A Guide to Buying your First Handbag
After years of guiding clients and their husbands and boyfriends through these amazing purchases, which are also serious investments, we thought it high time we put pen to paper to tell you how to go about buying the right iconic Hermès handbag.
There are a multitude of considerations to be taken into account, such as size, colour, leather and purpose. Read on to make sure you get it right every time. And the good news is that once you start bearing these in mind, each purchase will be easier and easier.
The first thing to be considered is what exactly you want from your bag. Is it to be worn every day? Is it for lunches with girlfriends, or for parading to business meetings? Or are you glamorous enough to need a bag for evenings and special occasions? Equally, does it need to match lots of wardrobe staples or just one or two very cool outfits?
The Key Differences between the Birkin and the Kelly
To the vast population these look similar; they are after all both iconic pieces upon which many handbag designs are based. And if you are reading this you are probably quite capable of differentiating between a 32 Kelly and 35 Birkin, but just to be sure: the Kelly has one handle instead of the Birkin’s two, has an important shoulder strap where the Birkin has none, is slightly smaller in depth, and overall is a more elegant bag.
There are two models of Kelly bag: the structured Sellier, with the stitching on the outside, and the newer, more contemporary version called the Retourne which is stitched internally. Essentially theRetourne is created and handstitched inside out, an amazing feat! The craftsman in the last stages of creation turns the bag inside out so the stitching needs to be slightly looser. You can see the corners on the Sellier are more sharpely defined than those on the Retourne.
The Birkin Bag
The Birkin is a great everyday bag: popular with working women, it has enough size to carry serious paperwork and personal paraphernalia. Part of the reason the Birkin is so resilient is because you are actually carrying two bags in one: it is completely lined inside. This makes it relatively heavy, and you should be aware of how you should carry it: the bag won’t fit over your shoulder, it must be worn on your forearm. And yes it does look very chic.
Sizes vary, from 25cm (popular in Asia but not often seen in Europe) up to 40cm and then the large 50cm travel bags. The most popular are the mid-sized bags, between 30cm and 35cm. In terms of practicality the 32cm Kelly and the 35cm Birkin and Kelly are great day bags which can carry the usual everyday essentials such as your wallet, phone, makeup, keys, sunglasses, notepad etc. without looking overfull and bulky.
The 35cm Birkin can comfortably carry an iPad or small tablet, while for the Kelly 35 it is a snug fit. A 28cm or 30cm bag can hold slightly fewer items: wallet, phone, makeup and keys but the great thing about this size is that it is small enough to wear to an evening function as well. If you are a regular traveller a 40cm Birkin is brilliant at combining serious style with an awful lot of space.
Body size plays a key role here. A tiny bag will be lost if you are tall and likewise a larger bag will dwarf a small frame. If you have curves, a larger bag will flatter them, and if you are small, a smaller bag will look good in proportion. Try lots of bags so that you can find the shape and style that suits you best. Exceptions to this rule are evening bags: we have yet to see a large bag that looks good after dark…
Hermès bags come in several different calf leathers and exotic skins. Calfskin leather bags, which make up the majority of Birkins and Kellies – are made from bull calves and less frequently from goatskin. The interior lining of the bags is usually in goatskin. The most popular of the calf leathers is the Togo: natural bull calf leather with a beautiful pebble finish and a scratch resistant grain, it holds its shape well and reflects light; the next is Taurillon Clemence: a softer and slightly thicker natural bull calf leather with a more matte appearance, the grain is larger and irregular; Epsom leather: with a small pressed grain, a lightweight and sturdy leather which holds its shape well. Also available are Swift, which is smooth and soft and absorbs colour well; and Box which is the oldest Hermès leather, it is fine grained and holds its shape well but prone to scratches. More recent leathers are Barenia Faubourg: an updated version of Barenia which is lightly grained and similar in appearance to Togo & Clemence, it develops a patina with age but is more scratch and water resistant than the original Barenia; and Novillo, it has a finer texture and grain than Togo & Clemence and is lighter in weight, it holds its shape well and has good colour absorption.
If you are splashing out there are several Exotic skins including Nilocitus and Porosus Crocodile, Alligator, Lizard and Ostrich – they are extraordinary, beautiful, expensive and usually more of a collector’s item.
People often ask the difference between these three skins. Hermès until recently produced more porosus crocodile handbags, but this has changed as the price of the skins has increased, and we are now seeing an increase in the use of nilocitus and alligator. The differences:
Porosus crocodiles are the largest living reptile and the world’s largest terrestrial predator. The males can reach up to 6.7 metres – amazing!! Most grow to 5.2m and those farmed – the skins of which are used by Hermès – come mostly from the East and West coasts of Australia. It takes a long time for them to reach adulthood – they live in the natural world until 70 or even 100 years old, hence the extremely high cost of farming the animals. On crocodile handbags Hermès tradesmen mark the skin with a circumflex ^.
The Nile Crocodile is the second largest crocodile in the world, and lives in sub Saharan Africa. The males usually grow to 4 – 5m but can grow to 6m. It’s relatively common and not an endangered species, despite serious hunting in the 1950 and 1960s. Now up to half a million crocodiles are believed to exist in the wild. Hermès crocodile bags are stamped with two asterix **.
The male American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) grows to a maximum length of 4.5m in length and is found in the southeaster United States. It is the state reptile for Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida. It is stamped on Hermès bags as an empty square □.
Hermès are renowned for their fabulous colours and have the most sophisticated tanners of all the luxury brands. Each season new shades with some enticing and sometime rather bewildering names are introduced – recently we have seen Magnolia, Rose Pourpre, Bleu Encre, Rose Extreme, Vert Vertigo, and GrisTourterelle – alongside the more established colours like Black, Etoupe, Gold, and the signature Hermès Orange.
If you are looking for a bag to match a special occasion outfit then you’ll easily find the colour you need, however if you want one that will not date and can be worn regularly, then your best bet is one of
the classic colours – Black and Gold are particularly good, and Etoupe which is a soft brown/grey shade is another versatile colour.
Three classic “wear with anything” colours:
Gold is considered to be one of the most versatile of Hermes’ colours – it can be worn all year round and with any outfit so it’s a great bag to have in your wardrobe. If you are looking to buy your first Birkin then this colour is a great choice.
The classic Black Birkin (or Kelly) is a brilliant go anywhere, wear with anything bag – it’s elegant and timeless.
If you want to change the appearance of your bag, try the clever Asian trend of tying a silk twilly around the handles. They will protect it and add a completely new look. One little point to bear in mind when choosing a colour: as a general rule a lighter colour will make the bag look larger.
Armed with all this information, you are now ready to find the perfect bag – if you are looking for an Hermès Birkin, Kelly or any other Hermès bag such as a Constance, Evelyne or Lindy, we’d like to help you find the perfect match.
LILAC BLUE LONDON +44 (0)845 224 8876
updated July 2019