Hermès: The Journey Lives On

hermes vintage 29cm white swift jige pm clutch

In a previous blog, we talked about the proud history of Hermès International S.A., also known as Hermès Paris. Today, we are going to continue the journey and show you how this international fashion house has grown today.

After the Kelly Bag

Hermès launched the popular Kelly Bag, known initially as Sac à Dépêches, in 1935. Other milestones during this time include the launch of the Hermès silk scarf in 1937. Another notable milestone is the launch of the Chaine d’ancre bracelet, and the classic collection is joined by the riding jacket and riding outfit in 1938. Designers deviated from the norm by getting inspiration from art, books, and paintings of the era.

Hermès continued to grow in the year 1950 as the brand started venturing into scents. The perfume division of the brand was established, and the public welcomed their offerings. The company also started using its Duc-carriage-with-horse logo based on the painting of Alfred de Dreux. This was also the time when the iconic orange paper boxes were first brought to life.

Hermès head honcho Emile-Maurice passed away in 1951. His son-in-law, Robert Dumas Hermes, together with perfumer Jean Rene Guerrand, took over the company. Robert is the husband of Jacqueline Hermes and perfumer Jean Rene Guerrand is the husband of Aline Hermes. Both Aline and Jacqueline are great-granddaughters of the forefather of the Hermès empire, Thierry Hermes. At this point, the company has expanded to belts, men and women’s sportswear, riding gloves, and travel trunks.

In 1956, the powerful brand grew even more recognizable when Hollywood actress and Monaco princess, Grace Kelly, was seen carrying a crocodile Sac à Dépêches. Her picture with the iconic bag was published in newspapers and magazines. It was rumored that Kelly used the bag to hide her pregnant belly. Soon, many women went to Hermès stores asking for the “Kelly bag”. As a result, Hermès renamed its Sac à Dépêches to Kelly. It became one of the most recognizable designs of the brand to this very day.

The great decline and revamping

However, it wasn’t always smooth sailing for Hermès. While the brand was so successful in the 1970s, it also experienced a decline in sales. Some attribute the decline to the brand’s exclusive use of natural materials, in comparison with brands that were using man-made or synthetic products. There was a two-week lapse in orders, during which the Hermès workrooms were ominously silenced.

Despite this, there was a success in the company’s fragrances, as the market flip-flopped to natural products in comparison with artificial products. Hermès became a major player in the fragrance industry. This was when new leadership stepped in. In 1978, Jean-Louis Dumas, the great-great-great-grandson of Thierry Hermes, took over the company. Under his tutelage, the brand purchased the building next to it to expand its flagship offices in Paris.

Jean-Louis focused on silk, leather goods, and ready-to-wear items. He traveled extensively and entered the buyer-training program at Bloomingdale’s, one of New York’s more prominent department stores.  

He brought in new designers to revamp the apparel collection, with the help of designers Bernard Sanz and Eric Bergère. These new designers created new entries that deviated from the classic leather and crocodile skin favored by the brand before. Python motorcycle jackets and ostrich-skin jeans became part of the Hermès lineup.

In 1979, Jean-Louis launched an ad campaign that showed a young woman wearing denim and an Hermès scarf. This then attracted a new target market for Hermès: young people who dreamed of owning classic items.

Hermes silk scarf

In 1978, the firm’s annual sales were just at $50 million. By 1990, Hermès is bringing in $460 million. This large jump in sales is mostly attributed to Jean-Louis’ ingenuity.

img c/o pexels

Continued growth

From then on, the brand continued to grow. In 1990, the brand had 30,000 items in its overall collection. It harnessed porcelain and crystal for its tableware division. Next, it relocated its design studios and workshops to Pantin.

Meanwhile, the iconic Birkin bag was introduced in 1981. As stories go, British actress Jane Birkin found herself sitting next to Jean-Louis in a plane. Birkin told Jean-Louis that she couldn’t find a leather weekend bag she liked, and in response, Jean-Louis created a black leather bag for her. Today, the Birkin bag has become a status symbol, with celebrities and serious bag collectors paying hefty sums just to get their hands on a piece.

On June 1993, the company went public on the Paris Bourse to sell some of its equity. Jean-Louis believed that this would lessen family tensions by allowing members to liquidate their holdings without having to fight among themselves. However, the company still owns 80% of the Hermès stocks, putting them on the Forbes list of billionaires.

Another notable change is that Jean-Louis decreased the number of franchises from 250 to 200 to better control its sales. Next, company-owned stores were increased from 60 to 100. Over the years, the company would continue to close down franchises and open company-owned stores abroad.

In 2003, Jean-Louis Dumas retired. Patrick Thomas became the first non-family member to head the company. In 2012, Axel Dumas, a sixth generation member of the Hermès family, is named CEO of the company.

Hermès today

Today, Hermès is recognized in the world as one of the leading luxury brands. They sell at least one silk scarf every 20 seconds, thereby making Jean-Louis Dumas’ vision of targeting the younger market a reality. Another interesting fact is that the Birkin bag has a six years-waiting list. This is very surprising, considering that the bag is worth anywhere from $11,900 to $300,000.

The company now has 240 stores worldwide, over 140 stores more than what it has in the 1990s. Its flagship store is located on Madison Avenue. Numerous celebrities are fond members of the Hermès clientele, including Victoria Beckham, Kim Kardashian, Madonna, and Julianne Moore.

Yet if there’s one thing to be learned from Hermès’ rich history, it is that quality is always better

than quantity. Given the brand’s current rank as one of the best fashion houses, we can only expect even greater things in the future.

Thinking of selling or buying an Hermès statement piece?

Hermès is a staple to the rich and famous. If you are looking to add a classic piece to your collection or are planning to let go of some of your pre-loved Hermès possessions, Biltmore offers the ultimate upscale collateral lending or outright selling of designer handbags. For more information, contact us at 480-991-5626 (Scottsdale) or 480-705-5626 (Chandler).