I declare my love for Hermes Kelly 32 bag. This infatuation came quite unexpectedly and I still cannot rationalise it. As a long-time devotee of Birkin 35 due of its size, functionality and, of course, the wow factor I was not prepared that there might exist another bag that could possibly come anywhere near such a magnificent accessory. And yet, Hermes Kelly 32 bag is there on the par with Birkin 35 competing for the title of the most fabulous bag ever in the style universe. Who knew?

There is no point denying that as a handbag lover I have always had a Kelly on my radar. And who wouldn’t?! After all, it is one of the ultimate fashion treasures, highly sought after and almost never available. Interestingly, if you live in a metropolis a Birkin can be spotted once in a while but Kelly is far more unique. In fact, I can only recall a few occasions when I came across someone on a street carrying a Kelly which, naturally, only exacerbated my fascination with the bag.

So after years of dreaming of a Kelly I decided that it was time to face the prospect of financial ruin once more and, finally, endeavour to add one of these extraordinary pieces to my collection. And I really want to emphasise here the word endeavour because, just as in case of Birkins, buying a Kelly is a protracted and highly painstaking process filled with enough frustration to drive away even the most determined shopper. Say hello to the futile visits to the Hermes boutique, waiting lists and begging emails to shop assistants. But where is will there is a way and here I am, writing this review for anyone wondering whether Kelly is really the bag to lose the sleep over.

View if Hermes Kelly 32 held by the top handle


By choosing Kelly you are choosing a timeless and elegant piece. The design is iconic and instantly recognisable to any fashionista in the same way as the Hermes Birkin bag is. What makes it so special is that despite its minimalist style it conveys pure sophistication and luxury, and it does so in an exceptionally effortless manner.

And there is, of course, the association with one of the old Hollywood legends and later the Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly, who gave the bag its name. Grace Kelly was photographed with the bag on numerous occasions, most famously using it to disguise her pregnancy from the paparazzi after the engagement to the Prince of Monaco. It was around that time that the bag, originally introduced by Hermes in the 1930s and known as Sac à Courroies, was officially renamed as “the Kelly”.

Now for the style… The silhouette of the bag is very classic and angular. The interiors are capped by a flap which needs to be drawn over the top of the bag for it to fully close. At the centre of the flap is a metal plaque forming a part of the fastening mechanism and the top of the flap features a single handle with two golden links on each side, one for holding the handle and one intended for affixing a detachable leather strap.

Hermes Kelly 32 bag close up
Kelly 32 with the flap drawn over the front of the bag

The surface i.e. the face of the bag is plain with no ornamental motifs such as stitching or layers. The only notable embellishments are two leather straps weaved through slits with metal plaques affixed at each end which form part of the closure system. There is also a turning buckle at the centre with the words “Hermes Paris Made in France” directly above it.

Front of the bag with the flap tucked away

Unlike in Birkins, there are no metal brackets attached to the front of the bag for holding the fastening straps in place.

Birkin and Kelly fastening mechanism comparison
Brackets supporting the fastening straps are only featured in a Birkin bag (left) and not in a Kelly (right)

Another feature distinguishing between Birkins and the Hermes Kelly bag is the optional detachable leather strap which can be affixed to the metal hoops linking each side of the top handle to the flap. In Hermes Kelly 32 the strap measures the total of 82cm in length (that’s the leather part) and 1.7cm in width, allowing for a 45cm drop when the bag is carried over the shoulder. The strap is plane with the words “Hermes Paris Made in France” printed on it.

Close-up on the print on the strap
Close-up on the print which can be found on the detachable strap

Each bag is accompanied by an optional clochette which can be looped through the handle containing a lock and two keys for additional fastening when the flap is flipped over the front.

Hermes Kelly 32 bag kit
Hermes Kelly 32 bag comes with the clochette, the rain protection pack and a leather care booklet

Both the key lock and the keys are marked with serial numbers, one on each key, and two numbers on the lock. The clochette comes with its own mini pouch with a Hermes logo print. There is also a plastic raincoat and a leather care booklet. [Back to Menu]

Close up on the bag when held by hand

Sellier or Retourne

When choosing a Hermes Kelly bag, apart from the size and colour, the most important decision to be made will be the style of the bag.

There are two types of Kellys, Sellier and Retourne, the former being the original design and the more classic option with square silhouette and sharp corners whereas the latter having a more relaxed appearance. The top part of both styles, namely the flap, the handle, the detachable strap and the locking mechanism are practically the same.

What distinguishes the designs is the stitching and the edges. In Kelly Sellier, the outer profile of the bag is outlined and accentuated by visible seams. Thanks to the stitching, the corners of the bag remain more pronounced and sharper than in Retourne bags. A Hermes Retourne bag is the “inside out” version of Sellier with the stitching facing the interior and the outer edges being protected by piping, in a similar fashion as it is the case in a Birkin bag. In fact, the word retourne means reverse and this is what the Retourne bag is, namely the Sellier bag in reverse.

What helps the Sellier bag maintain its rigid structure is the leather used in its construction. While it is possible to find a Sellier Kelly bag in Togo or Chevre, the more common versions are those in Epsom or Box leather which allow the bag to maintain its formal appearance and shape.

There is no denying that whichever style of Hermes Kelly bag you opt for you will end up with a magnificent piece. Both bags have a very elegant look and differences between them are subtle. Personally, I prefer Kelly Retourne because it is more compatible with my personal style which is usually smart-casual, and this is why I opted for this design. This is not to say that I would say “no” to a Kelly Sellier in the future if one happened to come my way…😉. [Back to Menu]

Hermes Kelly 32 bag carried over the shoulder

How practical is Hermes Kelly 32 bag?

The one aspect playing on my mind before I purchased my first Hermes Kelly 32 bag was the concern that it would be totally impractical. Having read reviews bemoaning the somewhat irritating nature of the frontal flat which has to be kept fastened to maintain the structure of the bag and the safety of its contents, it seemed like a needless nuisance. After all, I like my bags to be functional and having to constantly fiddle with a pesky flap seemed like a significant deterrent to buying an extortionately expensive bag. 

Aside from the flap, the other feature of a Kelly bag I was not entirely persuaded by was the singe handle creating a formal, briefcase-like appearance. Formal look is absolutely fine but what about matching it with a pair of jeans? Maybe, subconsciously, I was just trying to dissuade myself from buying another Hermes bag.

So were the concerns justified? The answer is, not really. Indeed, the handle on the Kelly bag has a formal edge but the hoop is large enough for it to be carried on the forearm so you are not condemned to holding the bag in a briefcase kind of way, if it is not your style.  

When it comes to the lock, admittedly it is a little fiddly and can be a pain if you need a quick and easy access to the bag’s contents. Unfortunately, Hermes Kelly 32 bags do not have any external pockets for sliding small items such as e.g. a ticket or a phone, so the only option is to unlock/lock the bag each time to retrieve the required item. This can be a bit irritating when in a hurry.

However, what turned out to be an absolute game changer for me was the detachable strap which allows the bag to be carried over the shoulder. Thanks to the strap, the bag assumes a more casual appearance and the lock malarkey becomes less of an issue because it is slightly easier to fasten it with both hands. Without the strap, every time I needed to access the bag I literally had to stop, balance the bag on my leg to open it, get the item out, then balance the bag again in order to close it. It is not something you can do easily on the go.

The size of Hermes Kelly 32 is also its undeniable asset for anyone, like me, who likes spacious bags without going overboard. Kellys come in different dimensions but Hermes Kelly 32 bag is by far the best choice for anyone looking for the fusion between aesthetically beautiful piece and a highly functional accessory. Although not as roomy as Birkin 35 or Garden Party 36, Hermes Kelly 32 still offers generous space to accommodate many personal items.

Birkin and Kelly side by side
Birkin 35 (left) and Kelly 32 (right) side by side comparison

It can easily contain an iPhone, a TangleTeezer brush, a large purse, a cosmetics bag, tissues, hand cream and plenty of other small objects. Unlike Birkin 35, it might be difficult to fit in a change of shoes or an A4 file but there is plenty of space for a book.

Interiors of Hermes Kelly 32 bag with inserted organiser
A fit test showing the interior space of Hermes Kelly 32. In this photo the bag is lined with a bespoke organiser from Handbag Angels.

The practicality of Hermes Kelly 32 bag (and any other Kellys, for that matter) will also be determined by the style you opt for, and here I mean Sellier vs. Retourne. As mentioned earlier, Sellier is far more angular and formal looking so it seems more suitable for smarter occasions. I know that some may strongly disagree and only a few days ago I saw a lady carrying a Sellier Kelly 32 bag paired up with jeans and trainers but, personally, I am not crazy about this look. To me, Kelly Retourne constitutes a far more useable option because its silhouette is marginally more relaxed and thus the bag can be styled up or down to fit both elegant and everyday looks. So if your preferred style is the happy medium of smart-casual, Kelly Retourne is the bag you  will get the most use out of. [Back to Menu]

How to carry Hermes Kelly 32 bag?

Hermes Kelly 32 is certainly more versatile than Birkin 35 when it comes to ways in which can be carried. Firstly, the bag can be carried by the single top handle in a briefcase-like manner. That way it assumes very professional appearance making it perfect for work.

The loop of the top handle is quite sizeable which allows to slip in the lower arm on which the bag can also rest. However, the loop is not generous enough to permit the bag to be carried over the shoulder. Well, you can squeeze it in (just about) but it does not look right.

My personal favourite way of carrying Hermes Kelly 32 bag is on the shoulder by using the detachable strap. It gives the bag a relaxed, casual look. The drop of the strap is 45cm and when worn in this manner the bottom of the bag reaches just below the hip level.

Hermes Kelly 32 bag carried by the detachable strap

The strap is sufficiently long to wear the bag crossbody (just about!) but to me Hermes Kelly 32 seem marginally too large for this. The crossbody version might look better on a taller person because the bag will appear proportionally smaller but for an average 5,5”, a bag measuring 32cm x 24cm x 12cm appears too overwhelming. Still, the crossbody mode, while not all-that-attractive, is useful when you need to be hands-free e.g. when in the airport or while doing shopping, even though it might not be the show stopping way of carrying the bag. [Back to Menu]

Hermes Kelly 32 picture carried on the forearm


Since a Kelly is a very considerable investment, it is only natural to expect that the bag will be given some serious TLC by most prudent owners. By looking at the preloved and vintage luxury bag market, it is evident that most available Kellys are either in good or very good condition, which also demonstrates that once you get your hands on one of these gold dust pieces, you will make sure that it will last as long as possible. In that respect, Birkins and Kellys are clearly on the par.

With regard to specific aspects of the fabulous bag which are exposed to the most wear and tear, these are the single top handle, the bottom corners and the metalware.

Starting with the handle, as the primary way of carrying the bag, inadvertently, it will come in contact with sweat and greasy residue from hand creams etc. Thus, over time, it may become susceptible to dirt and discolouration, especially if you opt for a lighter colour. The good news is that thanks to the additional detachable strap it is possible to carry the bag in a way which will take some pressure off the handle and help preserve it. If you are not too keen on the long strap, you can always protect the handle with a twilly which will also give your Kelly an individual character. Not crazy about twillys? No problem. If the top handle becomes visibly mucky, thankfully there is always the Hermes Spa to fall back on which will restore the bag to its former glory (for more information on the Hermes Spa please see my earlier review of Birkin 35).

When it comes to the metalware, and more specifically the plaque which is part of the locking system, the principal issue here is its propensity for showing fine lines and scratches. It is the same issue which pertains to the fastening mechanism in Birkins. Luckily, the metal plaque can be afforded greater longevity by retaining the transparent plastic covers which are virtually imperceptible unless the bag undergoes a close inspection. The plastic guards may start to detach after some time but it is worth keeping them on for as long as possible to maintain the pristine look of metallic embellishments.

Close up showing the transparent sticker on metalware
In the above photo the transparent plastic sticker can be seen gently peeling of at the centre of the central plaque

For anyone who is not that keen on the plastic protector stickers, there is always the Hermes Spa to fall back on when the scratches become too visible.

As for the corners of the bag, these will be wearing off with use but, just as it is with Birkins, Kelly comes with metal studs supporting the structure of the bag and protecting the leather. If the corners begin to show signs of discolouration there is always another way to fix that issue too and restore the colour. Yes, you have guessed it, it is the Hermes Spa 😊. [Back to Menu]

Picture from behind howing Kelly carried by top handle

Value for money

It is difficult to talk about value for money of a Kelly without putting it into a commercial context. When viewed just as a handbag, the purchase makes very little sense as it is a mind-bogglingly expensive item which can be easily substituted by many other lower cost options of comparable quality. True, the bag is handcrafted by artisans who take between 18-25 hours to finish it but even that does not seem enough to justify the exorbitant price range running in thousands of pounds, depending on the style, type of leather and size. And that, if you can get it!

However, it is the scarcity of the bag which has turned it into one of the most sought-after fashion accessories pushing up the value of second hand Kellys with a few-years’ millage beyond the price of a brand new bag. In this respect, it is the same story as with Birkins. Just as a comparison, at the time of writing of this review, a Hermes Kelly 32 bag in Togo leather costs just under £8,000 whereas the prices of 5 year-old Kellys in very good condition offered on Vestiaire range between £8,500 – £11,000.

One might think that only a madman would pay so much money for a bag, let alone a second-hand bag. Still, there are a lot of women who would find such offer tempting. The rarity of Kellys combined with regular and merciless price hikes by Hermes not only maintain the bag’s value but also allow it to appreciate with time, making it a perfect investment piece for luxury collectors.

It is guaranteed that the Hermes Kelly star will be shining for many more decades to come. It is very hard not to fall in love with this fabulous accessory with its timeless elegance and sophistication. While a complete and utter indulgence, the bag is just one of the kind and will shine in the collection of any true high end bag connoisseur. Overall verdict: Everlasting style icon. [Back to Menu]

Photos by Badiu Photography and Unwrapped.Fashion

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