The Classic Art of the Hermes Handbag
Any work of art requires at least two things: it must be unique, and it must endure. And although Hermes handbags have many features in common and a recognizable “look,” the hand-made nature of these bags (each with a serial number inside) ensures that the leathers, the colors, the choice of hardware, the lock and key, and the stitching make each of them a work of art. As for endurance, many of these bags are kept for generations and sold only at auction.
To understand the art of a Hermes bag, let’s look at two of the classic designs.
The Kelly Bag
This is the iconic bag designed in 1936 as a travel bag. But in 1956, it was re-named for its most famous owner, the Princess of Monaco, the former Grace Kelly. Each Kelly bag is completely and masterfully hand-sewn by one craftsman. They come in exquisite leathers like crocodile, alligator, lizard, goat (chevre), lambskin (agneau), calf (togo), and buffalo (clemence). If you want ostrich, you’ll have to find one at an auction or reseller, because Hermes no longer makes any bag in ostrich. The bags are available in the stiff “rigide” style with exterior stitching, and “souple,” a softer style with interior stitching.
The distinctive Hermes hardware comes in gold, palladium, ruthenium and guilloche (palladium in a diamond cut). The lock is covered in matching exotic leathers, and the keys are enclosed in a tiny, matching pouch attached to the handle.
The Birkin Bag
Another classic Hermes handbag is the Birkin Bag, first designed for another star, Jane Birkin, an icon of the ’60s and ’70s. The Birkin is another hand-sewn bag with meticulous craftsmanship, and is one of the best-known and most sought-after bags in the world. Like the Kelly bag, the Birkin holds its value as a collectible and is often sold at auction. Also like the Kelly, the Birkin comes in a variety of leathers and colors, including Hermes’ signature Orange H. The hardware is plated gold or plated palladium. And like the Kelly, the bag includes a lock and key.
If You Want a Hermes Handbag…
Be prepared to wait, especially if your heart is set on a specific style, material, or color. In 2012, the Hermes factory produced only 15 bags of varying styles and colors a month, although they stated that they’re hiring more staff. But because these bags are so coveted, they are often available at auctions or through reputable resellers.