There are a handful of designer items so iconic that they can simply be referred to by one name. Mention the Hermès Kelly bag—the Kelly—to any fashion insider and they’ll immediately know what you’re talking about: a trapezoidal-shaped bag with a single handle, flap-top closure, and four brass feet. The Kelly bag is stunning, and it’s made with expert craftsmanship: each one takes at least 18 hours to make by a single skilled artisan. It’s no wonder the bag is so rare—and coveted.
Of course, no item becomes iconic all on its own. It was the impeccable style and elegance of Hollywood star Grace Kelly—by then, Princess Grace of Monaco—that launched the bag into must-have status in the 1950s. Now, the Kelly is one of the most popular Hermès bags on the market, second only to the Birkin, and top tier celebs with style cred of their own are regularly seen carrying it.
Over the past 70 years, season by season, the Kelly has been released in different materials and colorways—often in limited runs, leading to its status as an exclusive, collectable designer item. While the classic vintage box calf finish will always be a favorite on best-dressed lists, it’s the rarer, hard-to-find finishes that really make a splash.
Not only are certain leather types harder to come by, but it’s also the size, color, and overall design that makes a Kelly bag so exclusive—and elusive. These are some of the rarer variations, owned by only the luckiest and most persistent among Hollywood royalty.
Niloticus Crocodile is arguably the most desirable Kelly bag material: the leather comes from Africa’s Nile River and can be identified by its larger scales. Made in both shiny and matte versions, the bag is an edgy spin on the original.
First released in 2011 during the Hermès Spring Ready-to-Wear show, the Kelly in Osier wicker, known as the “Picnic Kelly,” is a more summery version of the timeless design. The style was released in very small batches because wicker is delicate and requires a high level of care in order for it to be long-lasting. A few years later, Hermès also released a mini version of the Picnic in a limited run of colors, which also rank high on many influencer wishlists. Socialite Jamie Chua’s extensive Hermès collection includes the Picnic Kelly, of course.
Hermès has been using the plissé technique on their scarves for a long time, but the method also made it onto some of the house’s leather goods. A plissé garment features material—often silk or satin—pleated in an accordion-like style. The Plissé Mini Kelly is particularly rare because the designer hasn’t made the style in a long time, making it a favorite for vintage hunters.
Truly a novelty item, the Sterling Silver Mini Kelly was issued on a very limited run, and while a few different versions were released over the years, only the most devoted of fans were able to snag one. Who needs a mirror when your bag is silver plated?
The Himalyan is perhaps the most wanted of all Hermès colorways, in both the Kelly and the Birkin styles. The material is made from Niloticus Crocodile, but the dye process, which mimics the look of a snow-capped mountain, is where the bag gets its name. This particular finish is only offered to VIP clients: Kylie and Kris Jenner have a matching pair.
Victoria Beckham, a major collector of Hermès bags, is often seen carrying around one of her many Kellys, including the violet purple Kelly Pochette in Doblis suede. Petite and perfect for a lipstick and wallet, the mini bag is one of the smaller versions in Victoria’s collection.
With an unexpected waffle-like finish, the Dwich Kelly is made by stretching box calf leather over a metal trellis. The result is a very soft leather with a waffle effect. This finish is rare due to the complexity of the construction, and has only been made in shades of Noir and Rouge.
While some celebs stick to the classics—like Miranda Kerr and her collection of professional-chic everyday Kellys—some opt for harder-to-find colorways. Victoria Beckham loves a bright bag, and owns both a violet purple version as well as a Multicolor version, which features three hues in a smooth leather finish.
Every now and then, Hermès will release a new finish with little fanfare, surprising bag devotees and fashion insiders with something unexpected. This was the case with the Trimaterial version, released in 2014, which featured a combination of Swift leather, Clemence leather, and the distinctive Ostrich leather on the body of the bag. Existing in only two colorways, one in Cobalt hues and the other in Vert and Taupe shades, the bag is rarely seen IRL, except among A-listers.
Every Kelly bag is special in its own way, but over the years some finishes have proved themselves to be a step above. Just as Grace Kelly was ahead of her time when it came to style, the Kelly bag and its fans are perpetually ahead of the fashion game. From Beyoncé to Victoria Beckham, the celebs who carry around the Kelly are icons in their own right—and every icon needs a go-to designer handbag.
Photo credits: Shutterstock Inc./Tattoboo, Rebag