Hermès handbags are the epitome of luxury and refinement. The brand’s signature Kelly and Birkin bags are arguably the most sought-after in the world, beloved for their timeless design, exceptional materials, and vibrant colors. In addition to their superior craftsmanship, Hermès Kelly and Birkin handbags are rather exclusive, available only in small quantities to those ready to fork over some serious cash. If you’ve been eyeing one of these lavish leather bags, but aren’t certain which best fits your personality and style, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll deconstruct the differences between these two iconic handbags, the Birkin vs. Kelly, to help you determine which bag suits you best.
History of the Hermès Handbags
The Hermès Kelly bag predates the Birkin bag by more than fifty years. In fact, the earliest prototype of the Kelly bag is said to have been designed as early as 1892, and was originally intended to carry an actual horse’s saddle. But it wasn’t until much later in 1956 that the handbag reached icon status when Grace Kelly, the Princess of Monaco, was photographed wearing the bag to hide her baby bump from the flash bulbs of the paparazzi. The photograph was seen around the world, launching the handbag into super-stardom. From that moment on, the bag was dubbed the Kelly bag, receiving its official name change in 1977.
The Birkin bag has its own unique history, having been inspired by a chance encounter between actress Jane Birkin and former Hermès CEO Jean-Louis Dumas. The story goes that the two met on a flight from Paris to London. During the flight, Birkin’s straw handbag toppled over and spilled her things. She complained to Dumas how difficult it was to find a quality, leather handbag that could hold all of her essentials. It didn’t take long for Dumas to design an elegant carry all bag, fitted with a deep interior, polished hardware, and a luxurious leather exterior. The bag quickly became recognized as a status symbol and is still regarded as such today.
One key difference between the Hermès Kelly and Birkin bags is their shape. The Kelly bag has a structured, trapezoidal silhouette and is straight across the top, whereas the Birkin bag is more rectangular shaped with a curved top. A Birkin bag is also taller and wider than a Kelly bag, which allows for more storage space. The Kelly bag comes in two variations—the Sellier, which has sharper edges and a rigid, boxy appearance, and the Retourne, which has rounded edges and is a bit slouchier. The overall construction of these bags is similar, though a Birkin bag does look more relaxed and casual than a Kelly bag.
As we mentioned earlier, the Hermès Birkin bag is larger in size than the Kelly bag. Both bags actually come in a range of sizes, which is why you’ll often see a number listed next to the name of the bag, like Birkin 30 or Kelly 20. This number denotes the length of the handbag, so a Birkin 30 is 30 cm long. There are eight variations of the Kelly bag and four of the Birkin bag, allowing for ample choice when it comes to finding the perfect sized bag for your needs.
Another noticeable difference between the two bags is that there is only one handle on the Kelly bag, while the Birkin bag has two. However, the Kelly bag does come with a detachable strap that allows it to be worn over the shoulder, or even as a cross-body. The Birkin bag, on the other hand, does not have this feature and is most comfortably carried in the crook of the arm.
The other distinguishing difference between these two bags is the design of their front flap. Both bags have a leather flap that features dual straps secured with a turn lock; however, the Birkin bag has two cutouts on either side which slide over the bag’s straps. This allows the bag’s flap to be tucked inside the bag so that one can easily open and close it as needed. Alternately, the Kelly bag must be worn closed because of the way that the handle sits on top of the bag.
The prices of Hermès handbags can differ greatly depending on the type of leather, the bag’s color, and several other factors. However, the Birkin bag is generally a bit more expensive due to its larger size. No matter which you choose, you can expect to pay a pretty hefty price. Although, investing in a Hermès handbag can be advantageous as they tend to retain their value over time.
Hermès handbags are nothing short of flawless, and the Birkin and Kelly bags are both gleaming examples of this. Each bag is handmade by one artisan, a process that can take many hours. The Birkin bag is considered by many to be the Holy Grail of handbags; a luxury even well-known celebrities have to pay full price for. The Kelly bag, however, is also a huge fan favorite, prized for its chic, sophisticated design. Depending on your individual style, the Kelly handbag has a perfectly polished look. The Birkin bag has a more casual appearance for the on-the-go kind of gal.
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*All images courtesy of The Chic Selection