Travel in Style: The Hermes Bag

Hermes Bag - Classic Fashion Icons

I‘m sorry, I forgot what you were saying while I was staring at this glossy Kelly bag.

Let’s clear up a few things about Hermès bags: first of all, the Kelly was not made for Grace Kelly. Or rather, it wasn’t designed for her—it’s not out of the question that Hermès did make a few special pieces just for the actress-turned-princess (anyone else feel like this is a four-year-old’s dream job description?)

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Grace Kelly’s date is actually holding her Kelly bag in his other hand. 

Actually, what we now know as the “Kelly” was first crafted in 1892, before Grace Kelly herself was even…um, crafted. Back then, it was known as a “haut à courroies,” (HAC) or “high belts,” because that’s what the company, which had been in saddlery for more than fifty years, thought the handles looked like. The “high” part is because the handle is rather high up the bag. By 1923, the next generation of Hermèses used this as a basis for a design for Julie Hermès. I’ve read that this version of the bag was intended to fit through a car door, which just makes me wonder how big it had been before.

In 1928, Hermès created a masculine version of the HAC, known as a “Sac à dépêches,” or “dispatches bag.” Just kidding, it’s a briefcase. The Duke of Windsor—the one who abdicated the British throne for American Wallis Simpson—used this bag—maybe even to carry his abdication papers in? JFK also used it. Meanwhile, the Julie-HAC, which wasn’t called that but will be for our purposes, continued to sell.

Until, while filming To Catch a Thief on the French Riviera, soon-to-be-Princess-then-actress Grace Kelly went to town at Hermès. She bought quite a bit more than just the bag, which still wasn’t known as the Kelly, though that would be her enduring Hermès legacy.

It was in 1956, several months after Kelly’s wedding to Prince Rainier, that Grace realized that the bag provided excellent camouflage for her baby bump. Because yes, even though it now fit in cars, it was still enormous. Even after the birth of Royal-Baby-Soon-to-Be-Princess-Caroline was announced to the public, the bag was still a go-to piece for Princess Grace, mostly as a protective measure from the paparazzi. We don’t have any records of her hitting any reporters with the bag, which is a shame, because I would love to see that. One (non-violent) image of Grace with the bag made its way to the cover of Life Magazine, and Hermès realized they were onto something. The Kelly was christened—though it had been born more than 50 years before.

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Her hair alone makes me want to invent a bag for her myself. No crocodiles, Jane, I promise! It will be made out of daydreams and envy.

Meanwhile, Jane Birkin was a baby. Well, she was 10. She would be almost 30 before she’d get her own Hermès bag named for her. By then she’d made numerous films in the UK and France, and was famous for a relationship she’d had with the legendary Serge Gainsbourg in the 1970s (she’s Charlotte Gainsbourg’s mother, FYI). In 1981, she sat next to Hermès chief exec Jean-Louis Dumas on a plane, who was so enchanted he made the Birkin bag for her, launching in 1984.

Birkin, though immediately charmed (as one would be), later stated that she found the bag too heavy to be practical: “I’m going to have an operation for tendonitis in the shoulder.” However, she did carry it for years—until 2015, when she publicly announced that she wanted the bag renamed. Apparently, crocodiles are harmed during the bag’s production. Though this might seem apparent from the fact that you’re buying a crocodile-skin bag, the practices used by Hermès were allegedly crueler than Birkin had been led to believe. She now wants her name removed from the product.

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This one’s made out of an ostrich, so it’s probably all right.

Nevertheless, if you want to go for a Hollywood classic, Hermès is the way to go. Getting your hands on one won’t be easy—they start about $10,000 and can run to twenty times that amount (highest-ever price? A pink crocodile Birkin with gold hardware, selling for $223,000 at auction). Wait lists can stretch into years—and you won’t find either bag on the Hermès website, where you can buy a variety of other products, including the infamous scarves (which Grace Kelly also loved, and which won’t set you back the price of a car).

Even Hermès stores may not have what you’re looking for. The stores do get several bags in, but you need connections to get your hands on one. Connections, and a fat wallet—or, if you’re Rory Gilmore, a boyfriend with ready access to millions (hello, Logan Huntzberger!) Apparently, there’s a set of customers/entrepreneurs willing to purchase your Kelly/Birkin for you, for a mark-up of 100% or more.

Hermes Bag - Classic Fashion IconsAll this, and Logan Huntzberger too!

Or you could get an Audi. Up to you.

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