Hooked on Hermès handbags! They’re the most sought after bags in the world and author Barbara Taylor Bradford has 24 of them, thanks to a very generous hubbyBy Amanda Cable
Last updated at 2:03 AM on 22nd September 2011
British-born author Barbara Taylor Bradford has sold a record-breaking 85 million books worldwide. Unbeknown to many of her fans, she is also a lifelong devotee of Hermès, perhaps the most sought-after brand of designer handbags in the world. Her collection, accumulated over the 47 years of her marriage, bears testimony to many of the landmarks of her life.
The author, 78, says: ‘Each bag was bought for me by my husband Bob, a television producer, to celebrate a special moment in our lives — whether it be a birthday, a Christmas, an anniversary, a surprise gift when we’ve been apart or to celebrate the release of a new book. Together, they tell the story of our marriage.
‘I keep my bags in my walk-in dressing room at our home in New York, but when I took them out to clean them the other day and saw them all together, I felt close to tears. I still love Bob as much as I did on our wedding day and I feel so incredibly lucky to have the bags as each one is a symbol of our love, and the five decades we’ve spent together.’
Here, Barbara tells the story behind some of her favourites...
BLACK KELLY January 1964I first fell in love with Hermès bags when I was a young journalist after I saw photographs of Grace Kelly with hers. I loved the style and elegance of the design — I had never seen anything so beautiful before.
I will never forget the joy of receiving my first Hermès. Bob and I married on December 24, 1963, and flew to Paris for our honeymoon. One day while we were there, he suggested we went for a walk and we found ourselves at the Hermès shop where he bought me this black Kelly bag. I think it cost about £800.
I had loved these bags for years and, although I was 30 years old, I was as excited as a child. I still wear the same original bag on my arm. It’s a tiny bit worn, but the beautiful stitching and detail is intact.
Looking back, when I first carried this bag, I had no idea what would happen with my career, if I would ever write a book or even if my marriage would last. I was young and I was in love, but I certainly didn’t know that our marriage and partnership would be so long and so happy.
BROWN KELLY May 1965For my birthday on May 10, Bob bought this brown Kelly from Hermès in New York. He bought a Hermès scarf as well, because we’d lived in Paris for a while and I wanted to copy the way that French women tie their scarves to the handle of their bags for an extra touch of elegance.
BURGUNDY KELLY January 1966For our third wedding anniversary, Bob said: ‘I thought I’d get you a Kelly bag.’ I said I would love a burgundy one, which would go with both navy and grey outfits. Originally called the Sac A Depeches, this bag was first produced in 1935. But in 1956, Grace Kelly was photographed in Life magazine. She had just become the Princess of Monaco and she held the bag in front of her to hide her pregnancy. From then on, the public dubbed it The Kelly Bag and Hermès eventually adopted the name.
CREAM CROCODILE May 1969
My mother used to tell me that crying doesn’t change anything, and generally I never cry. But one of the few times I did weep was when a waiter spilt something on the floor where this cream, crocodile Hermès bag was sitting. I tried wiping it off but it had sunk into the leather.
Hermès couldn’t remove the stain either, but I loved the bag too much to throw it out. Now I hide the mark with a silk Hermès scarf tied on the handle.
BLACK KELLY 1970This vintage black Kelly bag made it into one of my novels many years later. In my book, Breaking the Rules, the heroine is a young woman who calls herself M. She comes to New York and she carries a battered, black Hermès bag, a little like a badge of honour. My bags aren’t battered — they are stuffed with tissue to maintain their shape and taken back to Hermès each year for repair and cleaning, but the bag in the novel definitely is a homage to my own vintage black Kelly bag.
NAVY AND BURGUNDY 1980My first novel, A Woman of Substance, was published in 1979. The following year, I flew to Paris to meet my French publisher. While we were there, Bob treated me to this bag, which is one of his favourites. The colour, with a burgundy flap, navy handle and dark green front, is unusual and goes with any outfit.
THE DRAG 1981Bob was working in Italy on a movie when he went to Hermès in Rome, looking for a Kelly bag to surprise me. They didn’t have one, but he bought this black leather bag instead. It has two H’s made of brass and is incredibly elegant. It was only recently that I discovered it was known as The Drag Bag, which I can’t understand because it’s far too beautiful to have a name like that. Throughout the Eighties, Bob gave me several black Kelly bags and a navy and a brown one to celebrate movies he had made from my books.
KELLY IN CARDOVAN BROWN late 1990In the Nineties everyone seemed to be discovering Hermès bags. Suddenly, they were the must-have accessory on every well-heeled shoulder. As a result, they became increasingly difficult to get hold of, so these Hermès bags show how determined Bob has been to treat me to something that I love. We chose this handbag together in the London Hermès shop.
WHITE KELLY June 2005We were in Paris just after my birthday, and Bob wanted to buy me a Kelly bag. We knew they were scarce and the manager told Bob that there was nothing left. I said: ‘Don’t worry, we’ll buy a scarf.’
At that moment, a salesman came over and told the manager — in French — that a customer had come to collect a Kelly bag which had been made especially for her, but she didn’t like it and had left the shop. Bob speaks fluent French, understood the entire conversation and asked if we could see the rejected bag. It was white leather, with a white leather handle and trim, and the front of the bag was made from a silk Hermès scarf with leaping horses. I loved it and we bought it — it became my ‘happy accident’ bag.
THE EVELYNE 2009I found this in Beverley Hills two years ago, when I was in LA promoting my novel Breaking the Rules. By this time, the world was going mad for the Birkin bag — so much so that it’s almost impossible to get one.
I seem destined not to own one, and I refused to join a waiting list for a handbag because it seems so silly. We did see a Birkin in the window of Hermès Paris recently, but when Bob asked to take a look at it, he was told it was not for sale. I still love this one, though, called the Evelyne. There is an enormous perforated H at the front of it, which makes it so distinctive.
ORANGE KELLY December 2010We were at our Manhattan apartment when Bob announced one Saturday that he was going to Hermès to try to get me a bag. Kelly bags had become so hard to get hold of that I told him not to bother. But he went and, an hour later, he rang me and said: ‘I’m in Hermès and they’ve got a Kelly!’
I was so excited. He told me it was gorgeous, big and orange. I said: ‘What do you think?’ and Bob said: ‘I think it’s beautiful and it’s perfect for summer or winter.’
I looked at it once and then put it away until Christmas Day. It was sheer luck that this bag was waiting that day. Forty-six years after Bob bought me my first ever Kelly, my latest one cost about £5,400 — and I love it.
Letter From A Stranger by Barbara Taylor Bradford is published by HarperCollins at £12.99. barbarataylorbradford.co.uk