A gifted young leather worker, Thierry Hermès opened his shop in Paris in 1837, where he specialized in exquisite, finely crafted horse harnesses for carriages. Hence, he built his company on the durable “saddle stitch,” which can only be executed by hand and requires two needles to manipulate the waxed linen thread.

When his son, Charles-Emile, took over after his death in 1878, the company expanded to custom-fit saddles—their work, favored by Europe’s most elite circles, was considered so elegant and refined that royal coronations were actually delayed to wait for Hermès carriage fittings. Once Charles-Emile retired, his sons Adolphe and Emile-Maurice took charge. Emile-Maurice became famous as the man who brought the zipper to France, where he had exclusive rights to use the device in leather clothing and accessories.

In the early 20th century, Hermès was just one of many companies specializing in fine leather goods—Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Gucci, who made things like saddles, harnesses, and luggage. Hermès trunks and suitcases were always exceedingly fine, made out of exotic leathers like ostrich, alligator, and crocodile.

The company produced its first handbags in 1922, and by 1929 it had also delved into the world of haute-couture women’s clothing. The 1930s were especially significant in the company’s history; it was the decade Hermès first introduced its coveted silk scarves and the bag now known as the Kelly Bag.

Initially called a Sac à dépêches, the bag became an icon in 1956, when actress Grace Kelly, also the princess of Monaco, was seen in “Life” magazine, using the bag to hide her pregnancy. A Kelly Bag is still made by the hand of one craftsman, who sometimes irons the leather. When the bags are made out of alligator, the belly is used for the body and the neck for the sides. The whole process takes 18 hours. The identifying features include the straps on the clasp and the padlock with a semi-hidden key. Other glamorous Hollywood stars, like Marlene Dietrich and Ingrid Bergman, favored this purse, the very definition of a “good” bag that telegraphed one’s status among the elite.

The Kelly Bag was finally succeeded in the '80s, after French actress Jane Birkin happened to be on the same airplane as Hermès chief Jean Louis Dumas-Hermès in 1981. The story goes that she accidentally spilled the contents of her Kelly, and complained that it just wasn’t big enough for her. Dumas-Hermès invited her to help him invent her vision of the perfect Hermès purse. In 1984, the Birkin bag was born.

This large wedge-shaped, flat-bottomed bag is also made by a single craftsman, who spends 18 to 25 hours on it from start to finish. That’s why the Hermès artisans in Paris can o...

The Evelyne Bag was designed for an even more casual look, for weekend walks. Based on the bag stable boys would carry when grooming horses, it's got a comfortable shoulder strap. It's identified by the "H" in a circle, made out of holes punched into the leather. Stable bags originally had similar holes to allow horse-grooming equipment to dry.

Of course, this elegant bag, made out of patent leather, suede, or canvas, would not actually be used for animal grooming, just as the Hermès Picotin, an open-top bucket purse inspired by horse feed bags, would never be used to feed a horse.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Bag Lady University

Bag Lady University

Bag Lady University is the place to learn about handbag makers from Adrian's, which made Bakelite bags, to Whiting … [read review or visit site]

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Auth Hermes Birkin 35 Orange Tourillon Clemence Hand Bag □h 2004 Shw R53931Auth Hermes Kelly 28 Out-stitch Black Box Calf Hand Bag 2 Way Ghw Oy 1995 R1786Auth Hermes Birkin 35 White Tourillon Clemence Hand Bag □i 2005 Shw R1832Authentic Hermes Birkin 30 Hand Bag Navy Gold Couchevel Vintage France U196Auth Hermes Birkin 35 Gold Couchevel Leather Hand Bag □b 1998 Gold Hw R53949Auth Hermes Evelyne Gm Black Fjord Leather Shoulder Bag □e 2001 Ghw R53944Authentic Hermes Her Bag Pm 2 In 1 2way Hand Bag Be Br Toile Officier H Vtg U339Authentic Hermes Birkin 35 Hand Bag Bicolor Wh Gr Veau Epsom Vintage U67Auth Hermes Her Bag Pm 2 In 1 2way Hand Bag Beige Brown Toile H Vintage U381Auth Hermes Evelyne Gm Chocolat Couchevel Shoulder Bag Shw □a 1997 Ghw Wh1616Auth Hermes Evelyne Gm Noisette Tourillon Leather Shoulder Bag □e2001 Ghw Wh1617Authentic Hermes Her Bag Pm 2 In 1 Brown Beige Canvas 2way Hand Bag Shw U444Auth Hermes Evelyne Ⅱpm Orange Epsom Leather Shoulder Bag □i 2005 Ghw R53946Auth Hermes Evelyne Ii Pm Yellow Epsom Leather Shoulder Bag Ghw □i R53943100% Authentic Hermes Kelly 32 2way Hand Bag Blue Box Calf France Vintage U383Authentic Hermes Her Bag Ado Pm 2 In 1 Beige Canvas Backpack Vintage Shw U445Authentic Hermes Her Bag Pm 2 In 1 Beige Canvas Leather Hand Bag Vintage U265Authentic Hermes Evelyne Iii Pm Epsom Gold Palladium Hardware Messenger BagAuth Hermes Trim 31 Black Tourillon Leather Shoulder Bag □b 1998 Shw R53918Authentic Hermes Her Bag Ado Pm 2 In 1 Backpack Hand Bag Navy Toile Offcier U317Hermes Jige Caramel Brown Leather "h" Envelope Clutch Bag HandbagAuthentic Hermes Her Bag Ado Pm 2 In 1 Black Canvas Backpack Vintage Shw U448Authentic Hermes Valparaiso Long Pm Hand Bag With Pouch U1607ig5Auth Hermes Her Bag Mm 2 In 1 2way Hand Bag Camel Toile H Leather Vintage U353Auth Hermes Black Ardennes Kelly 35 Cm Goldhw Shoulder Bag Handbag PurseHermes Fonnsbelle Crocodile Porosus Kelly Birkin Vintage Leather Bag Mint 24 CmAuth Hermes Her Bag 2way Hand Shoulder Bag Black Beige Canvas Leather 5l360010#Auth Hermes Her Bag Mm 2 In 1 2way Hand Bag Camel Toile H Leather Vintage U302Authentic Hermes Kelly Tote, Courchevel Leather- Small 28cm- Vintage Hand BagAuth Hermes Evelyne Gm Couchevel Leather Shoulder Bag □a 1997 Ghw Wk1706Auth Hermes Haut à Courroie 32 Gold Couchevel Hand Bag Ou 1991 Gold Hw R53978Auth Hermes Evelyne Ii Pm Brown Epsom Leather Shoulder Bag Shw □k R53945Ostrich Style Leather Hot Pink 35cm (14in ) Hermes Birkin HandbagAuth Hermes Birkin 35 Black Ardennes Leather Hand Bag Ghw □b 1998 Ghw R54008Auth Hermes Vespa Pm White Epsom Leather Shoulder Bag □h 2004 Shw R53751Auth Hermes Her Bag Backpack Beige Canvas Leather 6d200150Auth Hermes Her Bag Mm 2 In 1 2way Hand Bag Camel Toile H Leather Vintage U461Auth Hermes Kelly Wallet Veau Epson Leather Bifold Wallet Purse Shw Yellow N971Hermes Birkin Auth Hermes Evelyne Gm Gold Tourillon Leather Shoulder Bag □e 2001 Ghw Wh1617Authentic Dark Chocolate Hermes Birkin In 35 (28,35,25) LeatherAuth Hermes Her Bag Mm 2 In 1 2way Hand Bag Black Toile Officier Vintage U464Auth Hermes Fourre Tout Mm Hand Tote Bag Cotton Canvas Dark Gray France 16022Authentic Hermes Her Bag Beige And Navy Tote Bag 2 In 1 6e110580Auth Hermes Birkin 40 Black Ardennes Leather Hand Bag Ghw Oy 1995 Wh1625Hermes ClutchAuth Hermes Vinyl Kelly Beach Hand Bag Souvenir De L'exposition 1997 6d130510nAuthentic Hermes Birkin 35 Dark Brown Clemence Leather BagHermes Twilly Brown Silk Authentic Classic Birkin Pattern ScarfHermes Black And Tan Toile Mini Herbag Crossbody HandbagVintage Hermes Trim 31 Black Box Bag GhwAuthentic Hermes Her Bag Cabas Hand Tote Bag Navy Toilr Leather Canvas 8364Authentic Hermes Garden Party Hand Tote Bag Brown Amazonia Leather 8067 #Authentic Hermes Dogon Coin Purse Taurillon Clemence Leathe Key Case 2 Set 8367Auth Hermes Vespa Pm Blue Jean Epsom Leather Shoulder Bag □j 2006 Shw R53981Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Gucci Shopping Bag Lot Of 3Authentic Hermes Beige Cotton Dust Bag Pouches 8.5 X 5 And 13 X 9.5