A couple of months ago, my guest blogger wrote an amazing post titled “The Hermès Bail-out Plan”. It remains one of my favourite posts. Please read it as it compliments this post beautifully.

I was at an Hermès store in Germany earlier this year buying a Twilly and there was a young man trying to decide between an Hermès ‘Victoria’ and a Louis Vuitton bag down the street. He seemed baffled. Then he turned around and asked me: “Would you rather have an Hermès bag or a Louis Vuitton monogram bag?”

“Hermès!”, I responded with much enthusiasm.
Then he asked: “Why?”

“Because Hermès is the ultimate luxury brand. Hermès doesn’t need monogram bags like LV and Gucci. Hermès is quiet elegance,” I said.

Then he said with a smile on his face: “You should work for Hermès” and “Okay, ring it through” to the sales person. And just like that, I made $5,000 for Hermès.

I do believe in good karma and, clearly, Hermès owes me some. Which is why I think a day will come when I will hold my very own Hermès bag (preferably Kelly) in my arms.

My love affair with Hermès goes way back to my childhood when I first laid eyes on Grace Kelly in High Society (which happens to be a remake of one of my favourite films of all time, The Philadelphia Story).

Grace Kelly with a ‘Kelly’

Grace Kelly wearing a Hermès twilly scarf
I became obsessed with Grace Kelly and her fabulous offspring Princess Stéphanie (this was in the 80s and early 90s when Princess Stéphanie was everywhere). Remember those gorgeous photos of Princess Stéphanie riding horses? I so wanted to be Grace or Stéphanie and they both wore Hermès. So it began…
Princess Stéphanie

While I’m nowhere close to the full Hermès lifestyle, there are plenty of attainable iconic pieces like Hermès twillies and scarves. But the crème de la crème of any serious fashion collector are the two most coveted bags in the world: the Kelly and the Birkin!

It is widely recognized that both bags are so in demand that only the highly privileged can obtain them. While the price tags for the plain leather versions of the Kelly and the Birkin are starting at around $7,000 US for the Birkin and $10,000 US for the Kelly, one can’t just shell out the cash. They have to know the right people to obtain one. There is a long waiting list controlled by the mighty Hermès gods and if one (usually of the ‘new money’ clan) would like to get bumped up the list, rumour has it that it requires a few more thousands. Of course, there is always something extra special like, perhaps, a black crocodile skin Birkin with diamond hardware, like the one recently sold for $64,800 US at Doyle New York auction. Or the $140,000 US one-of-a-kind pink crocodile Birkin bag with diamond hardware sold at the opening of an Hermès Palm Beach Store. Or the $198,000 CAD (almost sinfully sexy) red crocodile bag with diamond hardware I recently spotted at the Calgary Holt Renfrew!

Black Crocodile Birkin Bag With Diamonds

The Kelly is no less coveted than the Birkin although the grand sales of it are kept a little more hush-hush. I have a theory that Hermès likes to keep the Kelly the quiet, classy one, and therefore Hermès doesn’t flaunt it around like the Birkin. It is because the Kelly customers, perhaps, are slightly less flamboyant, more ‘classic’.

Both bags are so high in demand that Hermès is now breeding its own crocodiles in order to meet the demand of 3,000 crocodile bags a year. Both the Kelly and Birkin are crafted by a single craftsman from start to finish in France. It takes around 25 hours of work to create a single bag. Hermès currently employs around 2,000 craftsmen. This is an expensive business.

Black Crocodile Kelly Bag

For those that don’t know the story of the Kelly and the Birkin, here is a quick recap.

Designed in the 1930s, the Hermès “petit sac haut a courroies,” which meant “little bag with straps,” was always a popular handbag among the wealthy ladies. It was named the “Kelly Bag” in the 1950s when Grace Kelly famously used the bag to conceal her pregnant belly from the paparazzi. It became an instant symbol of style and status.

Grace Kelly with a unique two-tone Kelly
Sometime in 1981 singer, actress, and former “amour de Serge Gainsbourg” Jane Birkin, sat next to the Hermès president on an airpane. She reportedly went to reach for something from her overstuffed canvas Hermès bag and everything fell out! Hermès president was instantly inspired to create a hip weekend leather bag with compartments for Ms. Birkin.

Jane Birkin with a Birkin

So the question is: Kelly or Birkin?

It seems to not be just a matter of aesthetics. The bags seem to reflect different vibes and appeal to a different type of women. The Washington Post article titled “Hermès VS Hermès” by Annie Groer from 2006, explores the differences between the two bags. In the article, she interviews Inga Guen of the Washington’s famed consignment shop Once is Not Enough, who states:

“A woman who is going to wear the Kelly is of very erect stature, she comes from money, very good background, is extraordinarily educated, and life to her is one where she will be very inconspicuous.”

Guen also describes a Birkin carrier as a woman who “wears Manolo mules, a pair of jeans, a little Chanel jacket. She is the younger woman.”

As much as I aspire to become an old money rich bitch like my idol Nan Kempner, I have to say that a Birkin would more suit my personal style (which can be pretty street casual most of the time). And I adore Jane Birkin and all of her offsprings. But my heart belongs to Kelly. Why? Because being a ‘Kelly’ type is my ultimate goal: an elegant and graceful woman with a weekend home in the Hamptons (ok, maybe Whistler). Maybe it is also because Birkin has been defaced for me by being constantly attached to the arms of annoying celebs. So is Kelly, but seemingly less so. Kelly is more understated.

So I guess I’m a Kelly girl (although I wouldn’t refuse a Birkin if it came my way)!

But, I think I’ll stick to scarves for now…

Further reading:

Bringing Home the Birkin: My Life in Hot Pursuit of the World’s Most Coveted Handbag

The Hermes Scarf: History & Mystique

Koto Bolofo: La Maison

“Hermes v. Hermes

What do you think?