Press Releases


The Life and Times of the Humble Handbag

Grace Kelly & the 'Kelly' Hermes Bag
  • Next year marks 60 years since Hermes changed the name of its most iconic bag in honour of actress Grace Kelly - ‘The Kelly’
  • To celebrate, leading British retailer, Debenhams takes a look at the people, technology and cultural events that have helped shaped the names and designs of one of the country’s best selling accessories

Next year marks 60 years since Hermes changed the name of its most iconic bag in honour of actress Grace Kelly - ‘The Kelly’. To celebrate the occasion, leading British retailer, Debenhams takes a look at the people, technology and cultural events that have helped shaped the names and designs of one of the country’s best selling accessories.


Kate Crossey, director of Style Lab and women’s accessories design at Debenhams, said: “There have been momentous societal and cultural changes over the last 60 years. Fashion and design responds to these socio-economic shifts and that is evident in the world of accessories. It is fascinating to look at the icons, the passions and the innovation that has shaped design and innovation. In a world of social media, we can think of influences as a relatively new thing but in fact these icons shaped the handbag world without an Instagram account in sight.”


1958 – Hermes iconic handbag becomes the ‘Kelly’ after Grace Kelly

The ‘Kelly’ bag is named after the actress Grace Kelly after Kelly used one of her two favourite Hermès bags to shield her pregnant stomach from the prying eyes of the paparazzi in 1956. The photographs were seen all over the world and were featured on the cover of Life magazine. The Kelly bag and its namesake, Grace Kelly, became icons of fashion and remain the classic image of elegance to this day.

This Star by Julien Macdonald - Black eyelet leopard print tote bag is a perfect high street alternative. Priced at £59.00


1961 – Gucci renames the Constance handbag, the Jackie Bag after Jackie Kennedy

Originally invented in the 1950s, the Constance handbag was renamed the Jackie Bag after Jackie Kennedy. Jackie Kennedy cemented her fashion credentials during her husband’s presidential campaign and would go on to be one of the most iconic First Ladies. The Jackie Bag was relaunched by Tom Ford in 1999 and then given a new twist in 2009 by designer, Freida Gianinni. It is one of Gucci’s most popular bag styles.

This Debenhams Collection - Black three compartment shoulder bag is a great alternative at £29.00.


1979 - Margaret Thatcher is elected Prime Minister and walks into number 10 carrying a structured black Launer handbag

The favoured handbag of Margaret Thatcher and The Queen, Launer’s distinctive and bold shape quickly became a part of the UK’s first female Prime Minister’s look. Mrs Thatcher allegedly bought two Launer bags, in black or nude tones, each year throughout the 80s and 90s.

This black croc-effect large grab bag by J by Jasper Conran brings the distinctive shape of the Launer handbag to the high street. It is priced at £65.00.


1984 – The launch of the portable CD player leads to a rise in backpacks.

1984 was the year when design and technology collided, thanks to the launch of the portable CD player. The same size as a CD case, it forced fashion to become more functional as consumers wanted handbags that could carry the player. One of the first to tap into this trend was Prada with their Nylon Backpack.


Backpacks made another appearance on Prada’s spring-summer 2017 catwalk, as a bold utilitarian throwback.


With a chic and practical design, this £49.00 backpack from J by Jasper Conran is accented with gold-toned branded hardware and has a spacious interior…perfect for any music device.


1984 – A chance meeting on a plane results in Hermes bestselling bag – the Birkin

Named after actress and singer, Jane Birkin, the Birkin is the result of a chance meeting on a plane. Birkin, who was sitting next Hermès chief executive, Jean-Louis Dumas on a flight from Paris to London in 1983, placed her straw travelling bag in the overhead compartment above her seat. The contents fell out onto the floor. After picking everything up, Birkin explained that it had been difficult to find a leather weekend bag she liked.


The following year Dumas created a black leather bag that would go on to become one of the most famous fashion designs of the century. Each Birkin bag is handmade in France by one single artisan, and can take up to 18 hours to complete, from start to finish.


This grab bag from The Collection is the perfect accessory for adding a dose of colour to a smart-casual outfit. Priced at £59.00, it is a great high street alternative.


1994 – Lady Dior, homage to Princess Diana

Created in 1994, this tote was originally called “Chouchou,” which means “Favourite” in French. The name was changed after the First Lady of France, Madame Bernadette Chirac, gave Lady Diana, Princess of Wales, one in 1995. Lady Diana instantly fell in love with it so in tribute Dior renamed its iconic bag to Lady Dior in 1996.


Each handbag takes eight hours to make and features quilted stitching- the signature Dior motif– with diagonal and perpendicular stitching. The arched handle is both feminine and elegant, and the charms that adorn Lady Dior have the four letters in the Dior name.


Timeless and versatile, this staple grab bag will make a simple yet stylish statement with any outfit. Available at Debenhams for £30.00.


2007 – A £5 cloth bag that helped to end single use plastic bags

In March 2007, Anya Hindmarch partnered with non-profit campaign group, We Are What We Do, to change the way the country felt at single use carrier bags. The result was an unbleached cotton bag emblazoned with the logo – I am not a plastic bag. The bag was a huge success with people queuing around the clock to snap up one of the 25,000 on offer.


Four months after the launch, more than 30 London councils put forward a motion to charge a 10p levy on plastic bags. A 5p charge was introduced in October 2015. The number of single-use plastic bags used by shoppers in England reduced by more than 85% in the nine months following the roll out.


This playful Radley canvas tote – priced at £10.00 - is the perfect lightweight bag for when you are on the go or shopping.


2008 – Introduction of bloggers brings with it a new style icon, BB Bag

With more than 72 million blogs recorded by March 2007¹, bloggers were an influential force in the late 2000s. This influence made its way into the fashion world in the form of Marc Jacobs BB bag named after fashion blogger, BryanBoy.


BryanBoy came to the attention of Marc Jacobs after he saw a post in which Bryan talked about the newly released Marc Jacobs bag calling it “the must have bag of the season”. Jacobs himself gifted one of the bags in ostrich leather to BryanBoy with a note saying that it was to be named after him – the ‘Ostrich BB bag’.


Like the BBBag, this cross body bag from Debenhams exclusive Star by Julien Macdonald range is a simple yet stylish accessory with contemporary appeal. Costs £45.00


Continued in PDF attached.....









About Debenhams

Debenhams is a leading international, multi-channel brand with a proud British heritage which trades out of more than 260 stores across 27 countries.  Debenhams gives its customers around the world a unique, differentiated and exclusive mix of own brands, international brands and concessions.


The business serves over 19 million customers with over 5 million visits online per week and deliveries to 60 countries. 


In the UK, Debenhams is the market leader in beauty, handbags, occasion wear and swimwear and has a top three market position in womenswear and menswear and top ten share in childrenswear. 


Debenhams has been investing in British design for over 20 years through its exclusive Designers at Debenhams portfolio of brands.  Current designers include Abigail Ahern, Savannah Miller, Ted Baker, Jeff Banks, Jasper Conran, FrostFrench, Patrick Grant, Henry Holland, Ben de Lisi, Todd Lynn, Julien Macdonald, Jenny Packham, Preen, Giles Deacon, Aliza Reger, John Rocha, Ashley Thomas and Matthew Williamson.


For more information, visit


For more information and imagery please contact:
Debenhams Press Office: 020 3549 6420 /

Digital Assets

top arrow