The designers throughout the company's history have included Lola Prusac, Jacques Delahaye, Catherine de Karolyi, Monsieur Levaillant, Nicole de Vesian, Eric Bergere, Claude Brouet, Daniel Deakin, Alex Bartaska, Tan Giudicelli, Marc Audibet, Mariot Chane, Martin Margiela, Jean Paul Gaultier, Veronique Nichanian (current menswear designer), Christophe Lemaire (current womenswear
Beginnings in the 19th century
Thierry Hermes, founder of Hermes.
Born in Krefeld (Germany), Thierry Hermes was the son of a French man and a German woman. The family moved to France in 1828. In 1837, Thierry Hermes (1801-1878) first established Hermes as a harness workshop on the Grands Boulevards quarter of Paris, dedicated to serving European noblemen. He created some of the finest wrought harnesses and bridles for the carriage trade. Monsieur Hermes's earned citations included the first prize in its class in 1855 and the first-class medal in 1867 at the Expositions Universelles in Paris.
Hermes's son, Charles-Emile Hermes (1835-1919), took over management from his father and moved the shop in 1880 to 24 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, where it remains today and where the new leader introduced saddlery and began retail sales. With the aid of sons Adolphe and Emile-Maurice Hermes, the company catered to the elite of Europe, North Africa, Russia, Asia, and the Americas. In 1900, the firm offered the Haut A Courroies bag, specially designed for riders to carry their saddles with them.
Hermes Freres era
After Charles-Emile Hermes's retirement, sons Adolphe and Emile-Maurice took leadership and renamed the company Hermes Freres. Shortly after, Emile-Maurice began furnishing the czar of Russia with saddles. By 1914, up to 80 saddle craftsmen were employed. Subsequently, Emile-Maurice was granted the exclusive rights to use the zipper for leather goods and clothing and, thus, became the first to introduce the device in France. And, in 1918, the first leather golf jacket with a zipper, made by Hermes, was introduced. It was followed by Hermes's first leather garment, a zippered golfing jacket for the Prince of Wales. Named after its exclusive use of the zipper, the mechanism was called the fermeture Hermes (the Hermes fastener).
Throughout the 1920s when he was the sole head of the firm, Emile-Maurice added an accessory collection. He also groomed his three sons-in-law (Robert Dumas, Jean-Rene Guerrand and Francis Puech) as business partners. It was also in the 1920s that the first Hermes clothing collection was born.
In 1922, the first leather handbags were introduced after Emile-Maurice's wife complained of not finding a suitable one to her liking. He created a handbag collection himself.
Hermes Freres advertisement, 1923
In 1924, Hermes established a presence in the United States and opened two shops in French resorts[where?]. In 1929, the first women's couture apparel collection was previewed in Paris. And, during the 1930s, Hermes produced some of its most recognized original goods. In 1935, the leather Sac A depeches (later renamed the "Kelly bag" after Grace Kelly) was introduced, and, in 1937, the Hermes carres (scarves) were introduced.
Following the introduction of scarves, the accessory became integrated into French culture. In 1938, the Chaine 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 Hermes'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 Hermes silk tie, the first perfume, Eau d'Hermes, was produced.
Starting in the mid-1930s, Hermes employed Swiss watchmaker Universal Geneve 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 "Hermes" or "Hermes Universal Geneve", while the watch movements were signed "Universal Geneve S.A.". The Hermes/Universal partnership would last until the 1950s.
In a time during his management, Emile-Maurice summarized the Hermes philosophy as "Leather, sport, and a tradition of refined elegance."
Robert Dumas-Hermes (1898-1978), who succeeded Emile-Maurice after his death in 1951, closely collaborated with brother-in-law Jean-Rene Guerrand. Dumas became the first man not directly descended from Hermes pere to lead the company because his connection to the family was only through marriage. Thus, he incorporated the Hermes last name into his own, Dumas-Hermes.
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-Honore 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 a depeches 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 Hermes, and the bag became hugely popular.
The perfume business became a subsidiary in 1961, concurrently with the introduction of the Caleche 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 Hermes
Hermes Store at Avenue George V in Paris 8th arrondissement, France.
Despite the company's apparent success in the 1970s, exemplified by multiple shops being established worldwide, Hermes began to fall, compared to competitors. Some industry observers have assigned the cause to Hermes'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 Hermes workrooms were silent.
Jean-Louis Dumas, the son of Robert Dumas-Hermes, 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 Hermes maternally. Travelling extensively and marrying Rena Greforiades, 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.
Dumas brought in designers Eric Bergere 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 Hermes 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 Hermes scarf. The purpose was to introduce the Hermes brand to a new set of consumers. As one fashion-sector observer noted, "Much of what bears the still-discreet Hermes 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 Hermes, was established in Bienne, Switzerland. Then, throughout the 1980s, Dumas strengthened the company's hold on its suppliers, resulting in Hermes's gaining great stakes in prominent French glassware, silverware acquiring venerable tableware manufacturers such as Puiforcat, St. Louis, and Perigord.
From the 1980s, tableware became a strong segment of the firm. And, overall, the collection of Hermes goods expanded in 1990 to include over 30,000 pieces. New materials used in the collection included porcelain and crystal.
Hermes relocated its workshops and design studios to Pantin, just outside of Paris. By June 1993 and possibly a grave mistake, Hermes 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 Hermes 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 Hermes 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, Hermes 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, Hermes 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 rever (make us dream), producing throughout the period artistically atypical orders.
The 2000s to today
Hermes boutique at The Lee Garden, Hong Kong
In 2000, the first John Lobb footwear store was opened in New York. In 2003, iconoclastic Margiela left Hermes, 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 Frederic Dumas-Hermes 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-Hermes to head the company. Jean-Louis's son Pierre-Alexis Dumas is the artistic director.