Can anything “Hermès” ever be truly under the radar?
While those of us who are familiar (dare I posit, “obsessed”?) with the brand can likely identify almost any bag, belt, piece of jewelry etc. the house makes, even someone uninterested in fashion can likely recognize a Kelly or Birkin bag, due to endless media coverage of the KarTrashians, et. al. For some, the association with celebrities — and the difficulty of buying these styles without a long relationship with a boutique sales associate — can make these bags too “in your face” and diminish the appeal of even the most beautiful design.
What to do if you love the house but don’t want to be seen as someone who buys into the hype? In my opinion, the Bolide offers the perfect combination of Hermès history and impeccable craftsmanship in a style less likely to telegraph your income or invite unwanted commentary. It’s also a more user-friendly style than the fussy Kelly or the “I’m so wealthy I can leave my bag open and not worry about pickpockets” Birkin.
The Bolide bag has a glamorous yet practical history, dating back to 1923 when Emile-Maurice Hermès created it for his wife — the first handbag designed with a newfangled invention called the zipper.
In 1916, M. Hermès had traveled across North America. In the course of these travels, he met Henry Ford, toured his many automobile factories, and discovered an ingenious fastening mechanism used on the cloth top of a car. Hermès returned to Paris with a two-year patent for the zipper, planning to adapt this odd skeletal sliding system for use on leather goods, hand luggage, and suitcases.
By 1923, the French fashion house was ready to introduce a carryall that replaced traditional metal clasps with a zippered compartment. This simple yet innovative motoring bag kept jewelry and other valuables safe at high speeds, and could be easily stowed in the trunk of a sports car.
Originally called the sac pour l’auto, the bag was later renamed the Bolide, the 16th-century word for meteor. As automobiles became more ubiquitous and the Bolide design was adopted and customized for car, train and transatlantic travel, Hermès became associated with speed and elegance in motion.
A smaller version — a true handbag rather than a carryall or travel case — debuted in 1982 with its characteristic dome shape, single zip closure, removable leather shoulder strap and a padlock with keys in a leather covering called a clochette.
Hermès is known for its many different leathers* — some no longer produced — which give the Bolide two distinctive shapes and look. Mou, in soft leather such as taurillon clemence, tends to be more casual, while the Rigide is sturdier and harder.
Often spotted in Paris and Tokyo, the Bolide remains a timeless example of understated chic. Plus, I love the fact that you can buy online if you don’t happen to live near a boutique. With the current trend towards smaller bags, the 31cm and 27cm are perfect day sizes depending on how much you lug around with you, while the mini 1923 is a really cute evening option. The larger 35cm, not available on the Hermès website these days, is often available (and less expensive than the 31cm) on the secondary market. And if you’re looking for a larger travel or business size bag, the 45cm can easily fit a small laptop computer or iPad.
*Current Bolide leathers, per the Hermès website:
Volupto calfskin (1923 Mini)
A transparent, very sensual, delicately satiny heritage leather similar to the leather used for clothing. Its extreme suppleness and minuscule, barely visible grain are the result of a long drumming procedure.
First appeared in the collections: 2013
Appearance: Quite smooth; satiny; mottled; clearly visible natural characteristics; subtly contrasting wrinkles
Feel: Silky and slightly waxy
Hand: Very supple; no roundness; richly sensual; full
Change over time: Softens; acquires a patina; darkens; becomes shinier in areas most handled. Gains resistance as patina develops
Swift calfskin (Bolide 27)
This extremely supple, sophisticated leather is named after Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver’s Travels, to highlight its resemblance to Gulliver calfskin, which no longer features in today’s collections.
First appeared in the collections: 2004
Appearance: Almost smooth with a delicate shine; lightly marked grain that is sometimes hardly noticeable
Feel: Soft and tender
Hand: Supple and generous
Change over time: Becomes even more supple
Taurillon Clemence leather (Bolide 31)
Named in tribute to the daughter of the designer who introduced it into the collections, this leather was developed for luggage and is the ultimate example of a grained leather that has been drummed. This process softens the skin and brings a generous grain to the surface.
First appeared in the collections: 1992
Appearance: Semi-matt, generous and irregular grain
Feel: Soft and smooth
Change over time: Becomes more supple
Taurillon Novillo leather (Bolide 1923 – 30)
This leather has a tiny marked grain and is appealingly responsive at heart. In Spain, where this leather originates, “novillo” means “bullcalf”.
First appeared in the collections: 2015
Appearance: Tiny, uniform grain and a satin effect
Hand: Supple, full and responsive
Change over time: Becomes satiny and more supple
Thank you for a very informative post. I totally enjoyed it . Despite being an Hermes fun, I did not know most of what you wrote… which just goes to show.
I laughed out loud about the Birkin being for rich people who don’t care about pickpockets. You know I see them in London, mostly Asian tourists and have no idea how they do it…
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Thanks, Sarah! I see those tourists when I’m in New York too and I just don’t get it. The Birkin is beautiful with the straps closed but nobody ever carries it that way– probably bc it would such a pain to open, 😂
Who wouldn’t love a Hermes handbag, they’re such classics and the workmanship is superb.
Hi Sheree, I took the plunge pretty late (although I’d been collecting their scarves for years) and of course now I wish I’d bought certain things 20 years ago when they were “reasonable”, haha. No question, the bags are expensive, but they really are a pleasure to hold. Once you go down that slippery orange slope, there’s no turning back!
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I know exactly what you mean! I too have what can only be politely called an extensive collection of their scarves and fortunately bought my first handbag many years ago and inherited a couple from my mother – all cherished possessions.
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I can never resist a new scarf 🙂 Lucky you to have inherited some — Kellys? I am envious!
I was never into scarves, which i always thought were for ‘older’ people or air hostesses 😀, but I ve changed my mind…
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LOL! Eventually, you too will qualify as an “older person”!! I think the trick is not to be overly precious or precise in how you tie them, for that nonchalant French vibe.
Intetesting/informative post, but I just can not bring myself to spend that type of money on a handbag…
I definitely understand that, as I didn’t become handbag obsessed until about 20 years ago, not sure why/how it happened.
For me, it’s a daily appreciation of “wearable art” and craftsmanship, but that rationale is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea.