Fit for a Princess
A Look at the Legendary Kelly Bag

Princess Grace and her eponymous handbag ca. 1956

The Kelly Bag wasn't always known as "The Kelly." Once an anonymous accessory, the fate of the handbag, which was originally designed by Hermès in the late 19th century to hold a saddle, would change forever in 1956 when Princess Grace of Monaco, the former actress Grace Kelly, was seen carrying the sac à dépêches to hide her highly anticipated baby bump from the mongering paparazzi.

The iconic trapezoid (it officially became "The Kelly" in 1977) handbag has become one of the most coveted accessories in the world today thanks to its impeccable detailing, custom sizing, sumptuous skins and as the "older sister" to her younger, equally popular, counterpart - "The Birkin" - which came into the Hermes family back in the 1980s.

A single craftsman works on one Kelly at a time with construction taking about 18 hours. Kelly bags have the same draw-strap and lock mechanism as the Birkin, but have a single leather top handle. The Kelly can be divided into two distinguishable types: Le Sellier and Le Retourne. The Kelly Sellier is structured and features a visible exterior seam while the Retourne is a softer version with the seam sewed inside.

But the real difference between a Kelly and a Birkin is in "how you use it," opines RubyLUX dealer Vincent L'hopital, owner of the Paris-based Mode in Luxe who specializes in vintage accessories from Hermès. "A Birkin is used more as a day bag, the Kelly is for the ladies who want a handbag that transitions smoothly from day to night."

Currently, according to L'hopital, prices on the secondary market range from $15,000 to $18,000 for the Kelly K28 in box calf with gold hardware, while rare colors like Rose Tyrien (a bubblegum pink color) or porosus crocodile can fetch more than $20,000. Mode in Luxe currently offers a selection of vintage Kelly bags ranging in price from $4,800 for a black box calf version to $19,000 for one in honey colored alligator.

The Real Deal

When it comes to authenticity of the iconic accessory, L'hopital refers to the common Parisian expression: the ratio is one to one - fake to real.

So how does one differentiate?

According to aficionados, it's only through experience that one can detect the feel, smell, dimensions and weight of a true Kelly. L'hopital says a good rule of thumb when checking a Kelly made from exotic skins is to look for the skin patterns associated with the reptile and the signature logo Hermes uses to identify each one.

"Hermès ONLY uses two types of lizard and three types of crocodile," says L'hopital. "Each reptile's hide has its own signature. I have seen an increase in fakes in the past four years as the number of counterfeit product grows and the makers of these products get better at mimicking our bags with intense precision." To guarantee getting the real thing L'hopital stresses the importance of purchasing only from reputable dealers who have a history of selling authentic products.

Concludes L'hopital, "I'm in this business for the passion, the quality craftsmanship and the history behind Hermès. This renowned leather goods purveyor is not only about bags, fragrances, or fabrics - it is a lifestyle."