The HAC Bag: origins of the Hermès Birkin and Kelly Bag

Any Hermès lover and/or collector knows that the most iconic bags within the Hermès collection are the Birkin and the Kelly handbags. What is not widely known that these highly sought-after bags evolved from the style of an earlier model released by Hermès in the 1900s with the name ‘Haut a Courroies’ (or the HAC bag for short). For those unfamiliar with the French language, Haut a Courroies translates as ‘high belt bag’. The HAC is one of the oldest bags created by Hermès. With its own unique and particular style, it was originally designed to carry riding equipment such as saddles and boots.

Emile-Maurice Hermès – the grandson of the company founder, Thierry Hermès – designed the HAC bag. He found his inspiration for this style bag through the Gauchos and cattle ranchers of Argentina. Without a doubt, Emile would have been thrilled to see how the Birkin and Kelly have been based on his original HAC bag – especially ‘The Birkin’. When you display the Birkin and the Haut a Courroies side by side, you can really appreciate the beautifully crafted similarities.

Let’s take a more detailed look at both the similarities and differences between the Birkin and Kelly vs the Haut a Courroies:


Above: HAC Hermès HAC 50 Ficelle / Colvert Toile and Evercolour. Below: Hermès Birkin 30 Rouge VIF Togo PHW

The HAC is taller than a Birkin with a wider base and a longer handle. The main design is the crossover belt and turnstile lock closure, which you also get on the Birkin/Kelly bags. The HAC comes in 27, 32, 40, 45, 50, 55, and 60cm sizes. It is worth noting the Kelly and Birkin bags come in different sizes to the HAC. The more popular sizes of the HAC are the bigger sizes from 50cm upwards, making these bags especially fantastic for travelling.

The Birkin comes in the 25, 30, 35 and 40cm, and the Kelly comes in 20, 25, 28, 32, 35, 40, and even size 50cm! This indicates that the Birkin and Kelly are much more of a fashion statement – while they are certainly practical to use, they are not designed to cram every single one of your travel essentials inside. However, like the Birkin, the HAC bag comes in an array of colours, finishes, and leathers – one of the reasons Hermès is so adored by many.

While the Birkin and Kelly handbag are aimed at the female market, the HAC is by far much more versatile in style and is aimed at both men and women. In general, the HAC bag is quite hard to find being very limited in supply, with the demand just as high as for the Birkin bag. Hermès has in fact seen a demand for the bigger Birkins, much like the sizes that the HAC offers. Maybe we will be using the Birkin as our ultimate travel bag after all...

Sac à Dépêches.....say what?

Hermès Kelly 28 Sellier Feu Epsom GHW

Again, if your French isn’t up to scratch, the literal translation is ‘dispatch bag’, with the shape being very similar to the men’s briefcase. Originally created in the late 1920s, Emile-Maurice Hermès and Ettore Bugatti designed a bag for Hermès' wife, Julie. It was designed to be light, portable, handheld and elegant, and was intended to fit perfectly through an automobile car door. This bag was to carry small personal items and was really the first 'handbag’.

The bag was nicknamed the ‘Kelly bag’ after the famous actress Grace Kelly. In 1957 she used her Sac à Dépêches bag to try to conceal her baby bump from the paparazzi. Grace first fell in love with the Sac a Dépêches bag in the 1954 movie ‘To Catch a Thief’, as it was given to her by the movie's stylist. 

With so much of the Kelly and Birkin’s style taken from the HAC bag, it's undoubtedly clear to see that the HAC is a piece of Hermès' history. If Émile Maurice Hermès had not been inspired by Argentinian cowboys to design the HAC, we would not have the Birkin or Kelly bag as we know it today.

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