Hermès is a legendary luxury fashion house imbued with history and heritage. One of the only high-end labels that’s still privately owned and operated, Hermès is a family enterprise that’s been handed down through five generations and counting. Their beloved silk scarves are eye-catching works of art, while their lavish leather handbags are considered the ultimate fashion indulgence. They’ve come a long way from their humble start as purveyors of horse saddlery and carriage supplies, items they still proudly offer today. Continue reading for a brief glimpse into the remarkable history of Hermès.
Founding Hermès Paris
Hermès founder, Thierry Hermès, was born in Krefeld, Germany. His family relocated to France in 1828, at which time Thierry began learning the trade of leather making. Nearly a decade later in 1837, Thierry took his talents to the Grands Boulevards quarter of Paris, establishing a harness workshop that served the wealthy noblemen of Europe. Here, Hermès crafted high quality, wrought iron harnesses and bridles for those in the carriage business. It wasn’t long before Hermès was recognized for his innovations. He went on to win the first prize at the Expositions Universelles in Paris in 1855, and again in 1867.
Thierry Hermès passed away in 1878, leaving his workshop to his son, Charles-Emile Hermès. Charles-Emile established the brand’s flagship store in Paris in 1880, moving his father’s workshop to 24 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, where it still remains today. With the help of his two sons, Adolphe and Emile-Maurice, Charles-Emile began selling saddlery. By expanding his brand’s offering, he was able to cater to elite clients from all over Europe, Russia, North Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Adolphe and Emile-Maurice also assisted their father in creating the ‘Haut a Courroies’ bag, the brand’s first handbag designed for riders to carry their saddles while traveling.
A Family Affair
Upon Charles-Emile’s retirement, Adolphe and Emile-Maurice assumed leadership and renamed the business Hermès Frères, or Hermès brothers. Emile-Maurice began supplying saddles to the Czar of Russia, employing up to 80 saddle craftsman to help fulfill his orders. He was soon granted exclusive rights to the zipper, becoming the first designer in France to introduce the device. Among his first fashion designs was a leather golf jacket with a zipper, custom created for Edward, the Prince of Wales. Throughout France, the zipper became known as the fermeture Hermès, or Hermès fastener.
Emile-Maurice eventually bought out his brother Adolphe, becoming the sole head of Hermès. Emile-Maurice ushered in a new era for the brand with the addition of accessories and clothing collections. He’s also recognized for launching the brand’s first line of handbags for women in 1922. Under Emile- Maurice’s leadership, Hermès introduced the ‘Sac à dépêches,’ better known as the Kelly bag, as well as their treasured Hermès carrés (square scarves).
A short time later in the 1930s, Hermès expanded even further into the world of fine watchmaking. They had a brief partnership with Swiss watchmaker, Universal Genève, before beginning to craft their own timepieces in-house. The brand’s growth steadily continued into the 1940s, with the debut of a new fragrance, and men’s silk tie collection. These products would go on to become best-sellers for Hermès.
The death of Emile-Maurice saw the ascension of the first non-descendent director of Hermès, Robert Dumas- Hermès. The son-in-law of founder Thierry Hermès, Robert Dumas attached the Hermès name to his own, and committed himself to continuing the brand’s legacy. It was during his tenure that the brand’s signature horse and carriage logo was first created. It was also under his leadership that the Hermès Sac-a-Depeches got its big break, after it was famously photographed in Life Magazine on the arm of Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco. The photo quickly spread worldwide, prompting Hermès to later rename the bag after the princess.
Jean-Louis Dumas, son of Robert Dumas, took charge of Hermès in 1978. He immediately set out to revamp the brand, refining their repertoire to include three main categories: leather goods, silk scarves, and ready-to-wear collections. Jean-Louis elected to readopt the retailer’s original name, dropping “brothers” from the official title. Following the success of the Constance and Kelly, Jean-Louis designed a third handbag that would become nearly synonymous with the Hermès brand, known as the Birkin.
Today, Hermès is ran by a close companion of Jean-Louis, as well as his own son, Pierre-Alexis Dumas.
The Hermès Logo
Though Hermès was founded nearly two centuries ago, it didn’t adopt its legendary logo until the early 1950s. The logo features a Duc carriage and horse, harkening back to the brand’s equestrian roots. The design was said to be inspired by an Alfred de Dreux painting, “Le Duc Attele, Groom a L’Attente” (“Hitched Carriage, Waiting Groom”).
As for those eye-catching orange boxes, they’re actually the result of a supply shortage after World War II. Hermès was forced to ditch their original cream colored boxes in exchange for orange ones. The brand even won a packaging Oscar in 1994 for their distinctly designed boxes.
Iconic Hermès Handbags
Hermès is probably best recognized for their ultra-exclusive handbags, namely the Birkin and Kelly. Inspired by starlets Jane Birkin and Grace Kelly, Hermès handbags have long been considered a symbol of elite status, and an obscure luxury for the average consumer. Restricted supplies and out-of-this-world prices keep these bags in high demand, available only to those prepared to spend a small fortune.
What makes the Hermès Birkin or Kelly so special, you may ask? It’s all in the level of quality and craftsmanship. All Hermès handbag are handmade by a single artisan, with some bags taking up to 48 hours to complete. The brand believes this strategy aids in preserving the bag’s value and inimitableness. This is undoubtedly a time consuming process, which explains why some customers are willing to wait six months to a year to see one of these signature bags delivered to their doorstep.
In addition to their unrivaled artistry, Hermès handbags are designed using top-of-the-line leathers like togo, ostrich, and alligator. Each is equipped with sturdy hardware fixed to the bag by a process called pearling, keeping it firmly in place forever. Once a bag is completed, each detail is thoroughly inspected to ensure it meets Hermès standards. With such excellent quality control and attention to detail, it’s no wonder Hermès has dominated the luxury handbag market for more than a century.
Hermès Brand Identity
Former Hermès CEO Jean-Louis Dumas was once quoted saying, “We don’t have a policy of image, we have a policy of product.” Hermès is strongly committed to the quality of the products they produce, a fact which sets them a step above the rest in the realm of luxury fashion retailers. Each product bearing the brand’s name is an emblem of artisanship, reflecting the hard work that went into making it. Hermès has long rejected the idea of large scale manufacturing, creating nearly all of their products in small French workshops known as Ateliers Hermès. In the case of their famed silk scarves, the brand even goes as far as producing its own silk material on Hermès farms in Brazil. Talk about hands-on quality control!
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