?
How Much Is a Hermes Kelly? Hermes Kelly Bags Sizes and Prices in 2022
Even in the world of luxury, Hermes is believed to be expensive. The iconic Kelly bag serves as a symbol of status and wealth, so you might expect the prices to be astronomical, that is, over $10,000. The skilled and talented artisans, perfectly fined and selected leather already create an aura of exclusiveness. Add the brand’s value to it as well.
The cost of this chic accessory depends on multiple factors: material, size and even the year of production. As you know, fashion houses have a tendency to increase retail prices of their goods each year.
The currently known prices for different sizes of the Kelly bag (with examples of leather and design) are displayed below. This selection does not include size 40 as it’s not currently offered in boutiques.
Looks impressive, isn’t it? Even with the prices asked, Hermes Kelly is in high demand!
We have decided to investigate what you can buy for this amount money, if you decide to spend it in a different way. As a reference for comparison, we have chosen a 25cm retourne model of a Kelly bag in Togo leather that costs $9,350. According to zillow.com, the average rent in Manhattan was $3,475 in 2019, so one Hermes Kelly equals 2,5 months rent. Or 12 days in Ritz Carlton New York Central Park where one night costs $746. If we talk about holidays, then one Hermes Kelly equals 6 days in Hyatt Residence Club Maui in Hawaii plus a return ticket from New York. Moving further: a dinner at Ultraviolet located in Shanghai, China, where you can have one of the most unique and expensive 22-course dining experiences will cost you $900, so for this money you can invite up to 10 people or go there 10 times. Now, let’s compare it with more down-to-earth items.
For the price of one Hermes Kelly you can buy:
- 6 days in Hyatt Residence Club Maui in Hawaii
- 8 iPhones 12 Pro Max
- 3 16” MacBook Pro with 1TB storage
- 2 Chanel Classic Flaps Small
- 6 Louis Vuitton Neverfulls
- 31 Michael Kors totes
How much is a small Kelly?
The smallest size available, a Kelly 20 in Epsom, retails for approximately $8,500 or €6,500 in 2022.
What is the most popular color for Hermes Kelly?
The choice of color available for Hermes Kelly is truly limitless. However, the most popular colors told to be Black, Gold and some shades of pink.
Why Is Hermes Kelly So Expensive?
Naturally, Hermes also uses manual work and high-quality materials, but is it really the reason for this off-the-charts pricing?
As marketing theory puts it, the price depends on the value that a particular item might bring to the person willing to purchase it. With luxury goods it’s all about intangible benefits, i.e. not the purse itself but how you feel having this kind of purse.
At this point, Hermes certainly brings value to A-listers and top-tier clientele, allowing them to feel special by having the right purse. As long as Hermes handbags maintain their exclusivity, the buyers around the world will be ready to pay a premium for it.
Hermes Kelly Leathers: Which Leather is Best for Kelly?
When it comes to the Hermes Kelly bag, the choice of leather will satisfy even the most demanding appetites. Over time, the purse was released in a variety of leathers.
As always, the leather you choose depends on your needs and how you are willing to buy, preloved or new. Many leathers like Peau Porc (Pigskin) and Ardennes can only be purchased secondhand as they’re currently discontinued. On the contrary, other leathers like Epsom are only available with newer handbags.
Unless you want something outlandish, our advice would be to stick to the house’s staples.
Which leather is the absolute best for Kelly?
- Box: if you are about to purchased a preloved Hermes Kelly and prefer a vintage look.
- Togo: that’s the most popular leather for a reason. It’s lightweight, resistant to scratches and minor damage and just feels nice to touch.
- Epsom: if you’re purchasing a Kelly Seller, that’s the absolute best leather.
Other Hermes Kelly Bag Styles
Since an iconic bag was revisited countless times, let’s pay attention to the most important and noteworthy styles.