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Fashion History: The Hermès Kelly

Hermès: A brief history

Founded by Thierry Hermès in Paris, France, 1837, Hermès specialise in many luxurious goods such as leather, watches and jewellery and home furnishings. The company originally began as a harness workshop in the Grands Boulevard quarter of Paris. The workshop raked in several awards for its craftsmanship, producing high-quality wrought harnesses and bridles for carriages.

The first leather handbags were introduced in 1922 after Emile-Maurice, the then owner of the company and grandson of Thierry Hermès, heard complaints from his wife that she could not find a bag of appropriate size. The bag was a smaller version of the ‘Haut a Courroies’, designed by Emile-Maurice himself.

In 1935, Hermès launched one of their most notable goods, the Sac à dépêches bag, eventually renamed to the Kelly bag, designed by Robert Dumas. The bag was renamed after the Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly. Kelly used the bag to shield herself when being hounded by paparazzi, an image that made covers of hundreds of magazines world over. Since then, the accessory has been renamed to the Kelly bag.

Xupes pre-owned Hermes Kelly placed on a coloured background

Origins of the Kelly bag

The first prototype of the Kelly bag was introduced in 1892, designed to hold a saddle. It was known as the 'Haut à courroies' because of its high handle. It was in 1923 that a simple and plain bag was designed for Hermès’ wife, Julie, designed to fit into a car door for easy transport. In the 1930s, Hermès’ son-in-law, Robert Dumas, redesigned the bag into the more glamorous Sac à dépêches, which was a standout design from the other bags during that era. The bag’s build is pretty memorable; a trapezium shape with two straps. The studs at the bottom of the bag, allow it stand freely on the ground. 

Xupes pre-owned Hermes Kelly placed on a coloured background

Association with Princess Grace Kelly

The Kelly bag can take 18 to 24 hours for an artisan-craftsman to put together, so there is no doubt that the bag is made with care and precision. There are many steps taken to create this highly-coveted bag; such as the tedious process of checking the leather for any defects this is usually a stage that takes a few hours alone to assess. A single craftsman works on the bag during the entire process until completion. The Kelly is known to be made of exotic materials such as crocodile and ostrich.

The Kelly bag took on its new iconic name thanks to actress and Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly. Born in 1929 in Philadelphia, Kelly dreamt of Hollywood and a career in acting. Growing up, she was exceptionally passionate about fashion and was a woman who was known for her glamorous style during that era. Some of her notable work in film included Rear Window, Fourteen Hours, and The Country Girl (which she eventually won the Best Actress Oscar for).

Her fashion style was supposedly shaped by stylist Oleg Cassini, who worked as a costume designer in the 40s, and she was also briefly engaged to. Cassini told People magazine that Kelly “dressed like a schoolteacher” because she wanted the audience to see her as an actress. However, he encouraged her that she could be both and introduced a slight sex appeal to her new image.  

Her style was also refined further by legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, who had a vision of a “credible hybrid of sex and elegance”. It was during Kelly’s time starring in Hitchcock’s film To Catch A Thief, that helped launch the Kelly craze. Hitchcock asked the costume designer of the production, now award-winning Edith Head, to select some accessories from the Hermès store in Paris for the film. Since then, Kelly fell in love with the brand and was often spotted adorning her Sac à dépêches during numerous notable events, such as her engagement announcement.

She became one of the most notable actresses in Hollywood during this era and eventually married Prince Rainier III, making her the Princess Consort of Monaco.

Hermès was her trustworthy label; so far as to use her favourite Hermès Sac à dépêches to hide her pregnant stomach from the flashing lights of the paparazzi. Due to her shy nature and being newly-married, she did not want to expose this news to the world just yet. Despite this, it was this moment that thrust the bag into the spotlight, as the picture was published in many magazines all over the world, including Life magazine. This led to the bag iconically being renamed after the princess and actress, and Kelly bag sales went through the roof, despite retailing at £3,590 at the time. 

Xupes pre-owned Hermes Kelly placed on a coloured background

The Kelly, to this day, is one of the most popular styles amongst the Hermès collections. Much like the namesake, the Kelly bag does ooze elegance and can be perfectly accompanied for any given occasion. This pre-loved Hermès Kelly in navy box calf leather mini is perfect for days out, whether it is spent shopping or spending times lazing pub gardens with friends.  

You can go even smaller with this dainty pre-owned Black Box Calf Leather Clutch in black, with a hook closure. This sort of design doubles perfectly for business meeting lunches and quick family lunches.

Whilst the Kelly bag is a symbol of elegance, don’t be shy to turn heads with a bright colour like the Orange H Box Calf Leather 32CM Sellier. Made of a gorgeous box calf leather in an eye-catching hue with palladium hardware, this piece is a real statement and perfect for the warmer months. 

If orange isn’t your thing and would prefer to keep the colour on show, tone it down just a tad by opting for the demure Celeste & Mykonos Epsom Leather Kelly 35CM Retourne in a captivating baby blue leather. 

To discover our collection of pre-loved Hermès Kelly handbags head online to Xupes today.