Kelly BagBy Hermès
In 1837, Thierry Hermès (1801–78) founded his eponymous luxury goods company in Paris as a saddle manufacturer, serving the era’s carriage trade. In 1880, under the stewardship of Thierry's son Émile-Charles, fine riding gear was added to its offerings to complement the saddles. The company expanded their workshops to design handbags nearly half a century later. The Kelly bag, originally introduced as the Sac à Dépêches (“the dispatch bag”) in 1930, was designed by Robert Dumas, son-in-law to Thierry's grandson Émile-Maurice Hermes. Created for independent women who wanted a piece that was both luxurious and efficient, the Kelly bag has a trapezoid shape, two triangular gussets, a sculpted flap and handle. To this day, the understated bag comprises 36 individual leather pieces, 16 studs and a signature padlock and leather key cover, with three layers of leather at the base to ensure the bag can stand upright. Each Kelly bag takes between 18 and 25 hours to produce, and its 680 hand stitches owe solely to one Hermès artisan.
The Kelly bag earned its name during preproduction on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 film, To Catch a Thief. Costume designer Edith Head sourced products from Hermès to outfit actress Grace Kelly, who fell in love with the Sac à Dépêches and continued to carry it long after the movie wrapped. Months after marrying Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1956, she was spotted carrying a brown pigskin Sac to shield her pregnancy from the paparazzi. And while the oft-repeated claim that Kelly and her bag appeared on a Life magazine cover isn’t true, photography of the actress and her cherished accessory began to appear everywhere at the time, and the bag’s profile suddenly skyrocketed.
In 1977 Hermès officially changed the item’s name to the Kelly bag. Less than a decade later, Hermès introduced another handbag to its collection, also named after a style symbol, the Birkin bag. The Paris-based British actress Jane Birkin sat next to Hermès CEO Jean-Louis Dumas — Robert's son — on an Air France flight. He noticed her overflowing handbag, and she told him she longed for “a handbag that is bigger than the Kelly but smaller than Serge’s suitcase,” in reference to her then-romantic partner, the French musician Serge Gainsbourg. The Birkin bag was created in 1984, joining the Kelly in Hermès’ permanent collection.