Blast from the past...

  1. I found this Times article in my files... Amazing how little and how much (the prices!) have changed since December 1987. Love Dumas-Hermes' quote at the very end.


    December 20, 1987
    MODERN MERCHANT: Jean-Louis Dumas-Hermes; Dressing Hermes for Success

    LEAD: IT is early evening on one of the last Saturdays before Christmas, and customers at the Hermes shop here on the rue Faubourg St. Honore are standing two and three deep at the scarf counter. Salesgirls in dark blazers tirelessly unfurl square after square of brilliantly colored silk, patterned with peonies, toucans, and bold geometric shapes.
    IT is early evening on one of the last Saturdays before Christmas, and customers at the Hermes shop here on the rue Faubourg St. Honore are standing two and three deep at the scarf counter. Salesgirls in dark blazers tirelessly unfurl square after square of brilliantly colored silk, patterned with peonies, toucans, and bold geometric shapes.
    The crowd in the wood-panelled shop, which sells everything from hunting attire and luggage to fragrances and silk ties, is the usual holiday mix - mostly Parisian, with fewer of the usual American and Japanese tourists.

    But if the clientele looks younger and decidedly more chic than it did a decade ago, and if the crowd looks bigger, much of the credit goes to one man: Jean-Louis Dumas-Hermes.

    Since becoming chairman 10 years ago, Mr. Dumas-Hermes, a fifth-generation member of the family that founded the company in 1837, has worked to give Hermes (pronounced air-MEZ) a younger image, so that its goods would appeal to say, Lady Di, as much as to the Queen Mother.

    Now the company's products are recognized status symbols. Its silk scarf, which sells for $140 in the United States, and its four-in-hand silk tie at $65, adorn yuppies of all nations.

    ''He revolutionized the market for Hermes by repositioning the products without changing the quality,'' said Stanley Marcus, ex-chairman emeritus of Neiman-Marcus, which was among the first to carry Hermes merchandise in America after World War II.
    Indeed, by restructuring, bringing in outsiders and commissioning bolder ads, the 49-year-old chairman not only rejuvenated the image of Hermes, he invigorated sales. Worldwide sales this year at the privately held company are expected to hit $200 million, up from $50 million in 1978.

    SWEEPING into the Paris store, a space-age carbon fiber briefcase in one hand, Mr. Dumas-Hermes, just back from a store opening in San Francisco, addressed the salespeople by name and asked excitedly, but discreetly, how many scarves have been sold.

    Hermes says its sells a silk square every 20 seconds. The record for a single day on rue Faubourg St. Honore, the flagship store of its 210 shops and outlets, is 1,200. On this day it is 886.

    Upstairs in his office, a sanctuary that adjoins a roof garden filled with fruit trees, the dapper chairman talked about tradition and transformation at his 150-year-old company.
    Founded as a harness-making business by Thierry Hermes, the great-great grandfather of Mr. Dumas-Hermes, the company got into travel specialties and golf accessories when the founder's grandson, Emile-Maurice, took control in the 1920's.
    Emile-Maurice also opened the first branch stores in French resort towns, further linking the Hermes name with luxury and leisure. The retail outlet on rue Faubourg St. Honore opened in 1922.

    Surrounded by this lore, Mr. Dumas-Hermes said in his lightly-accented English, he got his Hermes education unconsciously: ''We would all gather around the lunch table every day and my father would talk about 'that-beautiful-silk-scarf-please-don't-eat-with-your-hands.' That sort of thing.''

    As a young man in Paris, his ambition was to travel, his avocation was jazz. So in the 1950's, after studying political science and law, he began a brief career as a drummer, a job that took him to Scandinavia and Czechoslovakia. ''I was a brilliant impresario,'' he joked, improvising on imaginary drums as he spoke. ''We each got 50 francs a night.''
    He later traveled through Iran and was a contributing editor to the Pakistan Times. In 1961, he took his compulsory officer training in Algeria. All the while, he gently resisted the pull of Hermes. ''I had nothing against it,'' he said. ''I just had another life.''
    In the early 1960's, when his father, Robert Dumas, then company president, told him it was time to come home to Hermes, he agreed. But first he spent a year in New York, in the Bloomingdale's buyer training program. (His wife, Rena, whom he married in 1962, got a job in a New York architecture firm.) It was at Bloomingdale's, Mr. Dumas-Hermes says, that he ''discovered the importance of being a merchant.'' At home, at Hermes, he said, ''we were proud to sell, but far more proud to produce.''

    When he finally arrived at Hermes in 1964, he says, his first lesson was in humility. His father sent him to the Drouot antiques auctions to choose prints for scarf designs, but not one of his selections was ever used by the designers at Hermes.

    He was more successful as head of manufacturing, and by 1971 was managing director. Seven years later, the family voted him chairman.

    His ascendancy surprised him, he says. He is, after all, the fourth, not the first, child in his family. He never assumed things would automatically go his way at the house of Hermes, where the family was not obliged to be part of the company. His own son and daughter, he adds, have no plans to join Hermes. ''Look, we're not the Fendi sisters,'' he said, referring to the Italian family that has built a leather and fur dynasty.

    AS the new chairman at a time when business was slow, Mr. Dumas-Hermes began to tinker with structure. He set up a holding company and developed divisions for fragrances, watches and manufacturing.

    More recently, he reclaimed United States distribution rights for the fragrances from Beecham Products, and signed an agreement with Italian manufacturer Benetton to produce its perfumes.

    He also looked for outside talent. Several family members still hold upper-level positions at Hermes: A sister-in-law, Michele Dumas, is managing director; two cousins, Patrick Guerrand and Bertrand Puesch, are vice chairmen; his wife, architect Rena Dumas, designs the stores.

    But while Mr. Dumas-Hermes appreciates this family legacy, his aim is to run an effective organization. ''The family brings a certain spirit to the business, but it doesn't mean they are entitled to do something,'' he said. ''We try to get the best we can for the job.''
    For Mr. Dumas-Hermes, that has meant hiring non-family members, among them Gilles du Val, the marketing director, and local managers to direct foreign markets. In the United States, the local talent is Chrysler Fisher, who was hired away from Neiman-Marcus in the early 1980's to head up American operations.

    Under Mr. Fisher, Hermes's American operations started a direct marketing program that includes mail order, 800-numbers and ''how-to'' scarf and tie brochures. To help generate mail-order sales, it also brings craftsmanship demonstrations to smaller American cities with no Hermes outlet. The marketing seems to work. United States sales doubled from 1985 to 1986 and now account for 12 percent of Hermes's worldwide revenues.

    Such companywide restructuring helped Hermes grow worldwide, analysts say. But Mr. Dumas-Hermes's image-polishing helped even more.

    He began looking for an updated image soon after he became chairman. ''I'm afraid we may have been a bit brutal in our assessment, when they asked for an opinion,'' said Francoise Aron, a partner at Hermes's ad agency, Eldorado, and a friend and former schoolmate of Mr. Dumas-Hermes. ''We told them straight that we all knew Hermes, but that it wasn't for anybody who was considered a trend-setter.''

    ELDORADO worked with Hermes to fix that. In 1979, the silk scarf appeared in French fashion magazines on a ''nana'' (the French equivalent of ''chick'') wearing a Lee Rider denim jacket and Hermes gold earrings. The aviator sunglasses in her pocket reflected a Parisian mansard skyline. Hermes had been jerked up to date.

    The agency, which also handles advertising for Benetton, followed up with ads featuring such company classics as the Kelly handbag done in bright green or red ostrich skin. (The original Kelly, a calfskin bag named for the late Princess Grace of Monaco, is still popular at $1,900.) And last spring, it launched a controversial campaign for the company's Bel Ami fragrance. British women's magazines were scandalized by the ads, which feature a Gustav Klimt sketch of a reclining nude, and British shops were reluctant to use the counter displays. But Hermes has stuck with its ads, and are calling the campaign a success.

    Mr. Dumas-Hermes has other goals for his company, including the doubling of sales in its apparel business. He also wants to exert more control over production and distribution by assuming ownership of certain plants the company uses.

    Just as important, Mr. Dumas-Hermes says, are the things the company will not do. It will not, for example, license the Hermes name. Nor are there plans to go public. ''We have enough money to finance our own growth,'' he said.

    Despite his company's rich history, Mr. Dumas-Hermes likes to talk about his company's place in the modern world. He mentions that there are robots in the printing plant, that the carbon fiber in his new Hermes briefcase is the same as on the exterior of France's Ariane rocket, that the new leather workrooms will be near La Villette, Paris's center for science and technology. ''I don't care about the past,'' he said. ''I am excited by a future based on the past.''
  2. $1900 for a Kelly!!! I WISH! And $140 for a scarf? It's amazing how prices have almost tripled in less than 20 years....
  3. Great article Beaumonde! Thanks.
  4. ah, inflation!!!
  5. Thanks so much -- I loved this.
  6. beaumonde, thanks for sharing!! Too bad we couldn't have those prices today. Sigh. ;)
  7. That's it - I'm DEFINITELY not selling any part of my collection. Shoot...
  8. Great read!
    I wish the prices were still like before!
    We'd all have out closets stocked!

  9. No! My god, they really are investments... I'm going to sell my flat and re-invest! :p
    marie132 likes this.
  10. Great article, thanks so much for sharing it! Can you imagine, this was written when the Birkin was only about 3 years old in the marketplace? Seems impossible, doesn't it?

    Wow those prices--inflation hasn't accounted for all of it, by any means. :wtf: Sure wish I had been able to spend $1900 on a bag when I was 17 though!!
  11. Wow, I wish I wasn't 4, but 24, in 1987 - I would have bought up all I could!
    BUT - it isn't nearly as bad as how rapidly Chanel is raising prices! Yikes!
  12. The difference is that Chanel is going to HAVE to stop someday because at some point the market just simply won't bear it--while with Hermes, unfortunately to much of their client base, the sky is the limit if they really want something.
    I mean, as lovely as Chanel's bags are, they're still basically mass-produced. Hermes really is the very last of the handmade and in some cases bespoke old fitters from France. (Of course there are smaller houses in Italy, and even April in Paris, in the US)
  13. It was so funny...there is a thread on the Chanel forum about 'if Chanel prices are too high, I'll just save for Hermes', and people got SOOOO angry if you dare mention that the CC bags are 'kind of mass produced', but compared to H in that category they really have no leg to stand on. It was a very interesting thread...

    It was interesting how many times I repeated myself throughout the thread!
  14. LOL well I do have a way of opening mouth, inserting foot so I am not surprised that my comment would tick off a good number of CC lovers! Oops. I will definitely go read that thread though; I need something to do since I can't sleep!!
  15. It was bizarre though, I felt like the Hermes warrior against the Chanel establishment, HAHAHAHA!!!!!

    yes people are very overprotective of their Chanel but really when you get down to it they can't argue that H is crafted much better. That, however, is not saying Chanel is crap - which is how people seem to take it. In the end they serve different purposes so I'm not sure why people would compare them in the first place, other than that they are considered luxury companies.