The Hermès Kelly is arguably the most classic and fashionable handbag of all time: with a naturally accommodating and elegant-yet-useful design, produced over the years in a variety of materials and in two structures with various iterations, the Kelly has been consistently covetable and a perennial “It Bag” for the past few decades if just slightly less popular than the Birkin. Time for a deep dive into this amazing bag (which also happens to currently be my favorite).
The History of the Kelly Bag
The Kelly bag is, of course, named after Princess Grace Kelly, who famously used her handbag to hide her pregnancy in 1956. At the time she was one of the most famous women in the world, having left her American movie star life to become the wife of Prince Ranier of Monaco. The paparazzi photos of her shielding her baby bump with her bag ended up everywhere, including Life Magazine, thrusting her Hermès bag front and center into pop culture. The bag became increasingly popular and was renamed in her honor.
However, years before it was popularized by Grace Kelly, it was just a simple, practical design; as explained by the Hermès website, it was created in 1935 by Robert Dumas and called the Sac à Dépêches, which in itself took design elements from the older Haut à Courroies (HAC) bag, which was designed in the 1850s; the Monaco bag was also influential over the Kelly design.
The Anatomy of the Kelly Bag
Like all Hermès bags, a Kelly is assembled by hand by one craftsperson; the Kelly takes about 18 hours of work. Most Kellys are lined in chevre (although some are lined in swift, depending upon the exterior leather or if a different leather is selected via Special Order). There is actually a specific process for putting the bag together, as explained in this wonderful article.
As a general description, the Kelly is a north-south trapezoidal tophandle bag, featuring a strap (called a sangle) near the top of either side which is woven through the sides of the bag to close over a front flap, which can further be secured with a provided lock (cadena) and key.
The hardware includes four bottom feet, plaque on the front with a turnlock (touret) over which the sangles are secured, and a double ring at the base of each side of the handle for a shoulder strap. The strap has been provided with the bag since the mid-to-late 1980s, but before 2000 there was only one ring on each side of the base; the second ring was added to enable easier use of the strap.
The Two Kelly Structures
The Kelly comes in two structures: Sellier and Retourne.
The Sellier structure features external structural stitching of the separate leather parts of the bag and provides a firmer shape. This, in addition to the fact that Sellier Kellys are usually made with Epsom, Chevre, Box, Tadelakt or exotic (Crocodile, Alligator, Ostrich, Lizard) leathers which are generally firmer and tend to hold their shape very well, provides the bag with a pronounced structured appearance (previously, this structure was also known as Rigide). The Sellier bag is unlikely to slouch, although it will also have a slightly boxier and more formal appearance.
The Retourne structure features internal stitching of the leather parts and has a more relaxed shape. It is usually produced in Togo, Clemence, Swift and Evercolor (note that Togo has also been an option for Sellier via Special Order, but is not currently), which are softer, more supple leathers. Retourne Kelly bags tend to be or become slouchier and have a more casual appearance.
Available Kelly Hardware
Currently-produced Kelly bags are made with Gold, Palladium or (more rarely) Permabrass hardware.
Special Order Kelly bags may also be made with Brushed Gold or Brushed Palladium Hardware. Certain very special Kelly Bags are made with Diamond Hardware. Rarely, in the past Kellys were also sometimes produced with Ruthenium (black) or Guilloche Hardware. Rose Gold Hardware has not yet been an option for the Kelly bag, although it has been used for some Kelly iterations, such as the Pochette.
With all of these options, it can sometimes be tricky deciding which size or structure to get!
Tips On Purchasing a Kelly
The Kelly is considered a Quota Bag by Hermès. The purchase of Quota Bags is generally limited to two bags per year per customer – although actually getting one may be another story.
The Different Kelly Sizes
Each bag’s size is determined by its base’s length (so, for example, a 25cm bag has a 25cm long base). The Kelly sizes that are currently in regular production are 20 cm (“Mini”), 25cm, 28cm, 32cm and 35cm. 40cm, 45cm and 50cm Kellys are harder to find and are rarely (but sometimes) available.
Each Kelly bag has a matching strap that is 85cm long, however straps in lengths of 70cm, 105cm and 120cm may be ordered. Kelly bags which are larger than the Mini (20 cm) size also come with a clochette, lock, pair of keys for the lock, and a rain jacket.
There are many available on the secondhand market.
How Much Does A Kelly Cost?
Due to the additional amount of specialized work involved in the Sellier structure’s production, the Sellier Kelly’s price is more than the price of the Retourne; this price difference has generally hovered around the $1,000 mark. Of course, prices also vary depending upon the type of leather used.
However, the prices of both structures and all versions of the Kelly bag have increased greatly over the past few years. For example, a 25cm Box Sellier Kelly’s retail price nearly doubled, from $6,900 in 2009 ($9,530 in 2022, adjusted for inflation) to $13,500 in 2022. A 32cm Togo/Clemence Retourne increased in the same time frame from $7,300 to $11,100, an increase of 52%.
|Style||Box||Chevre||Epsom||Togo & Clemence||Other|
|25cm Sellier Kelly||$13,500||$11,400||$10,600|
|25cm Retourne Kelly||$9,900|
|28cm Sellier Kelly||$13,900||$11,800||$11,200|
|28cm Retourne Kelly||$10,600|
|32cm Sellier Kelly||$11,600|
|32cm Retourne Kelly||$11,100|
|20cm Mini Kelly||$8,900||$8,250||$28,500 (Matte Gator)|
|Kelly Danse||$7,450 (Evercolor)
|Kelly Pochette||$6,050 (Swift)|
|Kelly Cut||$6,750 (Doblis)
Current and Past Variations of the Kelly Bag
Hermès has arguably produced more iterations of the iconic Kelly bag than any other of its bag styles. The styles which are currently being produced include the following:
Kelly Compact Wallet
Kelly To Go
The versions which are not currently in production include the following bags:
Mini Kelly I
Micro (15cm) Kelly
Limited Editions of the Kelly include:
In & Out
Waffle (a/k/a Dwitch)
The Kelly Bag in Popular Culture
The Kelly bag has been famously carried for decades by movie stars the world over; musicians of every genre, from Lady Gaga to Cardi B; athletes, both female and male (don’t forget Floyd Mayweather’s Hermès collection!), and has been featured in many films and TV shows, including the following (no comment on whether the bag on the screen is genuine, although the one used in “The Royal Tenenbaums” has been discussed publicly as a replica).
The following motion pictures featured an Hermès Kelly prominently on the big screen:
- 1955 Alfred Hitchcock’s “To Catch A Thief” with Grace Kelly includes a Hermès shopping scene.
- 1957 “Une Parisienne” with Brigitte Bardot features a 35cm Kelly.
- 1959 “The Journey”: Deborah Kerr carries a Crocodile Kelly.
- 1960 Jean-Luc Godard’s “A Bout de Souffle (Breathless)” features a Sellier Kelly.
- 1966 “Grand Prix”: Eva Marie Saint carries a Black Kelly.
- 1994 “Intersection”: Sharon Stone carries a Gold Kelly.
- 1995 Pedro Almodóvar’s “Flower of My Secret”: Marisa Paredes carries a Red Kelly.
- 1996 “Shall We Dance” (Japan): Tamiyo Kusakari carries a Kelly.
- 1996 Woody Allen’s “Everyone Says I Love You” features a crocodile 28cm Kelly.
- 1998 “A Perfect Murder”: Gwyneth Paltrow carries a Black Kelly.
- 2001 Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tenenbaums”: Angelica Huston carries a (notoriously fake) Gold Kelly.
- 2002 David Fincher’s “Panic Room”: Jodie Foster carries a Black Kelly.
- 2002 Merchant-Ivory’s “Merci Docteur Ray”: Dianne Wiest carries a Kelly.
- 2003 “Le Divorce” includes a scene where Kate Hudson is gifted a Red Crocodile Kelly.
- 2003 Sofia Coppola’s “Lost In Translation” features a Black 28cm Kelly.
- 2003 “House of Sand and Fog”: Shohreh Aghdashloo carries a Kelly.
- 2003 “Nathalie” (France) features a Black Kelly.
- 2003 “Being Julia”: Anette Bening carries a Crocodile Kelly.
- 2004 “13 Going on 30”: Jennifer Garner carries a 32cm Kelly.
- 2004 “The Clearing”: Helen Mirren carries a Red 32cm Kelly.
- 2006 “Avenue Montaigne” (France) features a Black Kelly.
- 2006 “Factory Girl”: a Kelly bag is featured.
- 2008 Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”: a Kelly bag is featured.
- 2008 “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”: Cate Blanchett carries a Kelly.
- 2005 Pascal Thomas’ “Mon Petit Doight M’A Dit” and “Le Crime est Notre Affaire” feature Kelly bags on the film posters.
- 2009 “My One and Only”: Renee Zellweger carries a Black Crocodile Kelly.
- 2009 “I Am Love”: Tilda Swinton carries a Kelly.
- 2010 “London Boulevard” (UK): a Black Kelly is featured.
- 2011 “Transformers”: Frances McDormand asks for a Green Birkin (but the bag is actually a Kelly!).
- 2017 “SPF-18”: Molly Ringwald carries an Etoupe Kelly.
- 2021 “Die Unbeugsamen” (Germany): Kelly Bag prominently featured in the movie poster.