Handbags and Accessories

The Ultimate Guide to Hermès Kelly Bags

By Olivia Pennington
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Hermès Mini Kelly

Brief History of the Hermès Kelly Bag

The history of the Hermès Kelly bag dates back to the 1852 and is closely intertwined with the evolution of the luxury brand Hermès. The Kelly bag's origins can be traced back to the release of the Haut à Courroies (HAC) bag. The HAC was used to hold saddles for equestrians. The HAC was reinterpreted into the Sac à Dépêches in the 1930s. This Hermès Kelly bag was designed by Robert Dumas, the son-in-law of Hermès CEO Émile Hermès. This Hermès bag gained popularity when Grace Kelly used it to hide her pregnancy from paparazzi. The Princess of Monaco was introduced to the Kelly bag while filming To Catch A Thief in 1955 and refused to part with it. Hermès renamed the bag the “Kelly” in 1977 as a nod to the actress-turned-princess. This Hermès bag’s original trapezoidal design included two triangular gussets, a cutout flap, a handle, and two side straps. The handbag now features an optional shoulder strap, increasing its functionality. It is constructed out of thirty-six pieces of leather and six hundred and eighty stitches by a single artisan over the course of 18 to 24 hours. The Kelly has taken on many new forms since its original release. The two main styles to choose from are the Kelly Retourne and the Kelly Sellier. The Kelly bag has also inspired a range of Hermès accessories including the Kelly wallet, the Kelly belt, the Kelly watch, and an array of clutches and smaller leather goods. The Hermès Kelly Bag is an iconic handbag and a symbol of luxury.

Hermès Mini Kelly

How to Purchase an Hermès Kelly Bag

In order to purchase an Hermès Kelly bag, clients must build a strong relationship with a sales associate. Hermès makes a limited quantity of Kelly bags, making the bag a rare find for clients. In order to purchase a Hermès Kelly bag, prospective buyers will typically be contacted by an Hermès sales associate when the bag arrives in store. The style of Hermès Kelly bag may not be the client's first choice, however. Sales associates cannot order specific Kelly bags for customers and rarely know the style of Hermès Kelly they are receiving ahead of time. Finding the right Kelly handbag can take considerable time, patience, and flexibility. Reselling platforms are disrupting this process, however, by increasing the accessibility of Hermès Kelly bags to the public. Trusted luxury goods resellers, like Sotheby’s, provide a curated selection of the coveted Hermès bags, making it easier to find a Kelly bag that matches the personal style of prospective buyers.

Hermès Kelly 25

Hermès Kelly Retourne vs. the Hermès Kelly Sellier

There are a few subtle differences between the Hermès Kelly Retourne and the Hermès Kelly Sellier. The main distinctions are in the stitching and silhouette of these Hermès bags. Hermès Kelly Sellier has visible stitching and a pointed-out edge. Hermès artisans stitch a Kelly Sellier from the outside in. The Hermès Sellier is also a more structured, rigid bag thanks to the hard leathers Hermès artisans use to craft the bag. On the other hand, the Kelly Retourne’s stitching is not visible and its edges are rounded. Hermès craftsmen create a Kelly Retourne by hand stitching the inside of the bag and then flipping it out. A Hermès Kelly Retourne is created using softer leathers, giving it a more casual look. The relaxed style of the soft leather also allows you to fit more in the Retourne than the Sellier.

Hermès Kelly Doll

Classic Hermès Kelly Bag Materials

The variety of the Hermès Kelly Bag is nearly endless thanks to the amount of materials available to construct the bag. The leather options for Hermès Kelly bags vary depending on the style. The Hermès Kelly bag first appeared in calfbox leather in the Retourne style. Calfbox is a heritage leather and the oldest leather used by Hermès. This leather has an extremely smooth finish, giving Kelly handbags a refined look. The material is susceptible to scratches and watermarks, but over time these imperfections blend into the bag, adding a mirror-like texture. Togo leather is the most popular option for Kelly Retourne bags thanks to its supple quality. This durable, scratch resistant calfskin leather was introduced in 1997. It is named after the Togolese Republic in Africa. A natural drumming process is employed to bring out the leather’s natural features, which include a round and irregular grain with pronounced veins and wrinkles. While it is rare, Kellys have been in the Sellier style using Togo leather. This type of Hermès Kelly bag is called the Sellier Mou. Another classic leather used for the Kelly Retourne is Clemence. Made from cowhide, this leather is softer, heavier, and less durable than Togo. Clemence Kelly Retournes will relax and lose their shape over time. Clemence has a shallow grainy texture, which creates a matte effect. Evercolor leather’s malleable quality preserves the Kelly Retourne’s signature slouchy look. This material comes in a wide palette of “forever” colors. First appearing in 2012, this material is satiny with a small, regular grain obtained by printing. If you are looking for a more structured Kelly, consider the Kelly Sellier made with rigid, durable leathers. Epsom leather is a common material for the Kelly Sellier. It has been used to make Kelly Retournes, but this is rare. The material’s firm quality allows this Hermès bag to hold its shape through years of wear. Epsom is an embossed leather, so it has no natural grain. It is also completely scratch and water resistant, making it easy to clean. Like Epsom, Fjord leather is a highly durable material used for Kelly Selliers. It is also waterproof, soft, matte, and heavy. Hermès leather Kellys can be dyed in every color imaginable, however, Hermès only releases Kellys in select colors annually. Those looking for a wide variety of colors to choose from should consult the resale market where there are more options available. To ensure that your Kelly remains in good shape, keep it away from rain and sunlight. You can also bring your Hermès bag to the Hermès spa for treatments.

Hermès Kelly 25

Exotic Hermès Kelly

Hermès Kelly bags constructed from exotic materials are rare and highly coveted. Crocodile, alligator, lizard, and ostrich skins are available in glossy or matte finishes. Crocodile is the most expensive exotic material. Hermès uses two species of crocodile in their handbags: Niloticus crocodile and Porosus crocodile. Niloticus crocodile handbags will have the symbol “••” next to the Hermés logo stamp while Porosus crocodile handbags are indicated by the symbol “^”. One of the most beautiful exotic Hermès Kellys is the Himalaya Kelly Retourne. This Hermès bag is constructed out of Niloticus crocodile skin dyed in a white and grey gradient. The coloring is intended to evoke the white snow of the Himalaya Mountains. Sotheby’s currently has a Himalaya Kelly in stock that is both a handbag and an elegant piece of art. Alligator skins are the next most expensive exotic. They differ from crocodile in that the plates are larger and non uniform, softer to the touch, and poreless. Alligator skin is indicated by a “▢” adjacent to the Hermès logo stamp. Lizard skin is generally only used in smaller bags and small leather goods. As a result, Hermès typically uses the material for the Kelly 25, the Kelly 20, or the Kelly 15. Hermès has used lizard for Kelly 40s and Kelly 35, but these bags are very rare. Thanks to the skin’s ability to absorb pigments easily, lizard Kelly bags are available in a vivid array of colors. Like crocodile, this luxurious skin is offered in two species. Niloticus lizard is identified by the “-” next to the Hermès logo stamp and Varanus Salvator lizard is indicated with a “=” symbol. Out of all the exotic materials, ostrich has the most entry-level price point and is the most durable. This material has been used by Hermès since the 1920s. This skin has a very pronounced dual tone. It is identifiable by its follicles, the points from which the feathers grow. Hermès flattens the follicles and triples the skin in order to prevent follicle damage. This material absorbs oils and will darken over time where it is frequently touched. Like lizard, this material is available in many vivid colors. Ostrich skin handbags do not feature a unique symbol.

Hermès Kelly

Popular Hermès Kelly Sizes

The Hermès Kelly bag comes in many sizes ranging from the Kelly 15 to the Kelly 50. The most popular Hermès Kelly bags are the Mini Kelly 20, Kelly 25 and the Kelly 28. These Kelly 25 and Kelly 28 sizes fit everyday essentials, with the Kelly 28 providing more room for necessities. The smaller Kelly sizes (the Kelly 15 and the Kelly 20) are trendier bags while the larger Kelly sizes (the Kelly 40 and the Kelly 50) are highly functional and recommended for use as travel bags. Kelly bag sizing is determined by the length of the bag’s base. For example, a Kelly 25 will measure 25 centimeters across the base.

Hermès Kelly Danse

Variations of the Hermès Kelly Bag

Hermès offers a number of Kelly clutches inspired by the design of the larger handbag. The Kelly Cut is the Kelly reinterpreted into a rectangular clutch. It retains the classic Kelly features of a straight cut top flap, touret, turnlock closure, and collapsible top handle. The Kelly Longue possesses the same features as the Kelly Cut, but it is trapezoid in shape and slightly larger. This Hermès bag was discontinued in 2008, so it can only be purchased through luxury resale. The Kelly Pochette is a miniaturized Kelly bag. This tiny Hermès handbag is extremely valuable thanks to its rarity. The Kelly Danse is a more casual Kelly bag. Designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier and released in 2008, this bag features an elongated top strap. A similarly casual bag is the So Kelly. This bucket-style bag also features a long top strap. The Hermès Kelly Ado is the Kelly as a chic backpack. This bag has the key Kelly features of top flap, touret, and turnlock closure, but there are shoulder straps in place of a top handle. The body of the bag is elongated to accommodate your necessities. The Kelly Dépêches Briefcase is a masculine take on the Kelly. It features a square body, top handle, turnlock closure, and a clochette. The Kelly To Go is a wallet with a removable strap that allows the To Go to be worn as a crossbody. Hermès introduced this small bag in 2020.

Hermès Mini Kelly

Hermès Kelly Hardware Options

The classic Hermès Kelly bag comes in two metal hardware options: gold-plated or palladium-plated. Both offer a sophisticated gleam to the Kelly bag. Gold-plated hardware is typically 18-karat, however, rare Hermès Kelly bags have been made with 24-karat gold. Hermès Kelly bags have also been made in permabrass, rose gold, guilloche, and PVC hardware. Even harder to find are Diamond Hermès Kelly bags. Constructed from luxurious crocodile skin, these Hermès Kelly bags have diamond encrusted 18-karat white gold hardware.

Hermès Kelly 25

Limited Edition Hermès Kelly Bag

There have been many limited edition releases of the Hermès Kelly bag. The playful Hermès Kelly Doll was designed by Jean-Louis Dumas, the Executive Chairman of Hermès, in 2000. This Tiny Kelly bag features anthropomorphic features including a grinning face, arms, and legs. It has gained considerable popularity as a collector’s item, particularly in Asia. This bag can be found in a variety of leather colors and exotic skins. It has a stamp that specifies the Hermès boutique for which it was created. The Picnic Kelly is another adorable collector’s item made from Osier wicker and leather. Introduced in 2011, it is the perfect companion for a summer afternoon in the country-side. The Candy Kelly is a fun, colorful iteration of the Hermès Kelly bag. It comes in charming candy colored leathers. The dark exterior hue contrasts with a lighter exterior hue. The bag is accented with palladium-plated or permabrass hardware. Another limited edition Kelly is the Kelly Toile de Camp Déchaînée. The Kelly Déchaînée’s canvas face features equestrian accents and references its ancestor, the Haut à Courroies bag. Made from toile de camp canvas and leather, this Kelly handbag has a casual yet bold feel.

The newest limited edition Hermès Kelly bags include the Kelly In & Out, Kelly Padded, Kelly Colourmatric and Kelly Sellier 20 En Désordre all introduced within the last two years.

Hermès Kelly Bags Available For Purchase

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