Hermès Kelly: past and present

The Hermès Kelly bag, a staple for the iconic Hermès brand for almost a century, retains its long-standing reputation as a must-have bag for the fashion-conscious.

Hermès Kelly bag

History of the Hermès Kelly

The origin

The fore model for what is now the Hermès Kelly was created in 1892, and was called the Haut à Courroies. This saddlebag was reimagined in 1928 as the Sac à Depêches, the original name of the Kelly bag. This was a smaller version, designed for storing documents; maintaining the equestrian-inspired image in a more structured piece. The bag was considered the first real handbag, due to its leather top handle, and its larger size compared to the smaller clutch bags en vogue at the time.

Many famous names were seen wearing the Sac à Depêches from the 1930s onwards. However, its popularity can be largely accredited to its appearance on the arm of a superstar from Hollywood’s golden era – actress Grace Kelly.

Grace Kelly

Kelly starred in the 1955 Alfred Hitchcock-directed film, ‘To Catch a Thief’. She wore the Hermès bag as part of her on-screen wardrobe; she then adopted it into her off-screen style. Most notably, Grace Kelly would carry the bag to shield herself during her first pregnancy. A photograph of her in this act became the cover image of Life magazine in 1956. This prompted the nicknaming of the Sac à Depêches the “Kelly” bag. 

Due to the prevailing association of the designer piece with the actress who popularised it, Hermès renamed the Sac à Depêches to the Kelly in 1977.

The Kelly bag remains iconic today. Grace Kelly’s original Kelly bag was the centrepiece of the 2010 exhibition ‘Grace Kelly: Style Icon’, at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The Kelly bag

The artisans at Hermès craft the bags to a superior standard. They make it from high-quality leather which they sew together by saddle stitch. A single craftsman creates each bag, which takes over twenty hours. Newer adaptations of the Kelly bag have included variations in size, and utilise a variety of leathers. There are also two types of Kelly bag; a Kelly Sellier, which is a more structured form of the item, and the Retourne, a more relaxed version featuring softer sides and interior stitching.

Due to the bag’s fine craft process and popularity, the Kelly bag is a highly exclusive purchase. It takes many years for loyal Hermès customers to have the opportunity to purchase one of these bags. One way for a savvy shopper to avoid this lengthy wait is to shop at auction.

Hermès Kelly bags at auction

Hermès Kelly bag

Our upcoming Designer Collection auction carries an example of the coveted Kelly bag in its Sellier format. Lot 231, a Kelly Sellier 32, is made of black box calf leather and paired with gold-tone hardware. This classically designed bag is adaptable whilst also being a statement piece.

To add even more luxe to the Kelly, many owners accessorise the bag with another mainstay of the Hermès brand, the Twilly scarf. Made of silk, and produced in a range of colours and patterns, the Twilly is the perfect way to add some personalisation to the Kelly. A selection of Twilly scarves can also be found in our upcoming Designer Collection sale – lots 247, 248 and 252, alongside many other Hermès pieces.

Thursday 11th May 2023 at 10 am.

Viewing Times

Wednesday 10th May 10:00 – 16:00
Thursday 11th May 8:30 – 10:00
Virtual viewings are available by request.

Make sure you don’t miss finding that special something by signing up for our emails. You’ll be the first to know when catalogues become available, receive invitations to special events, and preview the hottest lots from our auctions, plus much more. You can also set up lot alerts, to tell us exactly what you are looking for. Our personal shopping service will make sure that you are the first to hear about it.


Our valuations are free, with no obligation to sell with us. Our experts will value your item with an estimate, so you can find out what it could achieve at auction.

The process is simple. You can fill in a form online or book an appointment to visit either of our offices in Birmingham or London. Virtual valuation appointments are also available.

You May Also Like