Modern elegance, perennial craftsmanship

Since its foundation in 1837, Hermès has always been a staple of craftsmanship, a dedication to quality and the synonym of French elegance.What had begun as a saddle shop became a lifestyle brand – probably the most luxurious of them all -, creating products to suit the evolving needs of its discerning customers. From sports goods to handbags, from couture to jewelry to fragrance and tableware, Hermès products possess a unique combination of cutting edge modernism, timeless elegance and traditional savoir-faire.

a 1946 advertisement (source Derbycityprints.com)

Hermès had very quickly understood the importance of symbols. In the early 1950‘s – just before marketing and advertising boomed and became the vehicles for consumption – they created their logo and made a certain shade of orange their own, using it for its packaging and its print materials: the Hermès brand had become the unmistakable synonym of luxurious French elegance.

...the orange boxes

Over the years, Hermès products became highly coveted objects of desire, worn and carried by movie stars, royalty and jet-setters and Hermès – in a visionary marketing “coup de génie” – quickly identified this as an opportunity they could not miss.

  • Created in 1937, the “sac à dépêches” handbag became the “Kelly bag” after a photograph of Grace Kelly – the new princess of Monaco – carrying it was published in Life magazine.  Everybody back then wanted to be as classy and stylish as Princess Grace and the already quite popular bag became a must-have, a status it still currently enjoys.
  • In 1959 the Constance bag was launched. Its sleek design was the perfect companion to the prim, sleek outfits of Jackie Onassis, who adopted it. It became otherwise known as the “Jackie O” and the waiting lists have not diminished since.
  • In 1984, an accidental plane encounter between actress/singer Jane Birkin and Hermès Chairman Jean-Louis Dumas, resulted in the creation of “the Birkin”, a bag that has been at the top of the ultimate accessory list ever since.

The Life picture of Grace Kelly and Jane Birkin with her bag on the floor...

Hermès continue to create great products to this day, innovating while stubbornly maintaining the tradition of craftsmanship.

Defining cool elegance, winning a brand new customer

Jean-Louis Dumas – who became the Chairman of Hermès in the late 1970’s – knew that, in order to survive in the post-1968 world, he had to initiate big changes. In 1978, he ran an advertisement portraying a jeans-clad young woman wearing a Hermès scarf and turned the brand image around. Hermès was no longer a brand for older people who spent weekends riding and hunting; it had also become the purveyor of fine goods for a young generation who valued quality and aspired to achieve effortless elegance.

Throughout the 1980’s, Hermès – who remained a favorite among the rich and famous – kept on catering to the younger generation. It even was integrated by name in a fashion movement that was a counter-reaction to punk and new wave, very popular in France, Belgium, Luxemburg and Switzerland : CPCH the acronym of “Collier de perles, carré Hermès” was the 18-year old version of BCBG or “Bon Chic Bon Genre” who just got her first pearl necklace and Hermès scarf…

It was also in the 1980’s that Hermès hired young up and coming designer Eric Bergère. The talented Esmod graduate held the position of creative director until 1987 and kept the brand attractive to the young without scaring off the older generations of loyal customers.

Hermès ads from the 1980's...


Injecting cutting-edge, avant-garde style

The next phase of taking the brand further was marked by the appointment of Martin Margiela as artistic director in 1987. Margiela, a graduate of the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts (that had produced the avant-garde collective the Antwerp Six) had worked for Jean-Paul Gaultier from 1985 to 1987 before founding his own brand in 1989.

From 1997 to 2004, Margiela created a series of beautifully cut, understated clothes in incredibly luxurious fabrics. Invisible to the eye of the media and working in the shadow, Margiela and his work were only known to the edgy fashion connoisseurs. And if his time at Hermès was not acknowledged nor appreciated to its real value by the “masses”, Margiela injected Hermès with a dose of avant-garde, while keeping its heritage intact.

In 2004 generation X was already making money and generation Y was on its way, so what is better than giving them an icon of their youth, the man who brought corsets back – but this time as a piece of clothing and not underwear -, and who dressed Madonna on her way to pop queendom? Jean-Paul Gaultier the “enfant terrible” of French fashion was hired as creative director. At Hermès, Jean-Paul Gaultier stayed true to himself while assimilating the Hermès DNA and he did what he did best. He took the classics, he took the icons and transformed them into elements of fabulous cool.

Jean-Paul Gaultier created Hermès ultra-luxe versions of the clothes he did so well and re-invented the Hermès iconic pieces. Several versions of the Kelly and the Birkin were created, again attracting a whole new breed of clientele who could now express their cool difference with accessories their mothers did not possess.

In May 2010, it was announced that Christophe Lemaire, creative director of Lacoste, would replace Jean-Paul Gaultier and his first collection would be for Fall 2011, showing in March of the same year in Paris.

Revisited classics

Below are a few examples of the iconic products that have been re-created during the Jean-Paul Gaultier era

A few variations of the Kelly and of the Birkin...

Le carré – a legend on its own

Created in 1937, the Hermès scarf was created. The first motif was called “Jeu des Omnibus et Dames blanches”. A dedicated scarf factory was set up in Lyon. Today the Hermès scarf represents 60% of Hermès’ revenue.

Hermès wanted to have a unique product and controlled the production of the scarves from purchasing the Chinese raw silk that allowed them to weave the twill – the heaviest scarf silk on the market- to hand-printing and hand-rolling each and every piece.

From the very beginning, Hermès used the scarves as an opportunity to showcase talented artists and make their work available to the public in a new, disruptive way.  Hermès currently produces two scarf collections per year and to over 2’500 motifs have been printed to date.

Similarly to what they have done with the apparel and accessories, Hermès decided to take the scarf cult to the next level : in 2003 they hired the stylist Bali Barret as creative director for silk. And Barret delivered. Whether by creating new dimensions, introducing new silks or new printing techniques, she strengthened the icon status of the carré and, in true Hermès manner, managed to keep its soul while transforming its body.

Pushing the “alternative art showcase” a bit further, Hermès produced a limited edition of 6 carrés in hommage to Josef Albers, the Bauhaus-era artist.

Hermès scarves have become collector items and the subject of a real following by millions of fans.

Hermès stores – temples of a lifestyle

The first Hermès store was opened in 1880 at 24, Rue du Faubourg St Honoré in Paris, next to the Palais de l’Elysée. This store is still open for business and the building hosts the Hermès headquarters.

The Hermès store expansion took place in the 1970’s, with Hermès opening in multiple locations across Europe, the US and Japan.
Very early, Hermès understood the importance of location and the concept of “very local marketing” combined with a real understanding of the evolution of retail and has always managed to give its stores a local touch, adapted to its surroundings and its customers while keeping them true to the brand values and philosophy.

In the 1990’s, Hermès started to reduce the number of franchises while increasing own stores, in order to better control its image and sales.

In the 2000’s, the Hermès stores were re-designed, becoming lighter, more modern, more appealing to a new generation of young customers – shopping was a main activity for generation X who now had the means to spend seriously and generation Y was not very far behind. Just in time for the unprecedented luxury brand frenzy of the noughties, Hermès was ready.

The architect of choice for Hermès was Rena Dumas. Until her death at the age of 71, the wife of Jean-Louis Dumas continuously created new Hermès shops that perfectly fit in their surroundings and maintained the brand identity, while never being the same. The legacy of Rena Dumas is perpetuated by the team that is working at her eponymous firm RDAI (Rena Dumas Architecture Intérieure).

Hermès Madison Homme

In 2010 Hermès opened a new kind of shop New York’s Madison Avenue: Hermès Madison Homme.

A men’s only store, it anticipates the real emergence of the sophisticated, luxury male shopper, a shopper who wants to shop at brands that really know what he needs and give him the real space he deserves as a real consumer. In order to indulge in Hermès, he no longer has to shop in a dominantly ladies’ store do, within a small space dedicated to his presumably much smaller needs…he doesn’t even need to take the ladies with him anymore. He has become knowledgeable in the matters of style…

The store has four floors totaling 2450 square feet and gives the customer the feeling that he is perusing a beautifully executed walk-in closet…

Hermès Madison Homme

Hermès@Liberty – pop-up magic

In 2009, Hermès ventured into a new territory. After opening a temporary summer store in East Hampton, New York from May to September, Hermès decided to totally embrace a the pop-up idea by opening a temporary store within legendary department store Liberty in London.

Opened from September 7 to October 18, the store dedicated to scarves and ties also sold a limited edition of Hermès pour Liberty scarves.

For the unique occasion, Liberty’s windows were clad in Hermès orange, filled with Hermès boxes and a miniature replica of the store was created using Hermès boxes and paper…

...the Liberty storefront window

Above the accessories department, an installation made with the scarves created for the occasion announced the spirit…

And in a separate room, a totally new Hermès experience awaited the customers…

The backlit info at the store entrance and the "Hermès pour Liberty" scarf installation

The whole space was arranged playfully and contrarily to the neatly colour-coordinated displays of scarves and ties you could see – with the help of sales associate – in the Hermès stores, everything was displayed in a manner inviting the customers to touch, experiment, play by themselves…

The whole Hermès universe was present and shown in an approachable, tongue-in- cheek way…the boxes were used to create 3-dimensional logos, peek a boo displays…

It was telling the customers “…sure Hermès is a house built on tradition and craftsmanship producing the highest quality scarves and ties but we love to play and we would love it for you to play with us, experience us from very very close…”

...using the orange boxes to play and display...

...fun, close to the customer, touchable experience...

So how does Hermès do it?

Probably one of the oldest and most prestigious luxury houses in the world, Hermès has always managed to stay true to its core values, relevant and remain a staple of elegance.

What has nevertheless been remarkable is the fact that since the early 1950‘s Hermès managed to continuously attract a younger and different customer, while maintaining the loyalty of the “older” brand devotees. Hermès could achieve this by:

Storytelling - Understanding the importance of telling a story to the customers, a story that fuels their fantasy, their ideals and makes them include Hermès in their everyday lifestyle. It becomes the catalyst in making their fantasy become reality.

Streetsmart - Being always open to the trends and lifestyle happening on the streets, embracing them and including their iconic products in a contemporary picture: this strategy has brought the Hermès products closer to the new consumers of every decade.

Risk-taking - Never being afraid to take risks and move forward. By hiring young and avant-garde designers, Hermès could always re-invent itself and manage to stay authentic.

No compromise - Using a no-compromise branding policy by maintaining the brand core elements while playing with the messages – to suit the times – has proven to be one of the most successful advertising strategies. Yearly changing “themes” and taglines maintains the brand fresh and creates neverending consumer curiosity.

Super local - Living the “being global but so very local”, Hermès has built a store network always different but always vibrating with the brand spirit, making each customer visit an experience on its own.

Customer centric - Identifying new breeds of customers very early and anticipating their needs – whether creating new products, e.g. the Jypsière for young urban explorers, or a new kind of store e.g. Hermès Madison Homme – Hermès has proven that it puts the customers at the heart of everything it does.

Adventurous - Embracing new forms of retail such as pop-up stores has once again proved that Hermès wants to get even closer to its customers. The pop-up store of Liberty even took the notion of “close” to an intimate level…