Tag Archives: purses

In Praise of the Bolide, a “Stealth” Hermès Bag


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.

L’amour, toujours!


Bleu Abysse taurillon clemence “mou”, left. Rouge H vache liegée “rigide”, right.


*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
Hand: Yielding
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
Feel: Waxy
Hand: Supple, full and responsive
Change over time: Becomes satiny and more supple


Old Bags

No, not us of course!! But now that I have your attention, let’s talk about older handbags and how to maintain a long-term relationship with them.

As someone who works from home I don’t crave an extravagant wardrobe, but nice bags have always been my kryptonite. Since I fall in love constantly, I try to hold out for high quality with staying power and resist trendy one-season wonders; plus, I make it a rule to purge at least as much as I splurge.

Why do I love them? Let me count the ways:
1) Bags don’t care what size you are; they always fit
2) They’re a discreet way to schlep your life around with you
3) Good leather feels and smells yummy
4) I’m a sucker for pretty things
5) Some bags even increase in value. More on that later.

Let’s be honest: Everything we put on is a signifier and, like it or not, folks judge us by our appearance. Even demonstrating that you “don’t care” by not wearing makeup or choosing clothes that don’t fit represents a deliberate choice. People who aren’t vain about how they look are still vain about something, e.g., their intellect, achievements, or the belief that it’s better not to seem “superficial”.

In my opinion there’s nothing wrong with vanity unless it’s excessive; it’s a sign of self-respect. So, assuming you’re not taking out three mortgages to fund it, why not treat yourself to whatever gives you pleasure?

Choose wisely. Like great jeans, a black jacket and an LBD, begin with the basics: a cross-body to keep your hands free while doing errands or shopping, a roomy top handle style for business or travel, and a clutch for evening.

Don’t go too young or too old. Backpacks give off a middle school vibe unless you’re under 40 or actually hiking. Conversely, top handles skew matronly so to my eye they look more modern when worn as a counterpoint to casual clothing. However, if you work in an office, a structured bag is always professional. Think “Olivia Pope” with her classic outfits and Prada totes.

If you wear mostly neutrals, consider a bag that adds a jolt of color. You’ll get as much use out of a red bag (which goes with anything) as you will with a safe color like black, and it’s much more interesting.

Keep the relationship fresh. Nothing ruins a look faster than shoes with run-down heels or a bag that’s scuffed, faded, ripped or has lost its shape. If yours needs first aid, your local shoe repair store can usually fix zippers and broken stitches or re-dye a stained bag. For designer bags, ask the store where you purchased it if the manufacturer will repair it.

My favorite rescue strategy is to mail the bag to Leather Spa in New York. They’re not cheap but I’ve seen them work miracles and they’ll give you an estimate before they start.

Have a taste for the exotic? All leathers benefit from regular conditioning and storage (stuffed with tissue to maintain their shape) in their dust bags. If you’re lucky enough to own an ostrich, python or crocodile bag make sure it gets extra TLC.
– For natural or untreated skins, apply a light coat of waterproof spray to protect against dirt and water. Collonil makes a good one; be sure to test a small section first and spray lightly. Soaking the bag can ruin it.
– To avoid dryness, periodically wipe your bag with a slightly damp cloth and apply a conditioner made specifically for exotics. Python is more fragile than other skins.
– Avoid long-term exposure to direct heat or sunlight, as this may cause uneven fading. Exotics also scratch easily.

When to break up. Sometimes you have to move on. Ask yourself if:
– Your bag no longer makes you happy
– It’s in bad condition (cracked, faded, rubbed corners) and can’t be salvaged
– It’s just not your style
– You’ve upgraded to better quality or designers
– You have too much stuff

Time to say goodbye? Consider these options:
1) Give your treasures to a daughter, favorite relative or friend
2) Donate to Goodwill, the Salvation Army, Vietnam Veterans of America, etc.
3) Consign the really good stuff. I’ve had great luck with Ann’s Fabulous Finds and The RealReal and hear positive things about Yoogi’s Closet. All are reputable places to buy as well, if you are interested in a “pre-owned” bag. On the resale market, classic styles from brands such as Hermès and Chanel hold their value and can even sell for more than their original price.

Is it worth it? Finally, for anyone who thinks a high-end purse is a crazy purchase, a recent study says the Hermès Birkin (the collectors’ holy grail at $13K+) has been a better long-term investment than either gold or the stock market!

Luckily for my bottom line—and my ever-tolerant husband—that particular style doesn’t float my boat. I might flirt, but deep down I know it’s only lust. The Bolide, on the other hand, might be true love.