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Hermès 101: The
Kelly Breakdown

By James F. July 29, 2020

Hermes Kelly 101

The Kelly bag is the next in line to the handbag throne, 

second only to the iconic Birkin bag. Despite this hierarchy, the Kelly bag has been around for many a decade prior to its younger sibling, and the continuation of its popularity today is a testament to its enduring, classic style.

The Kelly’s Origins

In 1930, eight years after Hermès launched their first publicly marketed handbag line, the storied house introduced a handbag design that would change the course of fashion history. Crowned the “Sac-à-Depêches”, the bag originally featured one reinforced handle, a slim trapezoidal silhouette, four brass feet, and a flap top design with a double belted turnlock closure. A strikingly handsome creation, the bag went largely unnoticed when it was introduced to the public. This was mostly attributed to the size of the bag during a time when the smaller wristlet purse was the style du jour.

The bag’s design entailed the marriage of thirty six leather pieces by the houses’ most experienced craftsmen, using approximately six hundred and eighty hand stitches in their distinguished piqué sellier technique. This technique is seen in nearly all of Hermès’ leather goods, and entails the use of two strands of their proprietary beeswaxed cotton thread fed through in a double saddle stitch. To add the finishing touches to the design, a clochette, two keys, and cadena lock are added for additional security.

In the following decade, the Sac-à-Depêches flew under the radar to women who were seeking smaller handbags to tote only their daily essentials. That was until the bag got its first silver screen debut. In 1955, the esteemed stylist and costume designer Edith Head received permission from Alfred Hitchcock to purchase several Hermès accessories to be included in the filming of To Catch a Thief. One such accessory happened to be the Sac-à-Depêches, a piece to be worn by the film’s character Frances, played by none other than Grace Kelly. It is said that Kelly immediately fell in love with the bag, and went on to purchase some of her own. Just one year after the film debuted to great success, the monégasque Princess Grace Kelly was seen by paparazzi carrying the bag in front of her stomach, seemingly hiding her previously undisclosed pregnancy.

Hermes Kelly 101 Grace Kelly

Courtesy of MontaigneStyle

The image quickly spread throughout the world, and suddenly the demand for the Sac-à-Depêches skyrocketed. Shortly after the image made its rounds, the bag quickly became associated with Grace Kelly, and many began to refer the the bag as the Grace Kelly bag. It wasn’t until 1977, however, that Hermès decided to officially rename the bag after the iconic actress, and has ever since been known as the Kelly bag.


The Rise of The Hermès Kelly

The Sac-à-Depêches did not gain notable traction until Grace Kelly donned it, but quickly thereafter gained much commercial success. This was the case until the Birkin surpassed it in the mid-1980’s, and many clients began to favor the Birkin design over the Kelly’s traditional look and less-than-practical flap closure in the new era of ease and mobility for working women. It was during this time, in the early to mid-1980s, that the bandouliere shoulder strap became a standardized part of the overall design rather than previously when it was only employed if specifically requested by the client for inclusion. This was likely due to the increasing need for flexibility and versatility for the modern women who made up an ever-growing part of Hermès’ clientele.

Up until the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the Kelly bag was readily available and accessible at most Hermès boutiques. One could simply walk in, see one sitting on the display shelves, and take it home. In the early 2000’s, Hermès had begun to implement their fabled scarcity technique to astounding success with the Birkin bag, and began to translate this technique to the Kelly and Constance handbags as well. Suddenly, clients began to see these bags disappear from boutique shelves, and were then only offered this newly exclusive bag by recommendation on behalf of their sales associates. Fortunate clients that were offered one were brought into the private showrooms at the back of the leather goods department, and shown a small selection of the bag in the seasons latest colors and materials.

This technique proved equally successful for the Kelly bag as it had been for the Birkin bag, and simultaneously solidified the Kelly as an exclusive collectable accessory alongside the Birkin.

Kelly Sizing Reference

Over the many decades the Kelly bag has been in production, Hermès has introduced many sizing variations to best suit their clients requirements. Until now, the Hermès Kelly bag has been offered in the following sizes:

Hermes 101 The Kelly Sizing Chart

The Anatomy of a Kelly

Hermes 101 The Anatomy of a Kelly

Plissé is a technique where a fabric, typically silk or satin, is folded and pressed into an accordion-like structure, giving extra textural elegance to an otherwise mundane look.

Different Construction Techniques: Retourné, Sellier & Sellier Mou

For the entire duration that the Kelly bag has existed, there have been three distinct construction techniques employed to create this bag: Retourné, Sellier (also known as Rigid), and Sellier Mou (also known as Sellier Soft). To distinguish between them, look no further than the edges of the bag.

The Sellier construction is the older of the two, and is defined with a pointed out edge that reveals a top stitch and resin edgecoat. This gives the overall bag a more structured and geometric look, and is typically produced in more rigid materials.The Retourné construction is defined with a returned (or turned in) edge that is completed with piping trim. This construction is typically produced in more supple materials, although there are many cases where this rule of thumb has been broken.

The Sellier Mou is one such case of this broken rule. These bags are as easily identifiable as they are rare. This technique combines the rigid Sellier pointed out edge with a supple leather such as Togo, Fjord, or Chèvre Souple.

Hermes 101 Kelly in Sellier Construction
Hermes 101 Kelly in Retourné Construction
Hermes 101 Kelly in Sellier Mou Construction

Limited Editions And Special Collections

In addition to the many size variants of the Kelly bag, Hermès produced a seemingly endless supply of limited editions and exclusive collections to their top clients. These elusive collections brought new life into the storied design, reinvigorating the model season after season, keeping it fresh and integrating whimsy with each new release.


The Plissé Mini Kelly

Plissé is a technique where a fabric, typically silk or satin, is folded and pressed into an accordion-like structure, giving extra textural elegance to an otherwise mundane look. This technique has been used in Hermès scarves for decades, however, this technique was brought to Hermès leather goods a few times, each an item meant for astute vintage enthusiasts.

Hermes 101 Plissé Mini Kelly

Courtesy of Heritage Auctions

Hermes 101 The Sterling Mini Kelly

The Sterling Silver Mini Kelly

The most diminutive of the limited edition Kelly bag varieties, this novelty item is done entirely in Sterling Silver. A few versions exist over the years, but for a devotee of Hermès, this little box is certain to bring some joy and added interest to any collection of rarities.

The Kelly Lakis

The Kelly bag is known mostly for its clean lines and simple features, but in 2004, Hermès decided to ad some complications to the bags aesthetic lineage. The Kelly Lakis bag introduced two front zip pockets, and one rear zip pocket, with the addition of a wider Amazone canvas and leather strap. The bag comes in a variety of sizes, from 15cm Micro size to a 50cm size.

Hermes 101 The Kelly Lakis
Hermes 101 The Kelly Doll

The Kelly Doll

One of the most adorable versions of the Kelly bag to ever have been produced, the Kelly Doll (also known as the Quelle Idole in French) makes occasional appearances at select Hermès boutiques, typically surrounding store openings. The design was first imagined by the then creative head Jean-Louis Dumas in 2000 in some early sketches and was later released in Swift Leather. Some of these bags were created for specific boutique openings, and sport a distinct foil stamping that denotes which store the bag was created for. The Kelly Doll has since been made in a range of colors and materials from simple Swift leather to outstanding combinations of exotics.

The Flag Kelly

For Spring/Summer 2013, Hermès produced a line of bags that took its inspiration from the maritime luggage tags of sea voyagers traversing the Atlantic Ocean. Done both in Birkin and Kelly styles, this collection is particularly distinct for the Kelly version. It is the only of the Flag bags to be created entirely in Epsom leather. The Flag Kelly features two contrasting patches of Epsom leather, one appliqued on top of the other to create the distinctive look.

Hermes 101 The Flag Kelly
Hermes 101 The Shearling Teddy Kelly

The Shearling “Teddy” Kelly

In their Fall/Winter 2010 collection, a warm and fuzzy take on the Kelly bag came waltzing down the runway to a slew of gaping mouths. Dubbed the “Teddy Kelly”, this version is made entirely of suede and trimmed with lush shearling. Paired with the superb knitwear of the house, these Kelly bags slid seamlessly into their repertoire, and became an immediate collectors items.

The Arlequin Kelly

Created as a limited edition in 2012 and through 2013, the Arlequin Kelly has a stunning array of colors in two distinct colorways. The colorways are designed to give a colorblock look that mimics the arlequins of the Italian Commedia dell’arte, with splashes of bright colors that lend a stunningly unique look from every angle.

Hermes 101 The Arlequin Kelly
Hermes 101 The Arlequin Kelly 2

The Osier Wicker Picnic Kelly

The “Picnic Kelly” first made headlines in the Hermès Spring/Summer 2011 show, certainly being a reference to the classic woven picnic basket that has been around for centuries. Incorporating a bit of casual flair to the more formal Kelly design, the bag was released in very small batches, making what could have been a ubiquitous addition to the line, a much rarer item than one would assume. Each are done in Hermès’s staple Barénia leather and fashioned from Osier wicker.

In their 2019 Resort show, Hermès miniaturized the Picnic Kelly in a few classic colorations. These adorable renditions are sure to be highly sought after in the years to come.

Hermes 101 The Osier Wicker Picnic Kelly
Hermes 101 The So Black Kelly

The Grand Mariage Kelly

Similar to the Birkin version of the same beautifully crafted package. The 2013 collection utilizes a few distinct colorways in Lizard, Matte Alligator, and Ostrich Ghillies trim, all faceted with Palladium or Permabrass hardware.

Hermes 101 The Grand Mariage Kelly

The So Black Kelly

Hermès took a dark turn in their Fall/Winter 2010 ready-to-wear show, evoking the stark silhouettes and smoky mystery of film noir. The models were mostly black-clad, with bowler caps and leather accents that seemed to nod at Seville Row tailoring and film noir styles. It was in this collection that they debuted a new instant success for the Kelly bag, the Kelly So Black. The line was done in classic Noir Calf Box leather, but the interesting new touch was to cover the hardware in Black PVD (“Physical vapor deposition”, used to coat metals), adding mystery and severity to the overall Hermès aesthetic. These bags tend to be highly sought after, and fetch high prices in the secondary market due to scarcity.

While Hermès does not replace any damaged hardware from this collection, since they only employed the PVD coating process for this specific collection and no others, Hermès enthusiasts seek these bags nonetheless to adorn their closets.

The Candy Collection Kelly

In their Spring/Summer 2011 handbag collection, Hermès produced a line done in delectible combinations of pastel “candy” color hues. The exterior colors brilliantly contrast to their interiors, and each combination was set to match and be repeated throughout the line, all finished with either Palladium or Permabrass hardware. The intent of the collection was mainly targeted to the burgeoning Asian market, but the world over these bags are sought out for their unique look and collectability.

Hermes 101 The Candy Kelly
Hermes 101 Interior The Candy Kelly

The Limited Edition Trimaterial Kelly

In 2014, and without much fanfare, a highly elusive set of Kelly bags hit stores the world over. All done in a coordinated combination of Swift leather on the flap and back panel , Clemence leather on the gussets and base panel, and Ostrich on the front panel, these bags effortlessly combined the casual and practical with the lush and luxurious. Two colorways exist, one done in Cobalt Ostrich, Turquoise Swift , and Colvert Clemence leathers, and the other done in Vert Véronèse Ostrich, Bamboo Swift, and Taupe Clemence leathers.

Hermes 101 The Trimaterial Kelly
Hermes 101 The Trimaterial Kelly 2

The Grizzly Kelly

Taking some inspiration from the mountainous bear of the same name, the Grizzly Kelly certainly projects an untamed look. Mostly done in 2014 through 2015, this line of limited edition kelly bags combine soft Swift and Togo leathers with Hermès’s high-pile Grizzly suede.

Hermes 101 The Grizzly Kelly

Courtesy of Christies

The Ghillies Kelly

For Fall/Winter 2011, Hermès introduced the Ghillies line, inspired by broguing. The broguing technique native to the classic shoes of the same name, is used in the Kelly bag line for the trims, giving a dressy look to the bag.

Hermes 101 The Ghillies Kelly

The Éclat Kelly

Derived from the French word for “flash”, the Éclat collection extends far beyond simply the Kelly line. In 2011, the first of these bags came to fruition and the Kelly bag anatomy lends itself to particular color placements that are unique to the bag. Hermès intentionally placed an accent color where normally there would be shadow, such as under the handle, the base panel, or the back of the sangles. Check these places, as a contrasting color here would indicate that it is in fact an Éclat Kelly.

Hermes 101 The Eclat Kelly

The Dwich Kelly

Colloquially known as the “waffle” Kelly, these Kelly bags are a step above the rest in terms of manufacturing complexity. The technique involves stretching Hermès’s heritage Box Calf leather over a metal trellis, giving the leather an unexpected softness. The trellis beneath the leather presses forward, creating a waffle effect. To date, the Dwich Kelly has been made exclusively in Noir and Rouge H Box Calf varieties.

Hermes 101 The Dwich Kelly

Courtesy of Heritage Auctions

The Nuages Kelly

French for “clouds”, the Nuages Kelly takes a colorful geometrical pattern in exotic skins and combines it with the sleek Kelly shape. The bag is affixed with a unique butterfly clasp closure, in place of the traditional plaques and touret (turnlock) closure. This bag was only created in a limited batch in the early 1990s.

Hermes 101 The Nuages Kelly

Courtesy of Heritage Auctions

The Contour Kelly

In 2015, Hermès took a subtle twist on the Kelly bag using the resin casing as a point of interest. Often overlooked, the casing on an Hermès handbag plays a vital role in color identification, as well as holding all of the leather in place and giving each bag a quality finished look. The Contour line, as it is known, comes in Birkin and Kelly silhouettes and pairs a contrasting contour color on a muted body color. To this day, the Contour line for the Kelly bag extends only to Bleu Marine Epsom exterior and Rouge H casing, and Rouge H Epsom leather to Bleu Marine casing.

Hermes 101 The Contour Kelly

Courtesy of Heritage Auctions

The Verso Kelly

IIn 2016, Hermès shocked some clients when they began to offer a collection of bags that seemed like a special order, but lacked the iconic and desirable Horseshoe stamp. These bags were titled “Verso”, in reference to the contrasting interiors that give these bags an interior surprise.

Hermes 101 The Verso Kelly

Courtesy of First Luxury

Hermes 101 Interior The Verso Kelly

The Kellygraphie Kelly

Colloquially known as the Lettre Kellys, the official title of the entire line is Kellygraphie. The charming portmanteau is a reference to the geometric patterns on the bags that are pieced together seamlessly to create letters. Only five letters exist, in several colorways each. When placed together, they spell “HERMÈS”. Newly introduced from the Resort 2018 collection, these bags are guaranteed to become highly collectible.

Hermes 101 The Kellygraphie Kelly

The Flat Kelly

Jean-Paul Gaultier is a name constantly resurfaced at Hermès, mainly due to the number of influential designs he created in his time as the creative lead at the house. Known mostly for his “JPG Shoulder” bags, he created a number of other bags on this list, including the Kelly Flat. Designed for Spring/Summer 2007, specifically so that it can be collapsed, tied together, and transported easily, the Kelly flat is a superbly portable version of the Kelly. It is distinct from other Kelly bags due to the strap belt closure, and came in a couple materials including supple Swift and soft Veau Doblis suede.

Hermes 101 The Flat Kelly

The “Couvertures et Tenues de Jour” Amazone Kelly

This design was taken directly from the scarf pattern of the same name, by artist Jacques Eudel. The design transferred to the Kelly bag in 2010, is printed on Hermès’s classic toile, trimmed in Fauve Barénia leather, and includes an Amazone canvas strap to boot.

Hermes 101 The Couvertures et Tenues de Jour Amazone Kelly

The Verso Kelly

IIn 2016, Hermès shocked some clients when they began to offer a collection of bags that seemed like a special order, but lacked the iconic and desirable Horseshoe stamp. These bags were titled “Verso”, in reference to the contrasting interiors that give these bags an interior surprise.

Hermes 101 The Verso Kelly 2

The Himalayan Kelly

A step above it’s Birkin counterpart in terms of rarity, the Himalayan Kelly is truly special. The term “Himalayan” refers to the unique coloration of the bag. Many have mistakenly attributed the coloration to being a naturally occurring coloration in crocodile skins; a variety of Asian crocodile with albinism; or, falsely attributed the coloration to an elusive species of crocodile found only in the Himalayas.

When you look past all of the common misconceptions, you’ll learn that it is actually a precariously and delicately processed crocodile skin of the Crocodylus Niloticus species. It has been designed and processed to mimic the snowy mountain caps and dark, earthy mountain sides of the world-renowned mountain range.

Hermes 101 The Himalayan Kelly

Courtesy of Christies

The Feather Kelly

Over the decades, Hermès has used a variety of materials from the mundane to the truly spectacular. One such example of the latter is the use of feathers, ranging from peacock to rock pigeon and more. A few of these limited edition and special order Kelly bags have surfaced, ranging in time periods that span decades. Every instance of feather Kelly bags to surface on the secondary market is an unmatched opportunity to own a bag that is a step above the rest and a true capstone piece to complete any collection.

Hermes 101 The Feather Kelly

Courtesy of Heritage Auctions

The Golf Kelly

In a campaign entitled “A Sporting Life”, Hermes released a collection entirely based on two of their central inspirations: Voyage and Le Sport. In this Spring 2013 collection, they created a Kelly with a stunningly unique front panel, dubbed the Golf Kelly bag. Meant to mimic the kiltie shoes of traditional golfing attire, the tassel design is striking and brings a menswear inspiration to the feminine shape and silhouette of the Sellier Kelly.

Hermes 101 The Golf Kelly

Courtesy of Spotted Fashion

The Touch Kelly

Upon Hermès’ Store Managers return from the first “Podium” for 2018, the semi-annual gathering in Paris where stores vie for the product they will be carrying for the following seasons, clients began to catch wind of a new Kelly design with a “Touch” of exotic flair. The Touch Kelly, as it became known, takes a leather body and attaches a handle fashioned from Alligator. A subtle yet texturally rich idea, these bags are certain to become highly collectible.

Hermes 101 The Touch Kelly

Courtesy of Luxury Promise

The Caval Cadour, Dechainee, and Lettres au Carre Kellys

Hermes 101 The Cavalcadour Kelly


Hermes 101 The Dechainee Kelly


Hermes 101 The Lettres au Carre Kellys

Lettres Au Carré

These three Kelly’s were released from 2017 through 2018, taking their inspiration from archival sketches and scarf designs Hermès has employed in the years and decades past. The common thread throughout these collections, however, is that each are done in “Toile de Camp” canvas, a more fibrous canvas than their other cotton based materials due to the thick weave. The Cavalcadour Kelly takes its inspiration directly from the scarf design of the same name by Henri d’Origny, sporting an equestrian feel that is very much in line with Hermès history. The Déchaînée Kelly is taken from sketches of horse bits, the metal piece of a bridle that fit in a horse’s mouth. Lastly, the Lettres au Carré Kelly is fashioned similarly to the Lettre Kellys but done using the scarf design of the same name.


The au Trot, au Galop, au Pas Kellys

Hermes 101 The Au Trot Kelly

Au Trot

Hermes 101 The Au Galop Kelly

Au Galop

Hermes 101 The Au Pas Kelly

Au Pas

Perpetually inspired by the world of sport, equestrian sports in particular, Hermès released a capsule collection of Kelly bags derived from les trois allures du cheval, or the “Three Paces of the Horse”. These three movements are integral to the sport, and Hermès took each of these graceful trots and translated them directly into three new stunning designs: Au Trot, Au Galop, and Au Pas.

The difference between these is quite intuitive:

Au Trot: mimicking the cadence of “The Trot”, this Kelly bag is adorned with an ornate handle that is done in Chèvre Mysore for the base, appliquéed and trimmed with a winding Box Calf strip, seeming to bounce across the handle in a staccato pattern indicative of this gait.

Au Galop: this design imitates the undulating pattern of “The Gallop”, one of the fastest gaits in equestrian sports. To convey this, this Kelly is adorned with a handle fashioned in an exciting zig-zag pattern done in Chèvre Mysore and Box Calf leathers.

Au Pas: finally, this design is meant to depict “In Step”, also known as the walking pace. This design is the most subtle of the three, and the handle consists of a single arching strip of Chèvre Mysore leather trimmed in a Box Calf leather base.

The Diamond Kelly

When stacking up the hierarchy of Hermès handbags, the pinnacle of luxury is the bags affixed with Diamond hardware. For the Kelly bag, the 32cm version features a cadena lock that is set in 68.4 grams of 18K White Gold and encrusted with 40 VVS F-color white round brilliant diamonds, totaling 1.64 Carats. The plaques feature 182 VVS F-color white round brilliant diamonds set in 10 grams of 18K White Gold, and the touret features another 7 VVS F-color white round brilliant diamonds. This brilliant display is only ever offered to the house’s crème de la crème of clientele, surfacing only every so often on the secondary market.

The Kelly bag may come in all shapes, colors, patterns, and materials, which makes for a seemingly personalized handbag that feels as though it was designed just for you. Part of the allure of this bag is how many variations there can be, which opens the imagination and possibilities for the future. If you could have your ideal Kelly bag, what would you make it? Anything is possible with Hermès.

Hermes 101 The Diamond Kelly

Courtesy of Heritage Auctions