Handbags & Accessories

Insider's Guide to Special Order HSS Hermès Birkin and Kelly Bags

By Lindsey Weiss
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Special Order HSS Hermès Birkin Bag

Special Order HSS Hermès Bags

A Hermès Birkin or Kelly may be the ultimate handbag, exclusive to dedicated clients of the brand, but collectors know there is another level of exclusivity: Special Order. These bags are sometimes called ‘Custom,’ sometimes ‘Special Order,’ sometimes ‘HSS’ for the tiny horse-shoe stamp that sits beside the brand stamp, signifying that a bag has been custom made. Hermès has crafted custom bags for special clients throughout their history. The company was founded on fine equestrian items, which often require customization for a perfect fit, so it’s only natural that their dedication to the highest quality would persist in this way throughout its metiers. The addition of a horse-shoe stamp to signify a custom order piece began in 2006 and was reportedly optional into 2007. Earlier custom pieces must be identified by their unique qualities. Some custom orders serve as the spark to creating a new main-line design. The Birkin bag, for example, was in some ways a custom designed piece made for Jane Birkin in 1984 that then went into regular production. The Birkin 30 was released around 1996 after customers had requested and even ordered specially made Birkins smaller than the 35 and 40cm sizes produced at the time.

Custom Order or HSS Hermès Birkin and Kelly Bags
Hermès Susan Bag Amethyst Matte AlligatorPalladium Hardware, 2008

Ultimate Customization: The Horizon Service

Another customization service at Hermes called Horizon serves clients with original designs often developed from the ground up. The Horizon department was created about 16 years ago to offer bespoke services. In addition to custom handbags, this division makes luggage, furniture or "big products" like custom interior of a yacht, private plane, car or helicopter. This is a highly collaborative process between the client and Hermès where no challenge is considered too great. These designs also can occasionally find their way into regular production as with the Osier Wicker Fishing bag and the R.M.S. suitcase. Other custom designs like the Susan are only produced by special request with the original customer’s approval.

Hermès Birkin 35 HSS Tri-Color White, Bleu Electrique, and Ardoise Epsom Brushed Gold Hardware

Evolving HSS Service

In the past, Hermès Birkins and Kelly could be ordered with up to three colors, but in recent years the choice has been limited to two colors. Some Special Order bags have solid color exteriors and contrasting interiors. Rare examples feature one color in and out with only the addition of a contrast colored stitching. Along with the color and leather, the stitching can also be customized. Contrast stitching highlights the Hermès iconic double-saddle stitch. The hardware can also be specified, with Brushed Palladium and Brushed Gold almost exclusive to these custom bags.

HSS Hermès Mini Kelly II 20 Gris Perle and Kraft Matte Alligator Gold Hardware, 2021

Exotic HSS Birkin and Kelly Bags

Exotic Special Orders are on another level entirely, reportedly only offered to Hermès clients with annual spending that approaches seven figures. A HSS Mini Kelly 20 II in Matte Kraft and Gris Perle Alligator recently set a record for Hermès HSS bags at auction with a final sale price of over $192,000 at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong. Some options that have been available when special ordering a Birkin include switching the interior pockets so the zip pocket is at the front or adding an interior cell-phone pocket. Special order Kelly bags allow for customizing the shoulder strap length. Monogram stamping is also available but is strongly advised against if reselling the bag is any possibility in the future.

Hermès Mini Kelly II 20 HSS Tricolour Epsom Bleu Saphir, Bleu France and Noir Palladium Hardware

Resale Value of HSS Hermès Bags

In the secondary market Special Orders make up less than 15% of Birkins and Kellys sold at auction. On average, leather Special Orders sell for around 50% more than regular Birkins and Kellys at auction, though prices can vary dramatically from bag to bag. It's impossible to pin down exactly what Special Orders bags will bring the most at auction, as the potentially unique color combinations can have quite personal and specific appeal. Some color combinations evoke certain holidays such as black and orange with Halloween, red and green with Christmas, or light pink and yellow with Easter. A red, white and blue bag can be a patriotic choice for Hermès collectors in a number of different countries. Certain color combinations can evoke a person’s favorite (or least favorite) sports team, but generally the most universally popular are ones that keep to a harmonious color scheme, as neutral HSS Birkin and Kelly bags have become increasingly popular in recent years.

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