The Hermès Kelly Bag

Women the world over love the classic lines of a Hermès Kelly bag. Named after Grace Kelly, Princess Grace of Monaco, the Kelly is one of the greatest bags of our time. It is a timeless design, right up there with its sister, the Hermès Birkin. The Kelly bag, however, has enjoyed a longer life than its sibling, when it was thrust into the limelight in 1956.

The origins of the Kelly first appeared, in its original form in the 1930’s but it wasn’t until 1956 that it truly became a star. With its smart tailored-shape it evolved into a ‘50s favorite during the Hollywood glamour years, and has enjoyed an iconic status ever since.

The Kelly bag is named after the actress Grace Kelly, when in 1956, the then Princess of Monaco used one of her two favorite Hermès bags to shield her pregnant stomach from the prying eyes of the paparazzi. Photographs of her covering her stomach bulge with her hallowed Hermès were splashed all over the world and made it onto the cover of Life magazine!

When faced with a pack of nosy photographers, Stephanie Pendersen, in her book, Handbags, What Every Woman Should Know, says that the shy, newly married Princess, not yet wishing to announce her pregnancy to the world, did what any woman would do and hid her secret in her handbag! Such was Kelly’s influence at the time that from henceforth, her essential accessory became known as the “Kelly” bag.

Nowadays, according to Miller’s Handbags — a Collector’s Guide , vintage examples of the Hermès Kelly change hands for large amounts of money. An early 1960s crocodile Kelly, for example, would be expected to fetch anything from $3,000 – $6,000 at a top auction house.

Kelly bags come in 5 different sizes and are usually made from crocodile, alligator, ostrich-skin or plain leather. According to Miller’s guide, they are identifiable by their distinctive metal-tipped clasp, which can be closed with a tiny padlock. Swathed in leather, the clasp’s hidden key often dangles from the handle.

In Handbags, The Power of the Purse, Anna Johnson points out that a 1956 Hermès Alligator Bag took 2 alligators to make a Kelly, with the exotic skin culled from the reptiles’ jowls and the belly. Johnson details the finer points of the making of a Kelly bag; the fact that it takes a single craftsman around 18 hours to produce one of these beauties.

Once the hand-cut skins (selected by personal customer order) have arrived, they are laid out, resembling a mini-dress and the lining or the bag is hand-sewn in. The base of the bag is then created, using waxed linen thread and a tough double-saddle stitch, where perforations are painstakingly made into the leather. The following step is the creation of the handle and then the front flap is stitched and added to the body of the bag. The clasp and the four feet at the base of the Kelly are then fitted and the famous padlock added.

The inside of a Kelly bag is as beautifully and as painstakingly made as the outside, an honored tenet of Hermès, according to Pendersen. The bags seams are smoothed, dyed and waxed.

Interestingly, the penultimate finishing touch involves the Kelly being ironed, to get the wrinkles out the skin. The very last touch is to christen the bag with the famous Hermès Paris logo, and another Kelly bag is born.

Although other Hollywood stars carried this iconic bag, (such as Ingrid Bergman and Marlene Dietrich) none had the same impact as Grace Kelly. The Kelly bag now enjoys a cult status and is a modern day moviestar in its own right, featuring in recent TV and Hollywood movies such as Sex and the City and Le Divorce. The Kelly and the Birkin have become two of the most famous designer bags of all time. Victoria Beckham is one of the modern day celebrities famous for her Hermès Birkin and Kelly collection.

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