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HISTORY OF THE KELLY BAG
The Kelly bag was the first world coveted fashion statement item Hermes created after over 120 years of being in business. ( Click here for the full history of Hermes ).
Prior to the Kelly bag Hermes was well known initially for horse and carriage related iron and leather products for the elite of Europe and then for portable leather bags and accessories. When they introduced the Kelly bag they had been in business for 97 years (Hermes was founded in 1837 and what became the Kelly bag was introduced in 1935).
The success of the Kelly bag did not happen overnight either, it took over 20 years for the bag to become widely popular and coveted and it was due to an event of chance and not something planned.
The concept of the Kelly bag morphed from the first portable horse saddle bag the company offered in 1892 named “Haut a courroies” (or strap top bag), a bag the company created to allow horsemen to remove a bag from the horse and carry the saddle and other things in the bag in a portable way.
In 1923 the then head of Hermes Emile-Maurice Hermes (grandson of the founder of Hermes, Thierry Hermes Jr.) had his wife complaining about how she could not find a bag that would fit her needs and was to her liking and with the help of Ettore Bugatti they designed a portable bag that could fit in a car door and was more stylish.
By 1928, Robert Dumas, Emile-Maurice Hermes’ son in law re-designed that bag and adapted the bag to be more portable and fashionable. In 1935 they offered commercially, they named it “Sac a depeches (Sac à Dépêches)” or Dispatch Bag in English. The bag became very popular among rich men as something similar to what today is a briefcase and also among rich women as a practical big bag for daily use.
What made it special was that at the time most bags people carried were very small in size and resembled one of those folder/envelope type carrying pouches, that bag was something different, its shape, handle design and size allowed it to be carried from a handle instead of holding the entire bag in one’s hand and it was big enough to carry lots of things.
For about 20 years the bag was sold as a high end item popular among the wealthy but produced in small numbers.
It became popular by chance. One of those bags was used as part of the wardrobe used in a movie from Alfred Hitchcock released in 1955 called “To catch a thief”, starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, both very popular actors at the time. The character played by Grace Kelly was a wealthy woman and she carried one of those bags, Grace Kelly at the time was very famous and a fashion icon but the movie itself was not the source of the success o the bag. It is rumored that Grace Kelly loved the bag so much she refused to return it after the movie was shot and she kept it for her personal use.
The fame of Grace Kelly grew even more because she became royalty by marrying Prince Ranier the Third from Monaco, she became Princess Grace of Monaco. So her story was now famous all over the worlds an American woman of humble beginnings that first became a famous actress and then a world known princess.
In 1957 she got pregnant and in the cover of Life Magazine she was pictured holding that bag covering with it her pregnant belly, and women all over the world went crazy for the bag. They flocked Hermes stores asking for the “Kelly bag”. Then Hermes became a world hit with that bag and sales exploded.
The bag became the IT item at the time, highly coveted for years to come and 20 years later Hermes decided to change the name of the bag officially to the “Kelly” bag.
To this day the Kelly bag is one of the top high luxury fashion items that remains in the top of all lists of must haves for the rich and famous together with the other Hermes popular bag, the Birkin.
Some special editions and special history Kelly bags hold records among the top 10 most expensive bags ever to be sold in auctions.
WHY ARE KELLY BAGS STILL SO SPECIAL?
In a world of automation and mass volume production of things Hermes still makes their bags with artisan traditions and the highest level of craftsmanship and quality.
Each bag is built by hand and it takes 15 to 20 hours of specialized labor, they are made from 36 painstakingly chosen pieces of leather or other exclusive synthetic materials and require 680 stitches.
Because of the level of precision, detail, the levels of quality of labor and materials, Hermes bags are produced in very small numbers, this makes the bags very difficult to get, having waiting lists of years, and those lists include some of the most famous and riches people in the world.
Due to how difficult it is to get a Hermes bag the pre-owned market has exploded.