Hermès — the oldest family-owned fashion houses in France — is steeped in history, tradition, hand craftsmanship and a contemporary aesthetic. Evolving from saddlery and fine equestrian leather goods, Hermes is legendary for its iconic handbags; Owning Kelly or Birkin is experiential currency, and comes with the longest waiting list ever; what contributes to its success story perhaps is that despite the reins of the brand passed down six generations, the core aesthetic and values remain absolute.
Hermès was established in 1837 when Thierry Hermès opened a shop in Grands Boulevards, Paris which specialised in hand-stitched harnesses for calèches and carriages. His clients were rich and famous including Napoléon III. When his son, Émile-Charles, succeeded him, he moved the shop to 24 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Paris and added saddlery, a bespoke business that requires measurements from both horse and rider.
The family got a foothold in Fashion when the third generation of Hermès, Émile-Charles’s sons Adolphe and Émile-Maurice, took over the reins and began designing for Czar Nicholas II of Russia. The duo designed the haut à courroies bag intended to protect and transport riders saddles and riding boots, and, by the Twenties, got exclusive rights to the use of a zipper on leather goods and clothing. Due to their exclusive rights agreement, the zipper becomes famous throughout France as the ‘fermeture Hermes’. following which Hermès introduced the leather golf jacket with a zipper, crafted for Edward, Prince of Wales. In the same years, the brand established its presence in New York and opened two stores in French resorts. In 1919, a decline in sales of horse harnesses led to Adolphe Hermes leaving the company with Emile-Maurice buying his brother out. Émile-Maurice added accessories to the brand repertoire, and in 1929, the women’s couture collection. During the Thirties, Hermès introduced introduced iconic classics to the brand repertoire — “Kelly Bag” popularised by Grace Kelly; “Birkin” which boasts one of the longest waiting list in Fashion; silk scarves that became integrated into French culture; “Chaîne d’ancre“, the iconic bracelet; and the riding jacket. From the mid-1930s, Hermès employed Swiss watchmaker Universal Genève as the brand’s exclusive designer of timepieces. In 1949, the Hermès silk tie and the first perfume, “Eau d’Hermès”, was unveiled. Émile-Maurice summarised the Hermès philosophy during his leadership as “leather, sport, and a tradition of refined elegance.”
The company acquired its iconic ducarriage -with -horse logo and signature orange paper boxes in the Fifties. Following his death in 1951, Émile-Maurice was succeeded by son- in- laws Robert Dumas and Jean Rene Guerrand who focused on new design, and turned their attention to belts and bags. Dumas transformed the Hermès silk tie into a power tie and Hermès scarf into a status symbol. Nine of the brand’s ten best-selling scarves, including “Brides de Gala” and “Astrologie”, were designed with Robert Dumas at the helm. In fact, in the imagery of both scarves—leather bridles and spheres—one can perceive the dynamic of Hermès: earth and air. It was this dynamic that Jean-Louis Dumas would communicate when in 1978, upon his father Robert’s death, the family made him head of the company in the same year Hermès purchased the building next to 24 Rue Faubourg Saint-Honore, expanding the flagship. Dumas often expressed both the feeling of stewardship each Hermès generation feels toward the brand and the simplicity of the handcrafted—awls, mallets, needles, knives and stones can still be found on the work bench of each artisan. Dumas brought in designers Eric Bergère and Bernard Sanz to revamp the apparel line and, in collaboration, added the iconic python motorcycle jackets and ostrich-skin jeans to the brand repertoire. He realised that if Hermès was to survive it had to reposition its products, and In 1979 launched an advertising campaign featuring a denim-clad girl wearing a Hermès scarf. His vision was to transform the brand from a mature person’s nostalgia to youngsters’ aspiration. Dumas also expanded the Hermès profile by investing in companies like Jean Paul Gaultier and buying entire companies he believed in like London boot-maker John Lobb. Under his baton, the company expanded into men’s ready-to-wear, tableware and furniture and he increased Hermès global presence with a number of boutiques, a well researched growth strategy.
From 1982 to 1989, sales reportedly grew from $82 million to $446.4 million. In the nineties Hermès went public. Till this time, the family retains about eighty per cent in stocks, placing Jean-Louis Dumas on Forbes list of billionaires. In the following years, Dumas decreased Hermès franchises and increased company-owned stores to control sales. Shortly, Jean-Louis hired Belgian designer Martin Margiela to supervise women’s ready-to-wear. In 2003, Margiela left Hermès, and Jean-Paul Gaultier, as head designer, debuted his first ready-to-wear collection. Following the retirement of Jean Louis Dumas, Patrick Thomas becomes the first non-Hermès family member to head the company. In 2014, sixth-generation member of the Hermès family and Jean-Louis Dumas’ nephew, Axel Dumas took over as chief executive. This year, the brand is ranked 33rd in Forbes List “World’s Most Valuable Brands”, there are 315 Hermès stores worldwide and clientele includes celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Nicole Kidman, Elizabeth Hurley and Madonna.
Foundation D’Enterprise Hermès was founded in 2008 by Pierre-Alexis Dumas. To this day, it supports traditional craft skills and creative arts and is commitment to education, training and environmental concerns.
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