The iconic Hermès Kelly will always be described as classic, elegant and the ultimate symbol of femininity and grace. Although the Birkin is more widely known and recognized, the Kelly is more elusive, harder to obtain from a Hermès boutique, and more highly desired by many true Hermès aficionados. (Read: 8 Reasons Why We’ve Gone Hermès Kelly Crazy).
Truthfully, the Birkin has received more attention in the media and on the big screen than the Kelly. (Read: Hermès Movie Magic: When Birkins and Kellys Steal the Show). However, once you own your first Birkin, all you can think about is how can I get my SA to offer me a Kelly? Then, when you purchase your first Kelly, you are hooked for life. (Read: How I Got My First Kelly 25 Sellier).
Kelly Retourne or Sellier? That is the Question
Deciding to buy a Kelly is not just a matter of selecting size, color and hardware. There are, in fact, two main styles: the Retourne and the Sellier. Although they share a basic design, the differences are notable. As a result, in addition to considering price, size and color, you need to examine how you plan to use your Kelly. Among factors to ponder are what you carry in your bag, how you prefer to dress (casual and laid back or more dressy and formal), and the type of social events and outings you attend.
Which is better? The conclusion always points to personal preference. Here we give you all the details on both the Retourne and the Sellier style to help you decide which is best for you. That is, assuming you have to choose and can’t have both, lol.
History of the Kelly Bag
When Hermès first introduced the Kelly bag in 1892, it was designed to carry a saddle. The bag was redesigned by Hermès’s son-in-law, Robert Dumas, in the 1930s as a spacious travel bag with one handle called the Sac à dépêches. Later, in 1954 Alfred Hitchcock allowed his costume designer, Edith Head, to use Hermès accessories, including the iconic black box leather Kelly bag, in his film To Catch a Thief starring Grace Kelly. Kelly immediately fell in love with the bag. In 1956, she became princess of Monaco and used the bag – a Retourne style Kelly – to shield her first pregnancy from paparazzi. That photograph launched the bag into celebrity status and it became the “it” bag to own. From that day forward, the bag was known as the “Kelly” bag, although it was not officially renamed until 1977.
The Kelly bag is shaped like a trapezoid with one handle on top, a detachable shoulder strap, four clou (or feet) on the bottom, 2 sangles, a touret, plaque, lock and clochette. (Read: The Hermès Kelly Encyclopedia) One Hermès artisan spends 18-24 hours constructing a single Kelly bag from beginning to end.
In keeping with Hermès’s desire to offer versatility and options, the Kelly comes in four sizes in the Retourne style (25cm, 28cm, 32cm, and 35cm) and five sizes in the Sellier style (20cm, 25cm, 28cm, 32cm, and 35cm). Each size and style offers different aesthetics, has its own distinct character, and appeals to different buyers. (Read: Hermès Kelly Sellier vs. Retourne Debate) There is no “right” size. Although right now smaller bags are the rage, the size for you is the size you choose.
The Kelly Retourne has a softer, more “slouchy” look. Retourne means “reversed”. The “souple” or relaxed look is achieved during the craftsmanship of the bag by constructing it “inside out” resulting in more rounded and relaxed edges, similar to the Birkin construction. There is also a visible piping on the outside similar to the Birkin. These softer edges might in fact be more forgiving to accidental bumps. The Retourne style is often constructed using softer leathers such as Togo, Clemence, Evercolor or Swift.
Although the Kelly Retourne appears smaller overall than its Sellier counterpart in the same size, the Retourne style is so much softer and souple that it is easier to open and close the outside flap, it holds more inside, and it fits a more laid back lifestyle. Overall, the Kelly Retourne makes a better travel bag and everyday bag for the more casual Hermès lover. Consider it classic and chic. After all, Princess Grace’s first black box leather Kelly was a Retourne.
The Kelly Sellier offers a more rigid, complex, boxy and structured construction. There are sharp corners and the seams are topstitched together. Sellier Kellys typically feature stiffer leathers like Epsom and Box. Indeed, these fabrication details make a Sellier Kelly more expensive than its comparable Retourne bag.
However, many also find that the Sellier is more difficult to open and close and thus risks scratching the buckle. The stylish rigidity prevents the bag from sitting comfortably against the body, particularly in larger sizes. In addition, despite appearing larger in each size (particularly the 32cm and 35cm sizes), the Sellier Kelly actually accommodates fewer items.
Nevertheless, many fashionistas consider the Sellier the more feminine, timeless, understated, elegant, chic and formal. For others, it is the perfect evening bag.
The Shoulder Strap
For most Kelly lovers, it is the addition of the shoulder strap that places this bag miles above most others, including the Birkin. (Read: Birkin vs. Kelly Faceoff). The shoulder strap adds a level of versatility and practicality. Once you go Kelly, you never go back. Overall, it is the functionality of having this option of hands free use that sets the Kelly apart.
Each Kelly comes with a matching thin leather shoulder strap that attaches to the separate rings at the base of the handle. You also have the ability to order or purchase other leather or canvas shoulder straps in various sizes (70cm, 85cm, and 105cm) and colors to use on your Kelly and transform it into a shoulder bag or a crossbody bag with a matching or contrasting color shoulder strap. If you are extremely fortunate to create a Special Order (SO) bag and choose a Kelly, you may also customize the size of the shoulder strap and order a longer strap so the bag can be worn crossbody.
How to Choose?
Whether the Retourne or Sellier style is best for you may depend upon how you intend to use it. Is it an everyday bag or a special occasion item? If an every day bag, consider your daily schedule, the number of things you carry, your preferred way to dress (casual or more dressy), and the places you frequent.
Do you prefer to wear jeans and a t-shirt or other comfortable clothing most of the time? Is your lifestyle more laid back and relaxed? Is your style more everyday chic and classic and not too dressed up? Do you like your bag to carry all of your essential items and be easy to access? Then you might prefer the Kelly Retourne style.
Or do you favor being dolled up on the daily, going to formal events, or dressing for nice dinners and other social events (before the pandemic of course)? Do you carry minimal items in your bag, and prefer more structured or architectural bags? Then you might prefer the Kelly Sellier style.
Clearly an Hermès Kelly bag is a timeless, chic, and classic addition in either style. There is no wrong choice. In fact, most Hermès lovers say they cannot choose and need both styles! No matter which you choose, the Kelly bag epitomizes timeless elegance like its namesake, Princess Grace. (Read: Part III: Does the Hermes Kelly Trump the Birkin?)
Let’s keep the Retourne vs. Sellier discussion going on Boptalk. Tell us which you prefer and why.