In the Hermès stable of covetable handbags, it is largely agreed that the Birkin and Kelly reign as the preeminent symbols of the maison’s superb craftsmanship. Named after Jane Birkin and Grace Kelly, respectively, the bags exude the timeless sophistication of their namesakes in their structured forms and high-quality materials, keeping well-heeled buyers returning to acquire the most coveted versions. These are well-known investment pieces sought by fashionistas worldwide. But delving deeper into the house’s archives yields more elusive prizes — rare treasures that aren’t often seen on the open market. This Passe-Guide bag in Ébène porosus crocodile from 1990 is one such jewel.
Hermès was founded in 1837 as a workshop producing fine equestrian harnesses for Europe’s elite. The firm soon expanded into saddlery, later establishing the clothing and accessories lines for which it is now revered. The form and details of the Passe-Guide pay homage to the atelier’s utilitarian roots. The saddle-shaped bag was created by the prolific in-house designer and artistic director Henri d’Origny, whose distinguished tenure of more than 50 years began in 1958. The Passe-Guide was first released in 1975 and again, in limited quantities, in 2012 and 2013. The now discontinued style is rarely seen on the secondary market. When a Passe-Guide does appear, it makes an impact: A one-of-a-kind crocodile edition in a shocking green hue produced in 2012 achieved $122,000 at auction that same year, and only a handful have circulated since.
“There are not enough words to describe the timeless beauty of this little gem,” Claire Branger, the founder of designer resale boutique Luxe et Vous, says of this piece, which she is offering on 1stDibs. “The Passe-Guide’s structured shape gives it infinite class, and its versatile format makes it the ideal companion in all situations.”
While the Birkin and Kelly are instantly recognizable by their angular, top-handled shape, the Passe-Guide has a more curvilinear form, with a rounded gusset and crossbody strap, suggesting a more adventurous spirit. The sangles, thin belt straps that in the Birkin and Kelly connect to Hermès’s trademark turn-lock closure, are replaced by a small leather band and gold loop securing the bag’s front flap. The centerpiece of the Passe-Guide’s construction is the golden frame supporting its curvature. The two horseshoe-like sides of the frame are fitted with stirrups that secure the bag’s body to its strap and invoke the house’s rich equestrian history. Gilded sculptural embellishments are cherished hallmarks in handbags from brands like Schiaparelli, Bottega Veneta and others, but the kind of bold conceptual ornamentation seen here is infrequent in Hermès’s leather goods.
“It’s a true insider’s ‘If you know, you know’ piece,” says Branger. The sumptuous ebony-brown crocodile hide alone is enough to entice astute collectors, as exotic skins are notoriously difficult to secure from the firm directly. At a moment when prestige fashion brands and buyers are prioritizing quality workmanship in their products and acquisitions, the Passe-Guide embodies an illustrious heritage of masterful craft — the true métier of Hermès.