January 5, 2012

Hermes: A Short History

The company has the most distinctive orange colour signatures in packaging boxes. Those in the know, sigh for it. And those people range extensively from a British queen to a Parisian housewife, even a freshgrad like me! *cough*.

"Air-mez"— the messenger god with winged sandals. Mischievous, witty, and ingenious Hermès. First established by the Frenchman Thierry Hermès in 1837, the leather houseshop has embossed its name into fashion industry for eternity. Who can ever predict that a single orphan with the love of perfection may build a company that lasts for 6 generations and a worldwide chain?

It's all started with a leatherwork in horse harnesses for carriages. The business is built on the strength of a stitch, and even till now, Hermès is renown for their superior stitching quality done by hands. The saddle stitch uses two needles working on two waxed linen threads in tensile opposition. It is a handsome stitch, and when done properly will never come loose.

Custom saddlery was added in the business later on in the 19th century, together with the infamous Hermès institution: the wait. If you've ever wanted to buy a Birkin, you'll know how easy it is to obtain your dream baby. Handstitched perfection cannot be rushed, and if you consider how high the demand for a Birkin is, the waitlist (I prefer to call it delayed gratification) makes a perfect sense. One Birkin takes 18-25 hours to make, and the workrooms can only produce about five or so each week. Other bags, however, can be readily available if you're lucky and not as picky.

In the past, royal coronations were sometimes postponed until the exquisite Hermès fittings for the carriage and the guard had arrived. Wow!

The family business relies considerably on its luxury leatherwork. Though Hermès is grouped with other luxury brands, it is unimaginably higher apart, and it is more costly. Dumas himself refuses the term "luxury," disliking its arrogance, its hint of decadence. He preferred the word "refinement."

"We don't have a policy of image, we have a policy of product."  - Dumas, the fifth generation.

It does not boast, does not need to use celebrities in advertising, does not license its name, does not let imperfect work leave the atelier (imperfect work is destroyed), does not get its head turned by trends. What it does do—Dumas's "policy of product"—is create necessary objects made from the most beautiful materials on earth. Each is so intelligently designed and deeply well made it transcends fashion, which is good for customers because the pieces last for generations. If you buy it now, chances are your granddaughters will still love its perennial beauty.

Timeless best describe the company's culture. Retired workers don't leave the company. They join its Club des Anciens ("the ancients") which meets for monthly lunches and yearly trips. They serve as a living library of company history and wisdom. The ancients are as much Hermès as the Hermès family members, who even with advanced degrees in other fields may find themselves drawn back to their native ground of leather, silk, and the saddle stitch.

"We do it the way the grandfathers of our grandfathers did"

Sourced from Laura Jacobs in Vanity Fair: From Hermès to Eternity
Video from Hermès YouTube.