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The Kelly bag

The Kelly bag (formerly known as the Sac à dépêches) is a leather handbag designed by the Paris-based, high-fashion luxury-goods manufacturer Hermès International S.A. Originally a saddle holder, it was redesigned several times before it was popularized by and then named after the American actress and Monégasque princess Grace Kelly. The bag is now an expensive status symbol.


The Kelly bag is a trapezium closed with two straps. Four studs on the bottom, itself made of three layers of leather, enable it to stand on the ground. It is sold in eight sizes, ranging from 15 centimetres (5.9 inches) to 50 centimetres (20 inches). The padlock, keys and hardware are made of white or yellow gold. The construction of each Kelly bag requires 18 to 25 hours of handicraft, with each item being created by a single artisan, resulting in high retail prices. By the mid-1990s, a Kelly bag was priced at US$3,500.


The prototype of the Kelly bag, introduced around 1892, was a large bag used for holding a saddle, and was known as Haut à courroies because of its high handle. In 1923, Émile-Maurice Hermès and Ettore Bugatti designed a thoroughly simple and plain bag for Hermès's wife Julie. It was meant to fit into a car door and to allow riders to carry their saddle. In the 1930s, Hermès's son-in-law Robert Dumas redesigned it as a spacious travel bag called Sac à dépêches. It was a sharp contrast to the dominant purses of the time, which were simple, small and flat, resembling envelopes. The handbag gradually went on to become stiff and boxy.


Red crocodile leather Kelly bag

Alfred Hitchcock has been credited with bringing the handbag into the limelight. In 1954, Hitchcock allowed the costume designer Edith Head to purchase Hermès accessories for the film To Catch a Thief, starring Grace Kelly. According to Head, Kelly "fell in love" with the bag. Within months of her 1956 marriage to Prince Rainier III, the pregnant Princess of Monaco was photographed using the handbag to shield her growing belly from the paparazzi. That photograph was featured in the Life magazine. A Hollywood celebrity from a wealthy Philadelphia family and married to a European monarch, Princess Grace was a fashion icon, and the handbag immediately achieved great popularity. Although the handbag instantly became known as the Kelly bag, it was not officially renamed until 1977.

The handbag with which Princess Grace was photographed was loaned from the palace archives of Monaco and displayed in the Victoria and Albert Museum in April 2010, along with other notable wardrobe items owned by the Princess. The "star exhibit" of the show contains scuffs and marks, as the wardrobe thrifty Princess carried it for many years. Hermès now creates 32 styles of handbags, but the Kelly persists as the manufacturer's best-seller.


The Kelly bag is a status symbol and has appeared in popular culture. In Le Divorce, the main protagonist's affair with a rich man is revealed by her red crocodile leather Kelly bag.

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