Hermès (Est. 1837 – ) In what may be one of the most startling evolutions in the jewelry and watch trades, the Hermès Fashion House was originally established as a harness making shop in Paris. Its founder, Thierry Hermès (1801 – 1878) intended to create the finest harnesses and bridles for the carriage trade.
Thierry Hermès was born in Krefeld, Germany. His father was French and his mother German. He was named after his father. After he lost his entire family to disease and war, he moved to France in 1821.
He married Christine Pétronille Pierrart (1805-1896). Their only child was their son, Charles-Emile, who moved the business to 24 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, where it remains to this day.
In 1855, the company won first prize in its class at the 1855 Paris Exposition. Recognized again in 1867, the company won another First Prize at the Exposition Universelle. The product line was expanded during the late 1870’s by Thierry’s son and successor, Charles-Emile Hermès (1835 – 1919) to include the manufacture of saddles.
Charles-Emile and his wife had two sons, Adolphe and Emile-Maurice, who, following their father’s retirement, assumed oversight of the company and chose to re-name it, Hermès Frères. By this time they were selling saddles to customers as far away as Russia and Asia. The company catered to the elite of Europe, North Africa, Russia, Asia, and the Americas.
In 1900, the firm offered the Haut à Courroies bag, specially designed so riders could carry their saddles with them. Emile-Maurice also became the first to introduce the zipper in France and obtained exclusive rights to its use in leather clothing and accessories. Because of its exclusive rights arrangement, the zipper became known in France as the fermeture Hermès (the Hermès fastener). In 1918, Hermès introduced the first leather golf jacket with a zipper that it made for Edward, Prince of Wales.
Eventually Adolphe came to believe that the company had a limited future in the era of the horseless carriage and left Emile to run the business on his own. In 1922 the company introduced its first handbags and, in 1924, secured a foothold in the United States and opened additional shops in France.
The firm’s first women’s fashion apparel collection was introduced in Paris in 1929. Throughout the 1920s when he was the sole head of the firm, Emile-Maurice added an accessory collection and a clothing collection.
Emile had four daughters (one of whom died in 1920). He groomed his three sons-in-law (Robert Dumas, Jean-René Guerrand and Francis Puech) as business partners. It’s the reason why no one now involved in the family business bears the Hermès name. It is these descendants; however – the fifth and sixth generations – who control the company today.
During the 1930s, Hermès introduced some of its most recognized original goods including the leather Sac à dépêches. First offered in 1935, it was renamed the Kelly Bag in 1956. The new name derived from a Life Magazine photo of Grace Kelly, (recently the new Princess of Monaco) that showed her carrying the Sac à dépêches bag. It was said that she held it in front of her to hide her pregnancy and the public began to call it the Kelly Bag. The name was subsequently adopted by Hermès and the bag became hugely popular.
Also introduced during the 30’s (1937) were the Hermès carrés (scarves) which is probably the firm’s most well-known fashion accessory that is produced in a dedicated scarf factory.
In 1938, the firm created and introduced the Chaîne d’ancre bracelet. Also beginning in the mid-1930s, Hermès employed the Swiss watchmaker Universal Genève as the brand’s first and exclusive designer of timepieces. The collaboration resulted in a line of men’s wrist chronographs that were manufactured in 18K gold or stainless steel. The relationship was also responsible for producing a line of women’s art deco cuff watches in 18K gold, steel or platinum.
Both the male and the female lines contained dials signed either as “Hermès” or “Hermès Universal Genève,” while the watch movements were signed “Universal Genève S.A.”. The Hermès/Universal partnership lasted until the 1950s.
Through the 1940’s and 50’s, more new products were released including silk ties in 1946 and perfume in 1949. After Emile Maurice died in 1951, Robert Dumas-Hermès (1898–1978) succeeded him.
Robert Dumas worked closely with his brother-in-law Jean-René Guerrand. Robert became the first person not directly descended from Thierry Hermès to lead the company since his connection to the family was through marriage. To counter this, he incorporated the Hermès name into his own and became Robert Dumas-Hermès.
Robert was responsible for the introduction of the Hermès Tie, its Beach towel and perfumes. He also created original jewelry designs.
The company acquired its trademark horse logo and produced its signature orange boxes in the early 1950s. Dumas further introduced original handbags, jewelry, and accessories and was particularly interested in design possibilities with the silk scarves.
The perfume business became a subsidiary in 1961 around the same time the company introduced the Calèche scent, named after a hooded four-wheeled horse carriage known since the 18th century. The Company placed its logo on the decanter.
The 1970s brought a vast international expansion with shops opening across the United States, Japan and Europe. Despite the company’s apparent success in the 70’s, Hermès began to lose its luster compared to its competitors.
Some industry observers have suggested that the cause of the slide was Hermès’s insistence on the exclusive use of natural materials for its products unlike other companies that were utilizing new man-made materials. Astonishingly, during a two-week lapse in orders, the Hermès workrooms were silent.
Jean-Louis Dumas, the son of Robert Dumas-Hermès, became chairman in 1978 and had the firm concentrate on silk, leather goods and, ready-to-wear, adding these new product groups to the firm’s list of goods made in traditional techniques.
Unlike his father, Jean-Louis was related to the Hermès family line through hit mother. Travelling extensively and marrying Rena Greforiadès, he entered the buyer-training program at Bloomingdale’s. He joined the family firm in 1964 and was instrumental in turning it around.
Jean-Louis brought in designers Eric Bergère and Bernard Sanz to revamp the apparel collection and add unusual entries. These included the python motorcycle jackets and ostrich-skin jeans.
In 1979, Jean-Louis launched an advertising campaign featuring a young, denim-clad woman wearing a Hermès scarf. The purpose was to introduce the Hermès brand to a new set of customers.
As one fashion-sector observer noted, “Much of what bears the still-discreet Hermès label changed from the object of an old person’s nostalgia to the subject of young peoples’ dreams.” However, Dumas’ change-of-image sparked outrage both inside and outside the firm.
Also in the 1970s, the watch subsidiary, La Montre Hermès, was established in Bienne, Switzerland. Throughout the 1980s, Dumas strengthened the company’s hold on its suppliers resulting in Hermès gaining stakes in prominent French glassware, silverware, and acquiring tableware manufacturers such as Puiforcat, St. Louis, and Périgord. By 1990, annual sales had increased to US$460 million mainly due to Dumas’ strategies.
During the 1990s, Hermès continued to expand their product lines venturing successfully into crystal and porcelain tableware. In 1995, the Hermès family still owned 80% of the company stock, placing the entire family on the Forbes list of billionaires. By 2008 Hermes had 14 divisions providing a wide spectrum of products, including menswear, perfume, women’s fashion, footwear and jewelry.
After 28 years as head of the firm, Jean-Louis Dumas-Hermès retired in January 2006. He died in 2010 after a long illness. He is remembered for his charm and as one of Europe’s great experts on luxury.
Patrick Thomas, who had joined the company in 1989 and who had worked with Jean-as the co-CEO beginning in 2005, replaced him. Thomas became the first person without any Hermès connections to head the company.
Jean-Louis’s son Pierre-Alexis Dumas is the current artistic director. The company now has over 20 boutiques in the United States and continues to produce jewelry to this day.
For years, Hermès partnered with Tuareg tribesmen to produce silver jewelry. The Saharan nomads’ traditional motifs are often mirrored in various Hermès products, including its scarves.
In 2015, Hermès partnered with Apple to produce Apple Watch Hermès, combining Apple’s smartwatch with Hermès specially crafted single tour, double tour and cuff watch bands.
Another relatively recent introduction is the Hermes Clic Clac H bracelet. The bracelets are elegant, timeless, and instantly make a statement and come in three thicknesses. Narrow is half an inch, Wide is one inch, Extra Wide is one and a half inches thick.
Each thickness produces a different effect. The narrow has a dainty appeal to suit any wrist, no matter how small. The extra wide H bracelet is very striking and bold.
Clic Clac bracelets are gold-plated or palladium-plated for a silver tone. Hermès has produced this bracelet in different enamel colors with their own unique appeal. As a result, some Hermès fans collect many of the Clic Clac bracelets. The bracelets look lovely alone and can be worn with any outfit.
In addition, the bracelets can be stacked and worn with almost any other bracelet. When paired with other bangles it makes the others look more expensive than what they may be. The Clic Clac is truly a versatile piece of jewelry.
Because Hermès creates some highly coveted items, many available items can be counterfeits. In March 2015, The Loupe published an article about how to spot fake Hermès bracelets:
“1. If the item comes with the original packaging, make to get a good look. Hermès is quality in all aspects, including the iconic orange boxes the product comes in. The materials are of high quality just like the product within. Compare the orange color to verified packaging. Look at the logo to make sure it is clear and aligned. The box is pebbled, so if the box appears smooth, then the packaging is fake. Even so, the packaging could be authentic, but the product fake.
2. Made in Austria/France
Until a few years ago, Hermès enamels were manufactured only in Austria and stamped accordingly. In recent years, the production moved to France. Pay attention to how old the bracelet is and make sure the stamp matches. If the item is listed as vintage, but stamped as being made in France, then the item is likely fake. Now, some enamels are made in France and others made in Austria.
3. Dimensions and Weight
Fakes often have different dimensions, likely smaller, than the authentic pieces. Many fakes are often light, indicating that the material used is fake.
The company is very attached to its old-fashioned business model rejecting mass production, assembly lines, and mechanization. Hermès goods are almost entirely produced in France (by hand) in middle-sized workshops known as, “Ateliers Hermès.”
The emphasis there is on quality manufacturing and Hermès claims most items are fabricated from beginning to end by only one person. The company says it guarantees the quality and uniqueness of Hermès products.