Hermès International S.A., Hermes of Paris, or simply Hermès is a French manufacturer established in 1837, today specializing in leather, lifestyle accessories, perfumery, luxury goods, and ready-to-wear. Its logo, since the 1950s, is of a Duc carriage with horse.
The designers throughout the company’s history have included Lola Prusac, Jacques Delahaye, Catherine de Karolyi, Monsieur Levaillant, Nicole de Vesian, Eric Bergère, Claude Brouet, Daniel Deakin, Alex Bartaska, Tan Giudicelli, Marc Audibet, Mariot Chane, Martin Margiela, Jean Paul Gaultier, Christophe Lemaire, Véronique Nichanian (current menswear designer), Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski (current creative director).
Beginnings in the 19th century
Thierry Hermès (1801–1878) was born in Krefeld (Germany) to a French father and a German mother. The family moved to France in 1828. In 1837, Thierry Hermès first established Hermès as a harness workshop in the Grands Boulevards quarter of Paris, dedicated to serving European noblemen. He created high-quality wrought harnesses and bridles for the carriage trade, winning several awards including the first prize in its class in 1855 and again in 1867 at the Expositions Universelles in Paris.
Hermès’s son, Charles-Émile Hermès (1835–1919), took over management from his father and moved the shop in 1880 to 24 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré where it remains to this day. With the help of his sons Adolphe and Émile-Maurice, Charles-Émile introduced saddlery and started selling his products retail. The company catered to the élite of Europe, North Africa, Russia, Asia, and the Americas. In 1900, the firm offered the Haut à Courroies bag, specially designed for riders to carry their saddles with them.
Hermès Frères era
After Charles-Émile Hermès’s retirement, sons Adolphe and Émile-Maurice took leadership and renamed the company Hermès Frères. Shortly after, Émile-Maurice began furnishing the czar of Russia with saddles. By 1914, up to 80 saddle craftsmen were employed. Subsequently, Émile-Maurice was granted the exclusive rights to use the zipper for leather goods and clothing, becoming the first to introduce the device in France. In 1918, Hermès introduced the first leather golf jacket with a zipper, made for Edward, Prince of Wales. Because of its exclusive rights arrangement the zipper became known in France as the fermeture Hermès (the Hermès fastener).
Throughout the 1920s when he was the sole head of the firm, Émile-Maurice added an accessory collection and a clothing collection. He also groomed his three sons-in-law (Robert Dumas, Jean-René Guerrand and Francis Puech) as business partners. In 1922, the first leather handbags were introduced after Émile-Maurice’s wife complained of not being able to find one to her liking. Émile-Maurice created the handbag collection himself.
In 1924, Hermès established a presence in the United States and opened two shops in French resorts. In 1929, the first women’s couture apparel collection was previewed in Paris. During the 1930s Hermès introduced some of its most recognized original goods such as the leather Sac à dépêches in 1935 (later renamed the “Kelly bag” after Grace Kelly), and the Hermès carrés (scarves) in 1937.
The Hermès scarves became integrated into French culture. In 1938, the Chaîne d’ancre bracelet and the riding jacket and outfit joined the classic collection. By this point, the company’s designers began to draw inspirations from paintings, books, and objets d’art. The 1930s also witnessed Hermès’s entrance into the United States market by offering its products in a Neiman Marcus department store in New York; however, it later withdrew. In 1949, the same year as the launch of the Hermès silk tie, the first perfume, Eau d’Hermès, was produced.
Starting in the mid-1930s, Hermès employed Swiss watchmaker Universal Genève as the brand’s first and exclusive designer of timepieces, producing a line of men’s wrist chronographs (manufactured in 18K gold or stainless steel) and women’s art deco cuff watches (in 18K gold, steel or platinum). Both models contained dials signed either as “Hermès” or “Hermès Universal Genève”, while the watch movements were signed “Universal Genève S.A.”. The Hermès/Universal partnership would last until the 1950s.
Émile-Maurice summarized the Hermès philosophy during his leadership as “leather, sport, and a tradition of refined elegance.”
Robert Dumas-Hermès (1898–1978), who succeeded Émile-Maurice after his death in 1951, closely collaborated with brother-in-law Jean-René Guerrand. Dumas became the first man not directly descended from Hermès père to lead the company because his connection to the family was only through marriage. Thus, he incorporated the Hermès last name into his own, Dumas-Hermès.
The company also acquired its duc-carriage-with-horse logo and signature orange boxes in the early 1950s. Dumas introduced original handbags, jewelry, and accessories and was particularly interested in design possibilities with the silk scarves. Ironically, during the mid-20th century, scarf production diminished. World Tempus, a Web portal dedicated to watchmaking, states: “Brought to life by the magic wand of Annie Beaumel, the windows of the store on Faubourg Saint-Honoré became a theatre of enchantment and [established the store as] a Parisian meeting-place for international celebrities.” In 1956, a photo of Grace Kelly, who had become the new Princess of Monaco, was shown carrying the Sac à dépêches bag in a photography in Life. Purportedly, she held it in front of herself to cover up her pregnancy. Thus, the public began calling it the “Kelly” bag. The name was subsequently adopted by Hermès, and the bag became hugely popular.
The perfume business became a subsidiary in 1961, concurrently with the introduction of the Calèche scent, named after a hooded four-wheeled horse carriage, known since the 18th century – the Company’s logo since fifties. (In 2004, Jean-Claude Ellena became the in-house perfumer or “nose” and created the successful Hermessence line of fragrances as well as others.)
The rise and fall and rise of Hermès
Despite the company’s apparent success in the 1970s, exemplified by multiple shops being established worldwide, Hermès began to fall, compared to competitors. Some industry observers have assigned the cause to Hermès’s insistence on the exclusive use of natural materials for its products, unlike other companies that were calling on new man-made materials. During a two-week lapse in orders, the Hermès workrooms were silent. The re-rising of Hermes fragrances endeavors in the marketplace was probably due to the public’s increasing paradigm shift of back to things ‘natural,’ as opposed to artificial, a point that undoubtedly contributed to reestablishing Hermes fragrances as a major player in the fragrances marketplace.
Jean-Louis Dumas, the son of Robert Dumas-Hermès, became chairman in 1978 and had the firm concentrate on silk and leather goods and ready-to-wear, adding new product groups to those made with its traditional techniques. Unlike his father, Jean-Louis was related to the Hermès maternally. Travelling extensively and marrying Rena Greforiadès, he entered the buyer-training program at Bloomingdale’s, the New York department store. Having joined the family firm in 1964, he was instrumental in turning around its downhill progression.
See also: Apple’s New Luxury Gadget
Dumas brought in designers Eric Bergère and Bernard Sanz to revamp the apparel collection and, in collaboration, added unusual entries. They included the python motorcycle jackets and ostrich-skin jeans, which were dubbed as “a snazzier version of what Hermès has been all along.” (Annual sales in 1978, when Jean-Louis became head of the firm, were reported at US$50 million. By 1990, annual sales were reported at US$460 million, mainly due to Dumas’s strategy.) In 1979, Jean-Louis launched an advertising campaign featuring a young, denim-clad woman wearing an Hermès scarf. The purpose was to introduce the Hermès brand to a new set of consumers. As one fashion-sector observer noted, “Much of what bears the still-discreet Hermès label changed from the object of an old person’s nostalgia to the subject of young peoples’ dreams.” However, Dumas’s change-of-image gesture created outrage both within and outside of the firm.
Also in the 1970s, the watch subsidiary, La Montre Hermès, was established in Bienne, Switzerland. Then, throughout the 1980s, Dumas strengthened the company’s hold on its suppliers, resulting in Hermès’s gaining great stakes in prominent French glassware, silverware acquiring venerable tableware manufacturers such as Puiforcat, St. Louis, and Périgord.
From the 1980s, tableware became a strong segment of the firm. And, overall, the collection of Hermès goods expanded in 1990 to include over 30,000 pieces. New materials used in the collection included porcelain and crystal.
Hermès relocated its workshops and design studios to Pantin, just outside of Paris. By June 1993 and possibly a grave mistake, Hermès had gone public on the Paris Bourse (stock exchange). At the time, the equity sale generated great excitement. The 425,000 shares floated at FFr 300 (US$55 at the time) were oversubscribed by 34 times. Dumas told Forbes magazine that the equity sale would help lessen family tensions by allowing some members to liquidate their holdings without “squabbling over share valuations among themselves.”
To this point in time, the Hermès family was still retaining a strong hold of about 80% in stocks, placing Jean-Louis Dumas and the entire family on the Forbes list of billionaires. Mimi Tompkins of U.S. News & World Report called the company “one of Paris’ best guarded jewels.”
In the years to follow, Dumas began to decrease Hermès franchises from 250 to 200 and increased company-owned stores from 60 to 100 to better control sales of its products. The plan was to cost about FFr 200 million in the short term but was to increase profits in the long term. Having around FFr 500 million to invest, Hermès pressed ahead, targeting China for company-operated boutiques, finally opening a store in Beijing in 1996.
In 1997, Jean-Louis hired Belgian modernist designer Martin Margiela to supervise women’s ready-to-wear. By the late 1990s, Hermès continued extensively to diminish the number of franchised stores, buying them up and opening more company-operated boutiques. The fashion industry was caught off guard in September 1999, when Jean-Louis decided to pay FFr 150 million for a 35% stake in the Jean-Paul Gaultier fashion house. In the latter part of the 1900s, the company encouraged its clientele to faites nous rêver (make us dream), producing throughout the period artistically atypical orders.
The 2000s to today
In 2000, the first John Lobb footwear store was opened in New York. In 2003, iconoclastic Margiela left Hermès, and the highly controversial Jean-Paul Gaultier, as the head designer, debuted his first ready-to-wear collection for fall/winter 2004–05.
After 28 years as head of the firm, Jean-Louis Robert Guillame Frédéric Dumas-Hermès retired from the firm in January 2006. Known for his charm and one of Europe’s greatest experts on luxury, he died in 2010 after a long illness. Patrick Thomas, who had joined the company in 1989 and who had worked with Jean-as the co-CEO from 2005, replaced him that month. Thomas became the first non-Hermès to head the company. Jean-Louis’s son Pierre-Alexis Dumas is the artistic director.
As of 2008, Hermès has 14 product divisions encompassing leather, scarves, ties, men’s wear, women’s fashion, perfume, watches, stationery, footwear, gloves, enamel, decorative arts, tableware, and jewelry.
Hermès sales are composed of about 30% leather goods, 15% clothes, 12% scarves, and 43% other wares. The company licenses no products and keeps tight control over the design and manufacture of its vast inventory.
The family company is very attached to its old-fashioned business model and rejects mass production, assembly lines, and mechanization. Hermès goods are almost entirely made in France by hand in middle-sized workshops (“Ateliers Hermès”) with an emphasis on quality manufacturing. Indeed, Hermes claims most items are fabricated from beginning to end by one person only, which is supposed to be a guarantee of the quality and uniqueness of Hermès products.
In 2012, Hermes retail outlets changed its policy regarding returns and exchanges of products. Consumers may only exchange items within ten days of purchase, and only for another color variant of the original purchase. No other post-purchase exchanges are permitted and refunds are never offered, regardless of the consumer having a receipt.
The scarf or carré was introduced in 1937. One of the first, which was a print of white-wigged females playing a popular period game, was a custom-made accessory named Jeu des Omnibus et Dames Blanches. Hermès oversaw the production of its scarves throughout the entire process, purchasing raw Chinese silk, spinning it into yarn, and weaving it into fabric twice as strong and heavy as most scarves available at the time.
The company’s scarf designers spend years creating new print patterns, individually screen-printed. Designers chose from over 70,000 different colors. When scarf production first began, a dedicated scarf factory was established in Lyon, France; the same year, Hermès celebrated its 100th anniversary.
Contemporary Hermès scarves measure 90 cm × 90 cm, weigh 65 grams and are woven from the silk of 250 mulberry moth cocoons. All of the hems are hand-stitched. Scarf motifs are wide-ranging, Two silk-scarf collections per year are released, along with some reprints of older designs and limited editions. And two collections per year are introduced in a Cashmere/silk blend. Since 1937, Hermès has produced over 2,000 unique designs; the horse motif is particularly famous and popular. The seen-everywhere “Brides De Gala” version, introduced in 1957, has been produced more than 70,000 times. An Hermès scarf is sold somewhere in the world every 25 seconds; by the late 1970s more than 1.1 million scarves had been sold worldwide.
The scarves have been worn by several celebrities such as:
- worn by Queen Elizabeth II in a portrait for a 1956 British postage stamp.
- worn by Princess Grace Kelly in a photograph on the cover of a 1956 issue of Life magazine.
- used as a sling by Princess Grace for her broken arm.
- employed by actress Sharon Stone in a bondage scene in the film Basic Instinct.
- made into pillows or otherwise as framed wall-hangings.
Introduced in 1949, men’s neckties, in a huge array of motifs over the years from bunnies to confetti, have been made from the same silk material as the scarves and are, likewise, very expensive.
Hermès Partnership with the Tuareg
For years, Hermès has partnered with Tuareg tribesmen in silver jewelry. The Saharan nomads’ traditional motifs are often mirrored in various Hermès products, including scarves.
Hermès is known for its handmade luggage and handbags. One bag might require 18 to 24 hours to produce. The construction of each Kelly bag, for example, requires 18 hours to fully realize. Hermès’s leathers come from all over the world. Customers may currently wait from six months to one year for delivery of one of the house signature bags. Incidentally, should Hermès’s leather goods require repair, owners can bring an item to any Hermès store, where it will be shipped to the Atelier Hermès in Pantin, near Paris, for repair or reconditioning.
Another famous Hermès handbag, the “Birkin”, was named after English actress Jane Birkin who lives in France. After a chance encounter with Jean-Louis Dumas, she complained that her “Kelly” bag was not practical for everyday use. Consequently, he invited her to France where they co-designed the bag. Birkin has since stopped carrying her namesake bag, saying it contributed to her tendonitis.
Since 1951, the company has created several scents for both men and women, as well as unisex lines. This is a partial list of over 30.
Feminine fragrances include:
Parfum d’Hermès, 1984
24, Faubourg, 1995
Rouge Hermès, 2000
Eau des Merveilles, 2004
Kelly Calèche, 2007
Masculine fragrances include:
Bel Ami, 1986
Terre D’Hermès, 2006
Unisex frangrances include:
Eau d’Hermès, 1951
Eau d’Orange Verte, 1999
Un Jardin en Méditerranée, 2003
Un Jardin sur le Nil, 2005
Un Jardin après la Mousson, 2008
Eau de Pamplemousse Rose, 2009
Eau de Gentiane Blanche, 2009
Eau De Mandarine Ambree
Voyage d’Hermès, 2010
Un Jardin sur le Toit, 2011
Le Jardin De Monsieur Li, 2015
Unisex Hermessence scents exclusive to Hermès stores, since 2004:
Brin de Réglisse
Hermès Crystal Lighting and Glass
Belonging to the group is the crystal glass manufacturer Saint-Louis, the oldest crystal company in the world. Since its origin in 1586, Saint-Louis has drawn its inspiration from the great decorative periods of the 19th and 20th century, from Restoration to Modern Style, going through Napoléon III, Art Nouveau and Art Deco – the true essence of its identity. Saint-Louis became one of the Hermès Group Métiers in 1989.
Hermès Apple Watch Hermès
In 2015, Hermès partnered with Apple to produce Apple Watch Hermès, combining Apple’s smartwatch with Hermès specially crafted single tour, double tour and cuff watch bands.
Hermès Last results
In the early 2015, in February, Hermès has announced an increase of its turnover of 9.7 percent, which represents more than 4 billion in sales.
This increase is internationally visible: in Asia, excluding Japan, where the turnover grew 7 percent, in America, with 10 percent rise, in Europe where it grew 7 percent growth and generated a good performance in the Group’s stores.
Fondation d’entreprise Hermès
The Fondation d’entreprise Hermès supports people and organisations seeking to learn, perfect, transmit and celebrate the skills and creativity that shape and inspire our lives today, and into the future. Guided by central focus on artisan expertise and creative artistry in the context of society’s changing needs, the Foundation’s activities explore two complementary avenues: know-how and creativity, know-how and the transmission of skills.
The Foundation supports partner organisations across the globe. At the same time, they develop and administer their own projects in the contemporary visual arts (exhibitions and artists’ residencies), the performing arts (the New Settings programme), design (the Prix Émile Hermès international design award), craftsmanship (the Skills Academy), and biodiversity.
The Foundation’s unique mix of programmes and support is rooted in a single, underlying belief: Our gestures define us.