The Quest for the Ultimate Ladylike Purse
Call it the war of the bags. Or at least one battle. Loving both that Hermès Kelly top handle style and Chanel’s classic codes. Which do you choose? That is, if you must.
Haven’t all of us fancied the Hermès Kelly at one point or another? Maybe you’re eyeing one now. Maybe you’ve already acquired one (or more, we’re not judging). Or maybe, you’re simply browsing for one that catches your eye…
But have you ever wondered why you want it? Is it because of the Hermès name? The assurance of quality that follows? The elegance of the top handle, or the practicality of the shoulder strap?
At the same time, perhaps you’re also devoted to the house that Coco built. Loving diamond-quilted leather flap bags with leather laced chains. It just might be nice to have a handle on your Chanel bag.
Of course there are plenty of top handle options, like the Queen’s favorite brand, Launer. But if you’re really committed to something from Hermès or Chanel, which do you choose?
Perhaps to the surprise of many, both brands have top-handled ladylike bags. Or, in other words, Kelly and Kelly-like . But how do they compare, when pitted against one another? Let’s take a look.
The history of the Hermès Kelly is well-known and the bag needs little introduction. Briefly, though, its original prototype, called the Haut à Courroies, was developed way back in 1892 and ultimately inspired both the Kelly and Birkin.
The design was reduced in size for Émile-Maurice Hermès’ wife in 1923. Further modifications were made in 1935, and the purse was dubbed the Sac à Dépêches. But only in the arms of a heavily-pregnant Grace Kelly in 1956 did it receive its moniker, the Kelly.
But were you aware, at one point, there was a Kelly from the house of Chanel? It shared notable similarities with its counterpart from orange-land – the trapezoidal shape, for instance.
The Chanel Kelly was a 2000s hit. However, it was slowly phased out 2007 onwards and discontinued altogether in 2010. And its last recorded price was … drumroll… $1450. Who wouldn’t kill to have any Chanel bag at that price today, let alone a Kelly?
But fear not, lovers of Chanel – your favorite brand didn’t permanently abandon the top-handle style. Rather, over the last several years, Chanel introduced more of these lady-like options. These include the most recent Chanel Classic mini top handle, as well as the Trendy CC.
Perhaps Chanel’s most talked about (and most Kelly-like) current design is the Coco Handle. Introduced in Fall/Winter 2015, the Chanel Coco Handle is the Kelly’s slightly more east-west, boxier iteration. It includes protective metal feet, unlike the original Chanel Kelly.
The Coco Handle also offers a lot more variety than the Chanel Kelly. Not only is it offered in a slew of attractive colorways, but you can choose a contrast-colored or coordinating lizard top-handle!
To be fair, the Coco Handle was controversial when first issued. Many compared it (unfavorably) to the Hermès Kelly. Others flat-out called it a Hermès wannabe.
Ultimately, though, it won over Chanel fans. With its versatility and popularity, the Coco Handle quickly became part of Chanel’s permanent collection.
But all these years later, is the Chanel Coco Handle merely an alternative to the Hermès Kelly? Or is it a classic in its own right?
More importantly, how do the two bags perform by comparison? With Chanel’s repeated price increases and restricted supply, which bag can you get and which one do you want. Time for a comparison. Let’s discuss!
Perhaps the most striking difference between the two is the look. Certainly the Hermès Kelly has its fair share of dupes. But the Chanel Coco Handle (CCH) isn’t necessarily one of them.
From the quilting to the longer flap, the leather and chain interwoven strap, and, of course, the interlocking CC logo, the Coco Handle exudes an unmistakable Chanel vibe. It’s perfect for women who find confidence in the diamond-stitched leather. Skipping the relaxed look of a Classic Flap (although we have seen just how versatile it is), the Coco Handle is one of Chanel’s best structured top handled bags.
The CCH also differs from Chanel’s own top-handled alternatives. The recently introduced Classic Mini Top Handle is rectangular whereas the CCH is trapezoidal. The handles are also distinctive, with the CCH’s being stiff and the Mini’s relaxed. Although also a top-handle purse, the Chanel Trendy CC differs further. It includes a “Chanel” engraved metal plaque and a more portfolio-like structure.
On the whole, the Coco Handle seems like a natural alternative to the Hermès Kelly. It fully incorporates classic Chanel codes with an otherwise simple front flap and handle.
The Hermès Kelly’s belted outlook, on the other hand, is instantly recognizable while still fairly understated. It’s a bold proclamation that you favor quality over everything else. And between those on the know, it’s a way of establishing yourself as a fashion elite.
Is one bag more appropriate (or inappropriate) than the other in certain settings? Frankly probably not. Both the Coco Handle and the Kelly come in such a staggering number of material and color options that can you find a model for every occasion imaginable.
The Coco Handle, for instance, is available in caviar, lambskin, patent leather as well as tweed, with gold and ruthenium hardware options. In fact, it’s not unusual for Chanel to create a fabric bag matching an ensemble.
Originally, there were two types of colorways, one fully monochrome one and the other with a contrasting lizard top handle. The lizard version, however, was discontinued in 2019. If you want one, you’ll have to try your luck on the resale market.
Color-wise you can find work-appropriate neutrals as well as the more flamboyant metallics, iridescents, and brighter colors in general. Some are even outfitted with a pearl strap for the ultra-feminine look.
The Hermès Kelly similarly comes in a wide array of options, albeit generally only leathers. However, there is a wide range of Hermès leathers, plus hardware choices, and a plethora of drool-worthy colorways. This brand really is known for a superabundance of hues, that appear differently on different leathers and in different lighting.
There are two different styles of Kelly: the prim and structured Sellier or the more relaxed Retourne. And if plain leather feels ordinary, and you have the funds and access, you can always opt for an exotic.
Although Chanel initially created CCHs in crocodile and snakeskin, it stopped in 2018 when the brand banned exotics. As a result, these fabrications now are all the more desirable at resale.
Both the Chanel Coco Handle and the Hermès Kelly come in a variety of sizes. Chanel’s Extra Mini (about 18cm), for instance, is the equivalent of the Mini Kelly 20. The Mini Coco Handle (22cm) is similar in dimension to the Kelly Pochette. Similarly, the small (24 cm), medium (29 cm) and large (33 cm) CCHs correspond to the sequence of the Kelly 28, 32 and 35 respectively. Hence, it’s easy to see why, structurally at least, they are quite parallel.
There are, however, certain important distinctions when it comes to the two purses’ practicalities. The Coco Handle’s interior is divided into 2 large compartments with a third slip compartment (that comes with a zipper in the Small, Medium and Large)in between. True to Chanel, the CCH also includes that open exterior rear pocket for convenient for access to essentials. The Kelly, conversely, has a wide open interior sans the exterior pocket.
Both styles have pros and cons. If you’re a sucker for organized spaces, the Coco Handle might work better. But if you need to carry a lot on a daily basis, the Kelly with its full unobstructed capacity can be more useful. That’s particularly true if you opt for the Retourne Kelly style, rather than the Sellier.
Additionally, both bags now feature detachable straps. The original CCH straps were not removable but they are now. However, the Kelly’s pure leather strap is arguably more comfortable and easier to manuever. On the other hand, perhaps the CCH’s chain handle adds a dressier touch.
We’ve seen how versatile the Chanel Flap can be. But just when you thought nothing could get more adaptable, the CCH says “not so fast”! Imagine all the perks of the Classic Flap, but now with a handheld option too. So you can see how the Coco Handle can quickly become your ultimate carry.
But the Hermès Kelly is by no means a less formidable competitor. Just like its arguably better known – younger sister (the Birkin), the Kelly is outfitted with Hermès’ intricate locking mechanism, consisting of sangles, turnlock, and padlock.
And while flaps tucked in isn’t a common look for the Kelly, you can change its appearance by adjusting the sangles, much like the Birkin. In fact, some women prefer the Kelly as a more usable option to the Birkin. Between its adjustable crossbody strap, various durable and chic leather and color combinations and Hermès’ signature artisanal craftsmanship, it’s easy to see why.
Pricing for the Hermès Kelly 25 begins around the $10,000 Mark
If numbers matter to you, there’s a substantial difference between pricing for the Hermès Kelly and the Chanel Coco Handle. In fact, Hermès’ top handle style is nearly double that of Chanel’s. Specifically, the Hermès Kelly 25 begins around the $10,000 mark. The small CCH is just over $5000 (assuming no further price increases).
No doubt, the price point differential accounts at least in part for whispers about the CCH being a Kelly wannabe. Some may say, if you can’t afford (or obtain) the Hermès version, Chanel may suffice until you can. Another approach, however, is to consider Chanel just may be a better value. Or, even better, just do you.
Staying Power & Availability
The Kelly’s existence, taking its predecessors into consideration, spans more than a century. With that much heritage, along with Hermès’ unfailing commitment to quality, demand for the Kelly far exceeds the supply. No doubt, for many, the years cemented its position as a Holy Grail purse in women across the world.
The Chanel, on the other hand, is a much younger player. But by the looks of how quickly it garnered a devoted fan-following, and if its recent price increases (with the medium at $5,500 after the January hike) are any indication, it’s already become a must-have. Plus, with Chanel’s emerging quota system, it’s likely becoming more difficult than ever to get your hands on one.
Regardless of which way you go, you’re bound to end up paying a very handsome amount for each. And that’s true whether you choose to purchase new or opt for a pre-loved! Perhaps nothing could be a firmer confirmation of both of their staying power in the currently volatile handbag market.
So, now that you know their differences, which do you choose – the Hermès Kelly, or the Kelly-esque Chanel Coco Handle? Do you feel that the Chanel could be a placeholder until you can snag and/or afford a Kelly for yourself? Or is the Chanel in a league of its own? Or, perhaps, do you opt for one of each, but for “different purposes”, as women who are enamored with both have been known to say?
Personally, I adore the aesthetic of the Kelly 32 in So Black (*gasps for breath*). But this new (and very ornamental) Coco Handle with a woven chain leather handle is seriously making me reconsider!
Ugh, decisions, decisions…
Written by Sajid Bin Mohammad for PurseBop