Hermes Birkin and Kelly bags are widely accepted as the height of handbags, the pinnacle of quality materials and craft, the ultimate in timeless style. But neither of these models have been seen on the arm of any of America’s First Ladies—that is, until Melania Trump. In the past, First Ladies made a point to never carry Hermes bags, as they’d likely be seen by many as lavish and excessive. Melania Trump’s lifestyle, though, was already known to be lavish and excessive when she became First Lady, allowing her the opportunity to continue carrying the Birkins and Kellys for which she clearly has an affinity.
Since her husband took office in January of 2017, FLOTUS has been photographed carrying a sophisticated selection of Birkins and Kellys, which together paint a subtle portrait of how this style-forward woman has brought her Hermes collection with her into public life as no First Lady has done before. Melania’s collection is known to include 35cm Birkins in Bordeaux and Parchemin with Gold hardware, and Rouge Casaque with Palladium hardware, as well as a 32cm White Kelly with Palladium, and a 30cm Gold Birkin with Gold hardware, all in either Togo or Clemence leather. She has also been photographed on multiple occasions carrying a 30cm Shiny Black Crocodile Birkin with Gold hardware. This is a very solid collection of bags, highly functional and very versatile.
It’s likely that Melania takes into account her current position whenever she choses a bag, though, and probably has more Hermes bags than we’ve seen. I’d guess at least one exotic evening bag like a Kelly Cut or Pochette, and maybe even a Hima (among the details that emerged from President Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen’s plea deal was $30,000 in profit made in 2015 from the resale of an Hermes Birkin bag, an amount typically only made on Himalayans and other top-level collectible Birkins, so we know the level of bags circulating among Trump’s associates).
In Europe, the only First Lady to openly carry Hermes bags has been France’s Carla Bruni Sarcozy. Photographed many times with a Gold Clemence Victoria, she has also been seen carrying a Black Calf Box 27cm Paris-Bombay, a Graphite Swift Kelly Flat and a striking Violet Tadelakt 18cm Constance with Gold hardware. Only rare sightings, though, capture her with what appears to be a Marron Fonce Calf Box 32cm Sellier Kelly with Gold hardware. Carla Bruni started her career as a fashion model, so high-style was always expected. Her patronage of France’s finest luxury atelier can easily be seen as patriotic, but her aversion to publicly carrying their most famous styles is notable.
Royalty in the Middle East and Southeast Asia more regularly step out carrying Hermes Birkins and Kellys, sometimes top-notch pieces like Himalayans and Diamond Birkins. In most cases, it seems people with inherited positions have fewer qualms about carrying expensive bags in public, whereas elected officials and their wives make more of an effort, and are expected by the democratic masses, to dress similarly to the people they represent. When this expectation is ignored, it can easily become news, as when Nigerian First Lady Aisha Buhari was photographed with a 35cm Black Crocodile Birkin with Palladium hardware in 2016, or when Turkish First Lady Emine Erdoğan was spotted boarding a jet with a (suspicious looking) black crocodile Kelly. Most recently in 2018, Malaysia's former First Lady Rosmah Mansor, who had previously been photographed many times with many different Birkins including rare exotics, made the news when her collection of 284 Hermes bags, including multiple Diamond Birkins and a Diamond Himalayan, were confiscated from her multiple residences by the government during an investigation into her husband, the former Prime Minister’s corruption charges.
These examples of controversy have likely kept other First Ladies from carrying Birkins and Kellys if they have them, though we can assume many do—particularly former First Ladies who receive lucrative book deals or other endorsements. It's not a stretch to assume Michele Obama spent a bit of that $65 million book advance on a Birkin or two, or that Hillary Clinton might have bought herself a consolation Kelly after the 2016 election; the former Secretary of State may be particularly averse to sporting luxury items these days, as she was frequently criticized for wearing designer clothing during her presidential campaign, and more recently for carrying a Ralph Lauren Ricky bag (the ‘American Birkin’) to the hospital after her daughter gave birth in 2019. It’s also not hard to picture a classic Black Calf Box Kelly being passed down through the Bush generations. Fashion for America’s First Ladies always centers around Jackie O’, who held the position from January of 1961 to November of 1963. While the Birkin bag did not exist at this time, Grace Kelly had graced the pages of LIFE magazine with a soon-to-be iconic top-handle bag then called the Sac-a-Depeches less than a decade earlier. But Jackie was more fond of another bag: the Gucci Jackie.
Princess Diana, who carried bags from Chanel, Ferragamo, Gucci, Versace, Lana Marks, and Dior (many of which were inspired by and named after her), was never photographed with Hermes bags. This extends to the entire British Royal Family, at least at the uppermost levels, which could be due to the fact that top-level Royals simply cannot play the Birkin game at Hermes, or maybe because they are restricted from carrying large bags at public events. If we look farther out on the branches of the Windsor Family Tree, there are a few members who do carry Birkins and Kellys. While the Duchess of Cambridge tops her collection off with exotic bags from the British company Aspinal, her sister Pippa has no qualms about carrying her Blue Jean Birkin 35 with Gold hardware. While the Princesses Beatrice and Euginie rank high enough to be barred from carrying large bags, their mother Sarah Ferguson has been spotted toting multiple leather Birkins and other Hermes bags.
The Queen has always carried simple British handbags, but has a known affinity for Hermes scarves, which she wears tied around her head. Her collection of the 90cm silk squares is vast, and Hermes even tasked Leila Menchari with creating a design especially for Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee in 2002, titled “Regina.” As the Duke and Duchess of Sussex make their new home in Los Angeles, away from the rest of the Royal Family, it will be interesting to see if Meghan starts to dress more lavishly as the Duchess of Windsor, Wallace Simpson did after her husband abdicated the throne, and if she is spotted carrying any Birkins or Kellys. If she is, there will likely be a spike in demand for whatever models grace her arm. During one of President Trump’s recent visits to the United Kingdom Melania did not carry a bag when meeting the Queen, but brought along her Black Crocodile Birkin 30 when meeting Prime Minister Theresa May and her husband. At the time, Meghan had recently given birth, so the two never met during the visit, but Melania may soon run into her new west coast counterpart as the competition for ‘America’s Most Stylish Spouse’ heats up.