HERMÈS IS, AND ALWAYS HAS BEEN, ONE OF THE MOST SOUGHT-AFTER LUXURY LABELS IN THE WORLD. ONE’S WARDROBE IS NOT CONSIDERED COMPLETE IF ONE DOESN’T POSSESS THE KELLY OR BIRKIN BAG. HERMÈS IS UNIQUE. IT HAS PRESERVED ITS HISTORICAL TRADITIONS AND KEPT ITS CLASSIC LOGO AND PACKAGING – ENSURING THAT THE LABEL REMAINS ICONIC.
What makes Hermès unique is their strong traditions and values that match the house’s starting foundations. It still remains very much a family business and sources only exclusive natural materials, shunning any man-made fabrics. From equestrian beginnings, it is hard to believe just how much the Hermès label has evolved. And with over 240 stores worldwide, the empire continues to grow.
Hermès is the quintessential French manufacturer established in 1837 by Thierry Hermès who moved from Germany to France almost ten years before. He gained a reputation for making the best harnesses and bridles for the carriage trade, serving European noblemen and winning several awards along the way. Already, Hermès had established itself as a high-luxury label, dedicated to serve the wealthiest and most influential of clients. The business was handed down from father to son, but it was Thierry Hermès’ grandson, Emile-Maurice Hermès, who was responsible for making the label more diverse in the 1890’s. He added clothing, accessories and jewellery – as well as the first handbag (the Sac haut-à-croire). Emile-Maurice was the first man to introduce the zipper in France, and obtained exclusive rights to its use in Hermès’ clothing and accessories. Like today, all of the products were made in-house and by hand – without the use of assembly lines – that cemented Hermès as the ultimate indulgent label.
They opened their first overseas store in New York in 1920. In the 1950’s Robert Dumas (Emile-Maurice Hermès’ son-in-law) was put in charge and he introduced more products such as shoes, homeware and the infamous Hermès perfume and Hermès tie – both of which were extremely sought after. After Robert Dumas’ death, his son Jean-Louis Dumas-Hermès succeeded as Chairman.
However, it was thanks to the launch of the Kelly bag (1935) and the Birkin (1984) that cemented Hermès as the dedicated artisanal luxury label – and these bags are much revered and sought after to this day. The dedication required to make just one of these bags (up to eighteen hours by one artisan) just proves Hermès’ meticulous attention to detail and their dedication to family ownership, making the house unique among other luxury good labels.
After many generations, Hermès was handed down from family member to family member. However, in 2006 Patrick Thomas became the first to take the reins of the house, without being part of the family. 2014 marked many changes for company. Previous designer Christophe Lemaire announced his departure and Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski is appointed the head of the womenswear. As well as a new designer appointment, the company is handed to Axel Dumas (Jean Louis Dumas’ nephew) who becomes the new CEO. With the house back under family direction and a new designer in the wings, the passions for family foundations and traditional values, Hermès remains at the top of the game and unique from all other luxury labels.
The house has defied the modern markets demand for mass products and still continues making pieces by hand. Of all their leather goods, Hermès trademark pieces are the infamous Birkin and Kelly bag. A Birkin is not simply a ‘bag’ - it’s a statement of wealth. It can cost anything from 7.000 to 140.000 Euros and is available in a vast array of exotic skins and colours. The rectangular bag with a lockable flap closure was inspired by actress Jane Birkin. When Hermès chief executive Jean-Louis Dumas met her on a flight to Paris in 1981, he noticed that she had overstuffed her own bag and her items were cluttered all over the plane. Determined to create a spacious, sturdy replacement the Birkin was born in 1984. The Kelly bag was an overnight sensation after Grace Kelly immortalised it when she used it to conceal her pregnancy from the paparazzi. Originally designed by Dumas in the 1930’s under the name Sac à dépêches, it was renamed the Kelly bag.
Buyers cannot purchase high-profile, coveted pieces and instead have to join a long waiting list.
The Hermès house is founded by Thierry Hermès. However, it did not start as a fashion house but began as a small harness and saddle workshop in Paris, supplying equestrian riding supplies to wealthy clients and noblemen.
Thierry’s son, Charles-Émile Hermès, takes over the management of the business and moves the shop to 24 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré – where its flagship boutique still remains today. Here, Charles-Emile had a strong focus on international retail sales and the business reached around the world to cater to elite customers worldwide.
Émile-Maurice takes over as the only head of the business and launches the first accessories collection – a leather golfing jacket made for the Prince of Wales.
After Charles-Emile’s retirement, his sons rename the business Hermès Frères. With huge demands pouring in, the brothers began using zips on their leather goods, making Hermes the first to introduce the zip in France.
Hermès begins to sell their products in the US at Neiman Marcus, New York.
The infamous silk headscarves are introduced. As well as their scarves, Hermès expands, producing travel trunks and sportswear.
The iconic logo – a horse and carriage – is designed by Alfred de Dreux, a homage to the labels equestrian roots
Jean-Louis Dumas (great-great-grandson of Thierry Hermès) takes over as the new head of the company.
The Kelly bag is debuted after Grace Kelly uses her Hermes Sac à dépêches bag to hide her pregnancy from the paparazzi. Hermes decides to renamed the bag ‘Kelly’. Similar to the Birkin, the bag is a labour of love – one bag can take between 12 to 18 hours to make.
Even though Hermes is extremely successful in the 1970’s, the house begins to fall, most likely due to the insistence on using natural materials, unlike their competitors who are starting to use new man-made materials. However, with the expansion from their homeware line and a modernised ready-to-wear collection, Hermès soon rises again.
Jane Birkin immortalises the Birkin bag. As well as this iconic piece, the house launches a complete home line. From furniture to silverware to porcelain, Hermès had it covered.
Dumas takes an unconventional turn and hires the modernist Martin Margiela as Creative Director.
Jean-Paul Gaultier takes over and becomes women’s ready-to-wear designer. His debut fall/winter 2004-2005 collection receives high praise as Gaultier puts his own high-fashion magic on the label
Jean-Claude Ellena becomes the in-house perfumier and Hermès launches several scents that become instant hits.
CEO Jean-Louis Dumas-Hermes retires and Patrick Thomas takes over as the new CEO - becoming the first non-family member to take charge of Hermes.
Creative Director Christophe Lemaire takes over and creates timeless and elegant collections for Hermes.
At 66, the first non-family member to hold the business Patrick Thomas retires from his role as CEO and is replaced by sixth generation member of the Hermès family (and Jean Louis Dumas’ nephew), Axel Dumas. At the same time, Christophe Lemaire announces his departure and leaves the house to work on his own projects and – just three days later – Hermès appoints designer Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski to head Hermès’ womenswear collections. With her impressive portfolio at Maison Martin Margiela, Céline and The Row, it looks like Hermès will remain at the top of the league.
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