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At 28, Kelly Rutherford Splurged On Her First Hermès Bag

Years before she’d frequent New York and Paris fashion weeks, she was already leaning into quiet luxury.

Kelly Rutheford, who played Lily on Gossip Girl, has become a Fashion Week mainstay.
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In 1996, Kelly Rutherford’s entire life was centered in California. She lived in a Beverly Hills duplex and was acting in Hollywood soap operas. But sartorially, her eyes were set on the opposite coast. New York’s Upper East Side, specifically.

There, she’d seen sophisticated older ladies carrying Hermès bags, and she envied the casual elegance.

“I had seen Catherine Deneuve and all these cool, chic women in Paris wearing them, and on the Upper East Side,” Rutherford says of the handbags. “None of my friends had those bags at the time. It wasn’t trendy.”

Regardless, she was sold — and purchased her first around age 28. “I remember saving up for my first Hermès bag, which was a Kelly bag size 28, a black box with gold, which they barely make anymore,” says the actor, who’d just landed a recurring role on Melrose Place at the time. “It was a nice thing for me to say, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’ve been working so hard.’ I loved it; it was classic.”

Rutherford (in black) at a Melrose Place screening with Rena Sofer, Thomas Calabro, and Jamie Lunar.Denny Keeler/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Denny Keeler/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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Ironically, the West Coaster would later become known for UES style, courtesy of Gossip Girl, on which she played Manhattan matriarch Lily van der Woodsen. By that point — roughly 11 years later — her Hermès collection had grown. She even lent them to her character on occasion.

These days, a decade since the show’s finale, Rutherford is the ultimate UES style icon. Just ask TikTok. When she’s not snapping ’fit checks from the elevator, she’s a front-row fixture at the buzziest fashion shows. This week, she’s taking Paris Couture Week by storm, attending shows like Dior and Schiaparelli, and chatting with seatmates like Kylie Jenner.

Below, Rutherford discusses life at 28, her fashion sensibilities, and her favorite Gossip Girl couple.

Rutherford at the Schiaparelli Haute Couture show at Paris Fashion Week.Jacopo Raule/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Take me back to 1996, when you were 28.

I had just started Melrose Place, which was very exciting because the show was already a success. It was so nice to go on a show that you knew was going to go for a while. We did 30-something episodes a season, so we would do two at one time, so most of my life was work.

Do you remember how you celebrated when you got the part?

When I got the phone call, I was in my kitchen. I had a little duplex I rented in Beverly Hills. I was living there with my dog, Oliver. I had just come back from San Francisco with my mom, and I got the call. “Do you want to come do this?” I had done a TV series for Aaron Spelling called Kindred: The Embraced about vampires. So when they offered this to me, I was super excited.

What were you most proud of accomplishing at 28?

Being independent, having my own money, and being able to support myself. I was saving for a house at that time.

When you weren’t working, what did a night out look like for you?

It wasn’t like it is today. I was just quiet. I would walk my dogs, I would see friends. I’m really close to my family, [so] I’d meet my mom and brother for lunch on Sunset Plaza in L.A. When I wasn’t working, I would travel to Europe and explore.

Rutherford with Rob Estes, Lisa Rinna and Brooke Langton at a presentation about Fox’s 1997 TV lineup.Marcel Thomas/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Everyone is obsessed with your mirror selfies and your quiet luxury aesthetic. At 28, what was your signature style?

My style was super simple. I loved jeans and T-shirts. I used to wear JP Tod’s shoes, the little car shoe. It was just very classic. I remember saving up for my first Hermès bag when I was 28. At that time, [Hermès] wasn’t a thing like it is now. Not every influencer had one.

Did you debut it immediately?

It took me a while. I just stared at it for a week, like when you get a new car.

A lot of our readers are in their 20s and 30s. Do you have advice for investing in designer items?

There aren’t a lot of things that hold their value as much as an Hermès bag. You may spend a lot, but it holds its value, and sometimes, it’s more valuable later on. [Also, I’d consider] nice accessories and jewelry. For my birthdays, I would have everyone pitch in for something, [like] a ring that was a bit pricey. I still do it.

How were you feeling about your career at 28?

I was just so happy to do what I loved and to keep working on these interesting shows. I had done Kindred, and then Melrose, and then there was Homefront and [The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.], which were period pieces where I played a saloon singer and a bartender in the 1940s.

I loved that I was getting to play different characters. It was really fun. I felt like there was some consistency to all the work I put in.

Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

What was the perfect date for you back then?

Going to dinner, going out with friends, going for a drink. We were going to the movies. It’s really simple.

How did you handle heartbreak at that age?

Oh, my gosh, I used to fall in love all the time. It’s not easy when you’re young, especially at that age because you’re thinking about kids, marriage, all those things. It’s not just dating for dating’s sake. It certainly was an interesting time for me. I felt a little bit of pressure because I was working so hard that I was [like,] “Oh, I should meet someone.” I definitely wanted kids. But heartbreak, that’s never easy at any age, is it?

Does it not get better?

It’s different. You’re [wiser] in your choices as you get older. My work was so all-consuming that I didn’t take the time to develop that side of my life. Heartbreak, it just takes [realizing] that love is love and if you really love somebody, it doesn’t matter if they’re with you or not, you just want them to be happy.

Gossip Girl fans ship their own favorite couples. Who was yours: Chuck and Blair, Dan and Serena, or Lily and Rufus?

Chuck and Blair. They had such chemistry in a way that was touching and so comedic. It was like its own show happening.

With Blake Lively, her played her Gossip Girl character’s daughter.James Devaney/WireImage/Getty Images

What have you learned from Lily Van Der Woodsen that you wish you knew at 28?

Her strength, really. I loved that she wasn’t a victim. She didn’t blame. She really was a matriarch and somebody who took responsibility for her mistakes. She realized she wasn’t perfect, but she did her best given her world, her life, her kids, and her mother. This idea of “You just have to handle it.” And that’s part of being empowered. She handled stuff.

Do you see all those TikToks now about loving Lily van der Woodsen?

I love it! Who knew? I don’t think any of us would’ve known that that would still be happening.

What was your favorite Gossip Girl plot twist?

I loved this Rufus/Bart Bass/Chuck Bass dynamic. I really liked that whole stepmother-stepson relationship, regardless of Bart. And having to choose between Rufus and Bart, who are so extremely different. Sometimes that’s what happens in life; you’re given the extremes in your life. But I loved that relationship [between] Chuck and Lily.

Who was the last person you talked to from Gossip Girl?

I just texted with Ed [Westwick] because he said he was getting married, and he just said, “If you can, and depending on your kids and whatever, can you come to the wedding?”

Caroline [Lagerfelt] and I text. We texted the other day because she’s redoing her place in New York and said it’s almost done. We text about stuff like that.

We love seeing the photos of you and Ed at fashion week!

He’s such a love. And he’s so talented and such a good human being. Beautiful man.

Pierrick Rocher/BFA.com/Shutterstock

These days you’re in every front row and you’re a style icon, among many other things. What do you think your 28-year-old self would think about your life now?

I don’t think I had any idea of the things that were to come. The interesting thing about fashion week, I did go when I was 28, but sort of by default. I was in Paris visiting, and someone had invited me to walk in a show, Jean-Louis Scherrer at the Louvre. That was my one fashion week moment, and I didn’t go to a lot of fashion weeks until Gossip Girl.

Recently my daughter was like, “Go have some fun, go out there.” Because they’re teenagers now, so they don’t want me hanging out. So basically that’s why I’m at fashion week, because my 14-year-old daughter was like, “OK, Mom.” It’s just been this last year, but it’s so much fun. I’m having such a good time.

Rutherford sits front row at Isabel Marant’s February 2024 show in Paris.WWD/WWD/Getty Images

Wait, he just scouted you randomly in Paris?

I happened to be in Paris. I was walking with my brother. I met the guy walking around. It was one of those last-minute things. He recognized me from Melrose, so we went and met them at the atelier and got fitted for the dress. He asked me to open the show.

What was that like?

It was so fun! He put us up at the Bristol, which is one of my favorite hotels, and we ended up staying an extra couple days. And I was just [there] on vacation with my brother. It was an adventure.

What would you tell your 28-year-old self?

The more we can become our own person, separate from our parents, separate from society’s ideas of us, the better. Just trust yourself.

Has there been a moment when you really felt like you made it?

Melrose was a moment. It wasn’t “made it,” but it was “This is what it feels like to be on a show and working hard and making great money.” It was a launching [pad] in many ways. And Gossip Girl has been one of those [moments]. What’s even more beautiful has been the response to the show or character. I feel so lucky and blessed to have done Gossip Girl and to have played this type of mother.

When you become a mom, that’s the greatest thing in the world. To play a mom on television and then [also] in real life? Now whatever happens, I’m just happy.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.