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History of the Hermes Kelly Bag and Grace Kelly

History of the Hermes Kelly Bag and Grace Kelly

Christopher Parr | Pursuitist
In 1956, a pregnant Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco, hid her baby bump behind an Hermès bag

Hollywood’s most precious princess, Grace Kelly, has been the not-so-unofficial muse behind the Hermès Kelly Bag. And did you know the reason why the Hermès handbag received so much attention when Grace Kelly went out and about? She was attempting to hide her private “baby bump” with her Hermès bag — which was photographed and adored by the public.

But let’s take a step back on the history of the Hermès Kelly Bag…

Hermès is recognized for its handmade luggage and handbag collections. The company does not use assembly lines, only one craftsperson may work on one handbag at a time, hand-stitching each individual piece. Due to the labor-intensive nature of Hermès production methods and the use of rare materials, sometimes including exotic skins as well as precious metals, one bag can take 18 to 24 hours to create. The construction of each Kelly bag, for example, requires 18 hours of work by a single artisan. Hermès’ leathers include those of alligator from Florida, buffalo from Pakistan, crocodile from Australia, shark from Thailand, lizard from Malaysia, and oxen, deer, calf, goat, and ostrich from all over the world. The leathers are professionally treated, dyed in an extensive range of colors, and handcrafted into bags of all sizes, small leather goods, and additional accessories. When Hermès leather goods require repair, owners are encouraged to bring the item back to any Hermès store where it can be shipped to the factory near Paris for repair or reconditioning.

Bags made popular through high-profile clientele include the “Kelly bag”, introduced in the 1930s and made popular by Grace Kelly, the Constance shoulder bag with a double strap and large H clasp, and the Trim shoulder bag preferred by Jacqueline Bouvier Onassis. Both Kelly and Constance bags remain in demand, and there has historically been a one-year waiting list.

In 1956, a photo of Grace Kelly, who had become the new Princess of Monaco) carrying the Sac à dépêches bag to shield her pregnant belly from the prying eyes of the paparazzi. Photographs of her covering her baby bump with her hallowed Hermès were splashed all over the world and made it onto the cover of Life magazine. Thus, the company — or possibly more like the public — renamed it the Kelly bag, and it became hugely popular.

When discussing her high-profile life, Kelly said “the freedom of the press works in such a way that there is very little freedom from it.” When faced with a pack of nosy photographers, Stephanie Pendersen, in her book, Handbags, What Every Woman Should Know, says that the shy, newly married Princess, not yet wishing to announce her pregnancy to the world, did what any woman would do and hid her secret in her handbag.

The Kelly Bag is made by one individual craftsman in about 18 hours of work. The skins arrive at the factory already laid out in perfect symmetry, ready for the expert to being his (or her) magic.

Goat skins are used for the lining and this is the first part to be actually sewn. After the lining is made, the base of the handbag is handsewn to the front and back with waxed linen thread. A double saddle stitch is used and each thrust of the needle is carefully done. A tiny hole is made with an awl before each stitch and the stitch size dictates the size of the hole. Adjustment is made for the particular grain of the leather to work with the natural pattern.

The handle comes next in the careful construction of the Kelly handbag and the shaping is done by hand with painstaking attention to detail. The layers of the stitched leather is smoothed with sandpaper and then dyed to match the handbag. Hot wax is applied to protect the handle from moisture.

The distinctive front flap is then added to the bag body and next is the distinctive hardware and 4 feet on the bottom. Each of these metal parts are hand riveted. Believe it or not, the handbag is then ironed to gently smooth out the wrinkles in the calfskin. Last is the famous gold stamp that says “Hermes Paris”.

Little known fact: Grace Kelly once used an Hermès scarf as a sling for her broken arm….

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