Why your Kelly is more than a bag

Published September 23, 2022, 2:00 AM

by AA Patawaran

What you carry by hand or by the crook of your arm is a memory of Grace Kelly, icon of royalty, Hollywood, the power of women to land their dreams, and happy-ever-afters

ORIGINS OF THE CLASSIC HANDBAG Photographs of Grace Kelly concealing her baby bump with her Hermès bag were splashed all over the world. The French luxury brand—or the public—renamed the sac à dépêches as the ‘Kelly’

Grace Kelly is a household name, even for the children in my family. Our Pomeranian, a gift from my friend Heart Evangelista, is named Grace Kelly. She is the princess of our house, although around the same time she came to our lives, another royal joined our family, Wallis Simpson, the Persian cat given to me by designer Mark Bumgarner, a close friend of Heart’s and mine.

I met this girl who is fond of the handbag Kelly, but appears to know nothing much about Grace Kelly other than that she was a princess. The famous bag created in 1935 with a unique trapezoid shape, two triangular gussets, a cutout flap, a handle, and two side straps is considered at Hermès as the bag that “brought the house into the era of boldness and modernism,” but it wasn’t called the Kelly until the mid-1950s.

THE KELLY Son-in-law of Émile Hermès, Robert Dumas designed the trapezoid bag with two triangular gussets, a cutout flap, a handle and two side straps, bringing the house into the era of boldness and modernism

In 1956, Grace Kelly, a long-time big fan of the Hermès purse then called Sac à dépêches, was spotted using it as a shield against the prying eyes of the paparazzi. She was trying to hide her baby bump, having just turned her back on her illustrious Hollywood career to marry Princess Rainier III of Monaco and, always reserved and modest and graceful, like her name, she was shy about revealing her pregnancy. Before the wedding, she and the prince, introduced to each other by British-American actress Olivia de Havilland at the Cannes Film Festival in 1955, had known each other for barely a year. Theirs was a whirlwind romance that lasted a lifetime.

But there’s more to Grace. Before becoming princess consort of Monaco, she ruled Hollywood, not only in terms of beauty or glamour, but also, early in her career, with an Oscar award for the 1954 drama film The Country Girl, in which she starred opposite William Holden and Bing Crosby. It was in the film Mogambo with Clark Gable and Ava Gardner, released the year before, that she first gained stardom, along with a Golden Globe award and an Oscar nomination. She performed in a number of TV dramas, but she was most widely regarded as the perfect heroine for the films of Alfred Hitchcock, with whom she started working on the 1954 thriller Dial M for Murder.

KELLY’S FILMS Clockwise from left: Mogambo (1953), To Catch a Thief (1954), and The Country Girl (1954); and Kelly in a promotional photograph for the American mystery thriller movie, Rear Window (1954)

The daughter of three-time Olympic gold medalist in rowing, John B. Kelly, and University of Pennsylvania physical education teacher Margaret Majer, Grace was well brought up by a wealthy Irish Catholic family in a charming six-bedroom colonial house, built in 1928, in Philadelphia. She was convent-schooled, going mostly to private institutions like Ravenhill Academy, a Catholic school for girls, where she participated in many fashion events and school plays. The dream she dreamed as a child of being on the world stage never left her. To pursue that dream as soon as she was done with college, she enrolled herself at the American Academy of the Arts in New York, taking on modeling gigs to finance her own education.

I would like to be remembered as someone who accomplished useful deeds, and who was a kind and loving person. —Grace Kelly

The handbag with which she tried to conceal her baby bump in 1956 made history when people started to refer to it as “that Kelly Bag.” It prompted Hermès, whose CEO from 1951 to 1978 Robert Dumas himself designed it, to rename it as Kelly, especially after a photograph of the bag disguising a royal pregnancy appeared on the cover of Life. The name change has since made the bag a thing of joy for fashionable women around the world.

HOW TO HIDE A BABY BUMP Grace Kelly carrying her Hermes sac à dépêches bag to shield her pregnant belly from the prying eyes of paparazzi

The Kelly you carry by hand or by the crook of your arm is a multifaceted emblem, symbol of royalty, of Hollywood, of a woman’s power to land her dreams, and even of happy-every-afters because, while the princess of Monaco died early in 1982—she was 52—due to a stroke that caused her to lose control of the Rover P6 3500 she was driving, plunging it into a 14-meter embankment at Cap-d’Ail in the Cote d’Azur region, she did die happily married. Her husband, Rainier III, who died in 2005, refused to remarry, setting up the Princess Grace Foundation USA for fledgling American artists in her memory.

If you wish to find Grace Kelly at her Hollywood best, To Catch a Thief is currently streaming on Netflix. This 1955 romance film, starring Grace and Cary Grant, is particularly celebrated because of scenes in which the two exchanged double entendres and perfectly delivered puns without any script or previous preparation.

Incidentally, the 2014 Grace Kelly biopic, Grace of Monaco, with Nicole Kidman playing the lead opposite Tim Roth as Prince Rainier III, also streams on Netflix. I happened to watch it when it was just released. I watched it in bed in Sorsogon, with Heart Evangelista and Senator Chiz Escudero beside me.