Fashion Designer Thierry Hermes founded his saddlery company in 1837. Gradually he added boots, jewelry, home decor items, and silk scarves.
Emile-Maurice Hermès, Theirry's successor, realized at the turn of the 20th century that travel was fast moving away from the horse and towards plane, car, and train travel. He responded by manufacturing trunks, bags, overnight cases, all from his family's signature saddle leather. He also purchased the building at 24 Rue Faubourg St.-Honoré in Paris, which still houses the flagship store as well as the workshops.
When the first Hermes store opened in its current Paris location in the 1930s, the famous silk Hermes scarf soon became a great success. It is inspired by the scarf, which Napoleon's soldier wore. It became a masculine accessory for the newly liberated women of the Golden '20s. All of the Hermes products are inspired by horses or horse motifs. Scarves, for both men and women, are until today their most popular product.
Robert Dumas, the husband of one of Emile's four daughters, introduced Hermès ties, fragrances, and beach towels. His son, Jean-Louis Dumas, has led the company since 1978.
Women's ready-to-wear used to be designed by a team under the guide of Claude Brouet (a former chief-editor of the French fashion magazine Marie Claire) and five other designers. In May 1997, the highly renowned designer of Belgian origin Martin Margiela took over the women's wear design job. He alone will be responsible for all designs. Margiela, who used to be an asistent of Jean-Paul Gaultier, will continue to design for his own line, as well for the Italian Allegri fashion house. He is known for creations that reconsider established design concept, like placing seams on the outside of clothes. Margiela dislikes public attention, thus there exist hardly any pictures of him. Chairman of the company is Jean-Louis Dumas (see picture), a fifth generation member of the Hermes family.
Hermès is a high end leather goods and ready-to-wear manufacturer and retailer based in Paris, France. Founded in 1837 by Thierry Hermès as a saddlery company, the business has been owned by a family member ever since. Over the years, the company has expanded dramatically. In addition to traditional horse-riding accoutrements, the house of Hermès now produces ready-to-wear, home décor, jewellery, luggage, and fragrances. The company operates boutiques and franchises in 34 countries.
The Hermes group is in the hands of the three families that founded the company: the Dumas, Guerrand, and Puech families. 16% of stock is in the hands of either institutional or private investors.
In 1995, total group sales were up 11.6% to $767 million. It is estimated that clothes, ties, and scarfs account for over 40% of sales. Among these the famous silk products, like ties and scarfs contribute the highest sales. 68% of sales are achieved by exports. Japan and the United States (+35%) account for the majority of growth in sales. The recent success of the company is reflected in the share price of the company: while on introduction three years ago, it was traded at 300 Francs, it now costs around 1400 Francs at the Paris stock-exchange. In 1996, sales were even 6% higher at $817 million.
While watches and perfume increased sales even more, sales for ready-to-wear clothes rose by 20%. Net profits in 1994 were at $55 million (a rise of 39% to 1993), and for 1995 profits of $80 million (+39%) are reported. In 1996, the net profit was $89 million.
In 1995, Hermes claimed to have 145 shops around the world, of which 67 shops where owned by the company, the others operate on a franchise basis. There are also corners and duty free shops selling Hermes products.
Hermes has spent $63 million for advertising in 1995. Among others, the instruments used are classic print campaigns in magazines and an own magazine called "Le Monde D'Hermes ", which has qualities of a lifestyle magazine in its own right. The company also sponsors various horse-racing events, most notable the Prix de Diane in Chantilly, France.
Hermes is known to invest heavily into the education of its employees. This is especially true for the refinement of the skills of the Hermes craftsmen. They are sent around the world to learn the techniques of other craftsmen from other cultures.
In the last couple of years, Hermes invested strongly into its network of shops worldwide. The recent past was also marked by several moves to expand the Hermes business portfolio. Several acquisitions of and investments in traditional French companies like Critalleries de St-Louis, Lobb, Puiforcat, and the couture-house Jean-Louis Scherrer reflect this policy.
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 (up to 30, 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 25,000 unique designs and the rarer scarves are much sought-after by collectors.
The ubiquitous Brides De Gala scarf, first introduced in the 1970s, has been sold over 70,000 times. An Hermès scarf is sold somewhere in the world every 25 seconds, global volume sales peaking in the late 1980s at over 1.1 million scarves. There has been some suggestion that the hijab controversy has dampened sales of women's headscarves, with Hermès volumes suffering as a result. New scarves retail at $320 and still account for a significant percentage of Hermès’ turnover.
In addition to fine silk scarves, men's neckties are made out of the same silks and with the same care. Their witty and frivolous patterns are popular with preppies and politicians alike, including US Senator John Kerry. Hermès ties cost $145.
Hermès handbags have always been coveted pieces of handmade leather craftmanship. Hermès does not use assembly lines, rather, only one artist may work on one handbag at a time. Because of the use of rare materials (sometimes including exotic skins such as alligator, ostrich, and crocodile as well as precious metals) and because only the highest quality craftmanship is accepted, one bag can take 18 to 24 hours to create.
The Kelly bag was named for Grace Kelly, who made it famous after appearing on the cover 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 president Jean-Louis Dumas after complaining that her Kelly was not practical for everyday use.
More recently, due to media spotlight in television shows such as Sex and the City and Gilmore Girls, the Birkin Bag has become a symbol of ultimate luxury. Generally, these bags start at $6,000 and easily make their way into 5-digit, sometimes 6-digit figures.
The alleged waiting list for a Birkin is now over two years and it is now closed to the public. In reality, there is no real waiting list. A customer can readily walk into a Hermès shop and purchase a Birkin bag if the shop manager feels that the customer is a legitimate buyer and not one who simply buys the Birkin bag to resell it to others.
Birkin bags are readily available in the large Hermès shops throughout the world. The Birkin is highly coveted, possibly the most coveted bag available today.
Queen Elizabeth II, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Catherine Deneuve, Jacqueline Bouvier Onassis, Sharon Stone, Sarah Jessica Parker, Hillary Clinton, Elly McPherson, Madonna