Last Updated May 24, 2017
Hermès International S.A., Hermes of Paris, or simply Hermès is a French high fashion luxury goods manufacturer established in 1837, today specializing in leather, lifestyle accessories, home furnishings, perfumery, jewellery, watches and ready-to-wear. Its logo, since the 1950s, is of a Duc carriage with horse. Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski is the creative director.
The designers throughout the company's history have included Lola Prusac, Jacques Delahaye, Catherine de Karolyi, Monsieur Levaillant, Nicole de Vesian, Eric Bergère, Claude Brouet, Tan Giudicelli, Marc Audibet, Mariot Chane, Martin Margiela, Jean Paul Gaultier, Christophe Lemaire, Véronique Nichanian (current menswear designer), Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski.
Despite the company's apparent success in the 1970s, exemplified by multiple shops being established worldwide, Hermès began to fall, compared to competitors. Some industry observers have assigned the cause to Hermès'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 Hermès workrooms were silent. The re-rising of Hermes fragrances endeavors in the marketplace was probably due to the public's increasing paradigm shift of back to things 'natural,' as opposed to artificial, a point that undoubtedly contributed to reestablishing Hermes fragrances as a major player in the fragrances marketplace.
Jean-Louis Dumas, the son of Robert Dumas-Hermès, 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 Hermès maternally. Travelling extensively and marrying Rena Greforiadès, 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 Bergère 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 Hermès 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 Hermès scarf. The purpose was to introduce the Hermès brand to a new set of consumers. 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's change-of-image gesture created outrage both within and outside of the firm.Also in the 1970s, the watch subsidiary, La Montre Hermès, was established in Bienne, Switzerland. Then, throughout the 1980s, Dumas strengthened the company's hold on its suppliers, resulting in Hermès's gaining great stakes in prominent French glassware, silverware acquiring venerable tableware manufacturers such as Puiforcat, St. Louis, and Périgord.
From the 1980s, tableware became a strong segment of the firm. And, overall, the collection of Hermès goods expanded in 1990 to include over 30,000 pieces. New materials used in the collection included porcelain and crystal.
Hermès relocated its workshops and design studios to Pantin, just outside Paris. By June 1993 and possibly a grave mistake, Hermès 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 Hermès 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 Hermès 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, Hermès 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, Hermès 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 rêver (make us dream), producing throughout the period artistically atypical orders.
In 2000, the first John Lobb footwear store was opened in In 2003, iconoclastic Margiela left Hermès, 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 Frédéric Dumas-Hermès 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-Hermès to head the company. Jean-Louis's son Pierre-Alexis Dumas is the artistic director.
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