Luxury Studies: Hermès


Hermès is a leather goods, fashion, and perfume company based in Paris. It is widely regarded as among the most prestigious and exclusive fashion houses in the world and is known for its famous "H" logo.

Founded in 1836 by Thierry Hermès as a saddlery company, the business has remained mostly in the control of the Hermès family for almost two hundred years. Today, the house of Hermès produces ready-to-wear fashion, home decor, jewelery, luggage, and fragrances as well as saddles.

Hermès silk ties

One of Hermès' most recognized products is the silk scarf. The first silk scarf square in the Hermès collection was produced in 1928, and in 1937 a dedicated scarf factory was established in Lyon. The modern Hermès scarf measures 90cm square, weighs 65 grams and is woven from the silk of 250 mulberry moth cocoons. The per-pound cost of a scarf today is approximately $1,965.00 (compared to a pound of steel at $0.19).

All Hermès scarves are hand-printed using multiple silk screens (43 is the highest number of screens used for one scarf to date, the charity scarf released in 2006, one for each color on the scarf) and the hems are all hand-stitched. Two scarf collections per year are released, along with re-prints of older designs and limited editions. Since 1937, Hermès has produced over 2,500 designs.

In addition to silk scarves, men's neckties are made out of the same silks. Hermès neckties cost between US$155 and $215, though the calfskin version costs around US$600.

A Hermès Birkin bag

Though Hermès is most renowned for its saddlery, it also produces handmade luggage and handbag collections. Hermès does not use assembly lines; only one employee may work on one handbag at a time. Due to the labour-intensive nature of Hermès production methods and the use of rare materials (sometimes including exotic skins such as alligator, crocodile, ostrich and lizard as well as precious metals), one bag can take 18 to 24 hours to create.

A Hermès Kelly bag

The Kelly bag was first produced in the 1930's and later nicknamed for Grace Kelly, who made it famous after appearing in the pages of Life in 1956 carrying the bag. Jacqueline Bouvier Onassis, another Hermès aficionado, preferred the Constance shoulder bag (with a double strap and large H clasp) or the Trim shoulder bag.

Perhaps the most famous handbag, the Birkin, was named for actress Jane Birkin, who co-designed the bag with company president Jean-Louis Dumas after complaining that her Kelly bag was not practical for everyday use. Jane Birkin has since stopped carrying her namesake bag, saying it contributed to her tendinitis.

More recently, the Birkin bag has been featured in television shows such as Sex and the City, Will & Grace and Girlfriends, as well as on the arms of well-heeled celebrities like Victoria Beckham, Coleen McLoughlin, Alex Curran, Kate Moss, Martha Stewart, Jada Pinkett Smith and Lindsay Lohan. Generally, the price of Birkin bags starts in the $6,000 range and can sometimes reach into 5-digit, or even 6-digit figures.

The wait for a special order Birkin can be up to six years, based on the type of leather or skin requested.

When Hermès leather goods require repair, owners are encouraged to bring the item back to any Hermès store where it can be shipped to the factory in Paris for repair or reconditioning.

In June 2005, celebrity Oprah Winfrey was denied access to the company's flagship store in Paris after hours. Winfrey's camp spoke of a rude clerk and manager and suggested racism as the reason for the denied access. Hermès stated that Winfrey had simply shown up after hours and during a special public relations event and was turned away. Oprah has since talked about her experience on an episode of her television talk-show which featured Robert Chavez, Hermès USA CEO, as a guest. Chavez apologized on camera for the actions of what he said was "one very, very rigid staff person" and Winfrey subsequently endorsed the company.

Seventy-one percent of Hermès' shares have been traded on the Paris Bourse since 1993, while the remaining 29 percent are held by the family. The current CEO is Patrick Thomas, who replaced Jean-Louis Dumas-Hermès in January 2006. Thomas has been with the company since 1989. Today, leather goods make up 30 percent of the business, clothes 15 percent, and scarves 12 percent.

Correct pronunciation of the name of the fashion house.

Additional reading,"The World of Hermès" magazine available at the reception area:

• The "Maison Hermès" in Tokyo
• Hermès product details
• Hermès around the world

Additional Reading: Birkin vs. Kelly



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