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Hermès 101: The Constance Breakdown

Your Guide to Hermès’s Original Flap Handbag

The Constance bag is often considered the third model in the “Holy Trinity” of Hermès handbags, bested only by the iconic Birkin bag and classic Kelly bag. Despite this hierarchy, the Constance bag has maintained its place, fetching notable prices on the secondary market.

THE ORIGIN STORY

The year was 1959 and Robert Dumas-Hermès was just about to complete his first decade at the helm of the luxury giant. The world-renowned Sac-à-Depêches had been launched into stardom by the actress Grace Kelly just three years prior. Many primarily unrecognized designers had worked in the Hermès ateliers up until this point, yet one would stand out from the crowd this year. In Mr. Dumas-Hermès’s employ was an illustrious designer by the name of Catherine Chaillet, who had just given birth to her fifth child, a girl by the name of Constance. To commemorate this celebratory event, Catherine decided to name one of her handbag designs after the child, a recently designed model with a flap top, adjustable shoulder strap, and an “H” buckle closure. Thus, the bag became officially known as the Hermès Constance.

THE RISE OF THE CONSTANCE

The Hermès Constance garnered much success in the years following its inception, having caught the eye of many a celebrity of the day. The bag was seen time and time again in the arms of then First Lady Jacqueline Lee Kennedy and slowly gained traction as a staple handbag in Hermès’s repertoire.

The original Constance bags were done only in classic Box Calf leather or Porosus Crocodile (as this was the only crocodile skin they were sourcing at the time) and finished with gold hardware. Since then, the bag has been offered in a variety of materials, hardware trappings, and sizes. It is reported to take between 14-18 hours of work by a single craftsman to create one Constance, a testament to its quality and longevity. The Constance bag has been reinterpreted with each passing decade, and will likely continue to do so in the years to come.

THE SIZE BREAKDOWN

Over the many decades, the Constance bag has been in production, Hermès has introduced many sizing variations to best suit their client’s requirements. As of June 2019, the Hermès Constance bag has been offered in the following sizes:

ALL ABOUT GUSSETS

An often overlooked feature, the gusset (soufflet in French) is an essential part of the Constance design. The gussets allow for a slim, rigid silhouette, and are expertly crafted in order to ensure durability in the long term. Each of the sizes that the Constance bag have come in, save for the 14cm Micro size, have had the option of a single gusset or a double gusset, meaning the interior includes one single compartment or two separate compartments. The option allows the client to choose what best suits their individual needs, depending on how much interior space they require.

LIMITED EDITIONS AND SPECIAL COLLECTIONS

Over the decades that the Constance bag has been in their current repertoire, Hermès has injected their signature whimsy into the design by adding a plethora of Limited Edition versions of the bag to their roster. Each design brought qualities that make the Constance bag unique, and a collectible piece of contemporary design and sculpture. While fewer in number compared to the enviable Birkin and Kelly styles, Hermès has created many limited editions to collect and to admire.

THE MARQUETTE CONSTANCE

Courtesy of Heritage Auctions

A stunning work of craftsmanship, the Marquette Constance line takes two impeccable exotic skins and creates a contrast that is subtly stunning. Marquetry is a technique of inlay that has existed since the 16th century, involving the inlay of precious or exotic materials in wooden furniture, flooring, and other décor. Other Constance lines over the years have implemented an inlay on the boucle (French for buckle), however, the Marquette is unique in that the inlay is done specifically in Varanus Niloticus lizard, where other lines are inlaid with leather or enamel lacquer. This stunning combination of lizard and either alligator or Tadelakt leather comes in a variety of preset color combinations that are repeated throughout the line, making this bag a natural collectible.

THE “ON A SUMMER DAY” OR “ON A SUMMER NIGHT” CONSTANCES

Day

Night

Courtesy of Christie's

In their Spring/Summer 2017 collection, Hermès partnered with British architect and artist Nigel Peake to create two mirroring designs that resemble the “One Two Three and Away We Go” Birkin of the same season. The design was done in two colorways, one of which is done in a bright and colorful color-block scheme, dubbed the “On A Summer Day” Constance. The other, done in varying shades of black, mirrors the same design but with a darker nocturnal twist. This one, aptly named “On A Summer Night”, closes the circle on this impeccable pair of Constance bags. Exclusive to the Constance line, this illustration is highly sought after by collectors for its exclusivity and whimsy.

THE OPTIQUE CONSTANCE

In Spring of 2018, Hermès clients began to see a trickling of unique Constance bags in boutiques the world over. Featuring a stunning display of colored enamel lacquer in an illusory pattern of linework, this Constance is an instant collectible. Done in a preset array of color combinations, the Optique Constance bags are yet another example of the bag being reinvented.

THE TATTERSALL CONSTANCE

Courtesy of Hermes

In their Fall/Winter 2016 collection, Hermès took a traditional pattern from British heritage and incorporated it into the Constance line. The Tattersall pattern draws its inspiration from the racehorse auction house established in 1766 in London. Tattersalls is known for its royal clientele, as well as its expansion into the French equestrian scene in 2014. To commemorate their growth and contributions to French equestrian sports, Hermès produced this line of minimalist plaid in a limited edition canvas, exclusive to the Constance bag line.

THE DÉCHAÎNÉE CONSTANCE

Along with the Birkin and Kelly lines, the Constance bag also received a Déchaînée printed canvas upgrade in 2017. Done in the house’s Toile de Camp canvas, this bag is replete with chain designs from archival sketches. This bag comes in either Noir or Bordeaux Swift leather trims with a correspondingly colored print.

THE VERSO CONSTANCE

Exterior

Interior

Courtesy of Heritage Auctions

The Verso line is relatively well known in the world of Hermès handbags but is less often seen in the Constance line. The Verso collection takes an interesting turn for the Constance, with some even featuring an inlaid enamel boucle. The distinguishing feature of a Verso Constance, however, is the contrasting interior versus the exterior color, giving this bag a unique and special-order-like flair.

THE AU BOUT DU MONDE CONSTANCE

Courtesy of Christie's

Hermès silk carrés (silk square scarves) are a constant inspiration for their handbag designs and limited edition collections. In 2018, Hermès took a scarf design by Antoine Carbonne entitled “Au Bout du Monde,” fashioned it in a gorgeous array of exotic skins and leathers, and placed the design into the Constance realm. Truly stunning works of art, these Constance bags are a hot topic at the moment, one being recently sold at Christie’s in their London Handbags & Accessories auction on June 11th.

THE METALLIC CONSTANCES

Gold

Silver

Bronze

Courtesy of Christie's

In the early to mid-2000s, Hermès produced a number of bags in metallic gold, silver, and bronze. All done in Chèvre leathers, this idea was also introduced to the Constance line during this time. Some of the rarest handbags that Hermès ever offered, these Constance bags are highly sought after and rarely relinquished in the secondary market. If you are lucky enough to attain one in your collection, these bags have notable staying power as well as monetary value retention.

THE BRAZIL II CONSTANCE

In 2014, Hermès took another scarf design and reimagined it for the Constance bag. Entitled “Brazil II”, this design comes from the hand of Hermès scarf artist Laurence Bourthoumieux. The Constance version is trimmed in either Barénia or Swift leathers and is a truly stunning design that is simply eye-catchingly vibrant.

THE TRICOLOR CROCODILE CONSTANCE

Courtesy of Christie's

An exemplar of the Constance bag line, this tricolor Constance made of Niloticus Crocodile is a stunning crown jewel of a bag. This bag is complete with a sweet Cassis color flap, electrifying Bleu Izmir gusset, bandoulière strap, and boucle inlay, and lastly a tonal Bleu Tempête pocket panel on the back and base panel on the front. Additionally, the mirror-like quality of the shiny crocodile skin adds a gem-like quality that is simply divine.

One of these beauties sold in Christie’s Hong Kong Handbags & Accessories auction on November 28th, 2018.

THE HORSESHOE STAMP (HSS) SPECIAL ORDER CONSTANCE

Exterior

HSS Stamp

Until recently, the Constance bag was completely off the table for special order customization. The Birkin and Kelly bags have long been staples of customization from Hermès, being produced in bicolor, tricolor, multi-material, contrast stitching, custom pockets, and more! It will be very interesting to see what clients can conceive of and achieve with the Constance bag in the years to come.

THE CONSTANCE BELT BAG

Courtesy of Vogue

Courtesy of Vogue

Constance lovers around the world got a pleasant surprise during the Fall/Winter 2019 show when the house sent a trickle of Constance belt bags down the runway on leather laden models. The bags have yet to make a secondary market appearance as of writing this, but the bags appear to be crafted in two colorways of Noir and Ebene. They are also done in a mystery leather that appears to be the house’s classic Box Calf. This leather has had a renaissance in the Birkin style as of late, so is a likely contender for this style. More is to be discovered as these bags make their way to the boutiques and into our closets.

THE DIAMOND CONSTANCE

Courtesy of Christie's

Hermès has a long history of incorporating diamonds into their top-tier handbags and the Constance bag is no exception to this tradition. This example is replete with 150 hand-set VVS F-color diamonds on the pontets and the boucle set in 18-carat gold. Although the diamond placement has varied through the years, this example is the most decadent with an exterior done in Shiny Bleu Jean Porosus Crocodile with a contrasting Orange H Chèvre leather interior.

The Constance bag comes in all shapes, colors, patterns, and materials, which makes for a seemingly personalized handbag that feels as though it was designed just for you. Part of the allure of this bag is how many variations there are, and the most recent ability to customize it, which opens the imagination and possibilities for the future. Anything is possible with Hermès.

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