Hermes in print

Tyler_JP

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Feb 25, 2016
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From a piece about iconic handbags and the fabulous women who inspired them...
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MSimis

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May 2, 2007
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Riding Hermès to Record Revenue​

As Hermès opens its biggest U.S. store to date, family scion and CEO Axel Dumas reveals what makes the brand tick.​

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“Overall, am I amazed, or can we do better? Is it risky enough?” Axel Dumas, Hermès CEO, says he asks himself during product reviews. Here, Dumas pictured in the saddlery at the Hermès headquarters in Paris.


By Alexandra Marshall | Photography by Hugues Laurent for WSJ. Magazine
Sept. 15, 2022 8:30 am ET


Back when Axel Dumas was in charge of retail operations for Hermès in France, starting in 2005, one of his tasks was to pay a visit to all the company’s stores. “My goal was never to get the address [before I went],” says Dumas, now CEO of the family-owned brand, which was founded in 1837, six generations of his family ago. “My theory was that if we have the right location, I’ll be able to find it by feeling.” He’d go to the center of whichever town was on his list that day and follow his nose, which is aquiline and adds to the resemblance he bears to François Truffaut’s New Wave muse Jean-Pierre Léaud. “I’d look for a nice area, where people were working. It was easy.”

The brick-and-mortar shopping scene has been panicky for years, as e-commerce nibbles at its foundations, malls crater and department stores try to dig themselves out of bankruptcy. Stores are boring, the conventional wisdom says. Multinationals like the Gap and Sephora roll out techy gimmicks like VR dressing rooms and virtual makeup assistants. If there is a buoy of good news bobbing above a pessimistic industry surface, it is Hermès’s orange box. Since the middle of the 2010s, as headlines have trumpeted “the retail apocalypse,” and as the fast-approaching metaverse threatens to become a dematerialized shopping mall, Hermès has leaned into physical stores.

Via teleconference, his suit jacket buttoned while Paris emerges from a heat wave, Dumas laughs when I tell him that I’ve been barraged by logo-stamped press releases of renovations and openings. To name but a few in the past two years, there are new boutiques in Osaka; Stockholm; Madrid; Austin, Texas; and Doha, Qatar, and expanded ones in Istanbul; Manila; Dailan, China; and Short Hills, New Jersey. A fourth store opened in Florida, while the brand’s international airport presence, which Hermès was early to establish, remains muscular.
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Hermès Apple Watch, $1,399, and Hermès scarf, $800, Hermes.com.PHOTO: COURTESY OF HERMES

“You’d be surprised to know that when I joined [as CEO in 2013], we had maybe the same number of stores,” Dumas says. “I think we’re even down six. What we’ve done is to open bigger ones in better places, where we can show all the métiers,” as Hermès calls its 16 product categories, which include saddlery, men’s and women’s ready-to-wear, silk, leather, jewelry, homewares and, most recently, beauty. Even now that Hermès has become a multibillion-dollar company, there is no corporate team dedicated to crunching data before store locations are chosen. “Mostly it’s done by intuition,” says Dumas, 52. “We try to find a location on the sunny side of the street and a complicated building where there is character.”

The splashiest example of its new-old retail logic, and one of its most complicated buildings to date, is Hermès’s new flagship at 706 Madison Avenue in New York City, which broke ground in 2020. It will open its doors in early October. (The current Madison Avenue stores will close.) The structure combines three Upper East Side buildings with landmark facades into one. It was designed with RDAI, the architecture firm founded in 1972 by Rena Dumas, wife of Hermès’s former artistic director and CEO Jean-Louis Dumas and the mother of Hermès’s current artistic director, Pierre-Alexis Dumas (Axel’s first cousin).
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Men’s looks from the fall/winter 2022 show.PHOTO: FILIPPO FIOR

Inside, the space is expansive and plush, with cinematic architectural details like sweeping arches and an extra-wide staircase made out of Portuguese limestone that joins the four floors. The ground floor is for makeup and perfume, accessories, costume jewelry, silk and men’s leather items—entry-level categories for many, and popular ones. You work your way up to get fancier and more specialized, with men’s made-to-measure, homewares, women’s ready-to-wear, shoes, equestrian gear, high jewelry and watches, and you finish with leather at the top—still the jewel in Hermès’s crown, responsible for almost half of its annual sales.

As he has for more prominent stores in the past, Pierre-Alexis Dumas has selected artwork and objects from the company’s in-house museum in Paris. There will be talks and presentations, and a small speakeasy that serves champagne, coffee and a signature cocktail. (The cocktail was still in development at press time, but it is unlikely to be orange. Too gimmicky.) There are VIP rooms and spacious dressing rooms. For the first time, the store team includes a concierge post. This has been filled by Casey Legler, who previously worked in the front of house at Le Coucou in Manhattan and Blue Hill at Stone Barns upstate.

There are plans to add another New York store in 2026, in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood (a pop-up will open there next year). But if Hermès could survive the transition to the automobile, from which came the brand’s turn to luggage and silks, there is reason to believe it can even find its footing via the L train.
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Hermès CEO Axel Dumas.

Dumas was 42 when he was named CEO of the publicly traded but family-controlled company, and he has overseen its most explosive period of growth. In 2013, revenue was $5.2 billion; in 2021, it had nearly doubled to $10.2 billion. Shares, which now trade at around $1,400, have quintupled in value. Outside of the eight years he spent working for BNP Paribas in China and New York, his entire professional career has been at Hermès, where he started as a financial auditor in 2003. His posts since those early days included director of fine jewelry and head of leather and saddlery, which was Dumas’s job when Hermès started to wage its biggest battle, against a suspected hostile takeover by LVMH. The Guerrand, Puech and Dumas families, offspring of Émile Hermès, a grandson of the founder, combined to establish a holding company that controls 54.3 percent of the company, which no family member can sell to outside buyers for decades. (LVMH agreed to distribute its stake in Hermès to its shareholders, and it paid a $10.6 million fine for skirting reporting rules in its acquisition of shares, though the conglomerate maintained that it had not broken any regulations.) Soon after this initiative began, Dumas was promoted to COO, reporting to then-CEO Patrick Thomas. While Thomas was the first person outside the family to hold the CEO position after the death of Jean-Louis Dumas, there is no predetermined order of succession for family members. I ask Dumas, who comes across as a bit bashful despite a taste for natty suits, if the executive committee knew he was a corporate killer. “Kindness is not a synonym for weakness,” he says. “Just this year, we renewed the shareholder arrangement for 10 extra years, so we have 20 years ahead of us. The only way to renew it was with unanimity. So 100 people have again relinquished their rights to sell shares, which is touching. It’s about commitment and knowing what you want to achieve.”
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Women’s styles from the fall/winter 2022 show.PHOTO: FILIPPO FIOR

Dumas insists that Hermès is a collective; his rhetoric around the company mirrors that of his cousin Pierre-Alexis, who refers to himself as a steward despite making his own significant contributions to the house. Pierre-Alexis has held the top creative post at the company since 2005 and has a seat on the board of directors, almost unheard of in the fashion world. He created the Fondation d’Entreprise Hermès, which partners with contemporary artists worldwide, researches sustainability and promotes education. (In 2021 a pilot program on permaculture was rolled out to six middle schools.) Craftsmanship is revered at Hermès, and while there is an in-house tradition of artistic independence, there is also a willingness to stick with what works. The quest for novelty that results in a revolving door of designers at so many legacy fashion companies doesn’t trouble the executives. Véronique Nichanian has designed menswear for over 30 years. Pierre Hardy, whom Jean-Louis Dumas hired in 1990 to design shoes, began designing costume jewelry as well in 2001 and fine and high jewelry in 2010. Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski has designed womenswear since 2014. The lead creatives collaborate too, as with the launch of makeup, which saw Hardy designing packaging, Bali Barret, the former artistic director of women’s products, selecting colors, and Christine Nagel, the head of perfume creation, crafting the scents. (Today the creative director of makeup and skin care is Gregoris Pyrpylis, formerly of Shiseido, who continues to work with Hardy and Nagel.)

“We have more than 100 designers in the company,” says Axel Dumas, “and we do final product reviews together. I don’t get a vote on color—the risk would be that I did.” He simply asks to be amazed. “Overall, am I amazed, or can we do better? Is it risky enough?”
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Hermès launched a beauty category in spring 2020. Lipstick, $72. Hermes.com. A Kelly II Sellier en Désordre handbag, $16,100, and a woman’s clog, dubbed the Calya Mule, $1,125. Hermes.com.PHOTO: STUDIO DES FLEURS

Risky doesn’t mean trendy, which is studiously avoided at Hermès. Not doing things the way other luxury houses do can mean leaving money on the table in the short term, and this might be the most unexpected thing about the company, which IPO’d in 1993. Take perfumery, which at competitors is often a license owned by a third party. Scents are cranked out at a dizzying pace, usually without input from the person designing the clothes, who is ostensibly responsible for the brand image. Hermès was rare among its peers to appoint an in-house nose, Jean-Claude Ellena, in 2004, even rarer never to have given him an assignment, but to let him create according to his own vision. (The same arrangement extends to Nagel today.) The company also owns and oversees its own production. And while perfume is a cash cow at other companies, the perfume and beauty category accounts for a mere 4 percent of Hermès’s overall business.

Leather is still king, and given the enduring passion for Birkins and Kellys, Hermès works at capacity. Waiting lists for the products are not a function of artificial scarcity, but actual scarcity, given that each bag is made start to finish by the same artisan, and skins of the appropriate quality are in short supply. Between now and 2026, Hermès will have opened five new leather production facilities in France, for a total of 24. Last year it established the École Hermès des Savoir-Faire, which grants a nationally recognized diploma as well. Hermès endeavors to produce its own skins as much as it can to ensure quality and unfettered access. It began building a fourth saltwater crocodile farm in Australia in 2020, though its production of the hides globally will not increase. (It is working on employing new materials as well, including a vegan leather made out of mushrooms, developed by the California-based startup MycoWorks, which debuted last year in the form of a travel bag.)
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Artisanal tools used at Hermès.

There is no marketing department to oversee product rollouts such as the ongoing collaboration with Apple watches. And so, instead of a simple presentation, how about a scavenger hunt in Venice? Or a poet customizing lines in celebration of lipstick in real time? How else to explain the delirious quirkiness of HermèsFit, an ephemeral exercise studio that toured New York, Tokyo and Paris, incorporating hats, scarves and shoes into bona fide weight lifting and yoga sessions, complete with a coach?

“You always need to have an idea that’s a little bit crazy,” Dumas says. “It’s people, it’s not a strategy. You need to have slightly crazy people in your company and give them the freedom to express an idea. Otherwise you can be boring or too transactional. When the end goal and the means are too aligned, you lose the spirit andthe soul.”

Hermès maintains its distinctive culture in part because it has an unusually low rate of staff turnover. (The same extends to key suppliers; the 2022 shareholders letter notes the average relationship with the house is 20 years.) Most workers become shareholders, and they all got a €3,000 cost-of-living bonus last year, too. Likely this contributes to the Universum Global rankings, which named the company the second most attractive employer for French students in 2022, after LVMH, and in the top five for executives.
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Hermès employs artisans specialized in each of 16 different métiers, or product categories.
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And yet the future is unpredictable. Even without a world in upheaval, there is the virtual universe, occupying a greater place of importance for young consumers. Where does a company of artisans find itself in a dematerialized future? Hermès was early to start e-commerce, which, in the early 2000s, felt as alien as the blockchain does today. “Blockchain technology allows you to track your supply chain and add data in a faithful way, which is interesting,” Dumas says. “NFTs as a product for sale in their own right is a trickier question. We are craftsmen, and we’re not just selling an image. But in 10 years if our clients require NFTs to accompany physical products, so they can have an avatar dressed as they are, we can think about it. I’m not sure we’d ever sell an NFT without a physical product, but in a way it won’t be up to us to decide. It will be the client.”
 

Flowerlily

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Sep 24, 2013
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Hermès Banks on Luxury Retailing With New Madison Avenue Flagship​

The 45,000-square-foot store replaces two smaller stores on the avenue.
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NEW YORK — Hermès is making a major statement about the future of brick-and-mortar retail with the long-awaited opening of its massive new Madison Avenue flagship.

After more than eight years of planning, the French fashion house is finally opening the doors to a seven-story, 45,000-square-foot monument to luxury that will undoubtedly change the face of retail on the street. From the outdoor gardens and the cavalier on horseback on the roof to the expansive assortment that includes everything from saddles and dog beds to leather goods, diamond watches, rolling suitcases and ready-to-wear and accessories for men and women, the store joins the Ginza in Tokyo as the largest in the company’s 300-plus-unit fleet.

Four of the floors, or some 20,250 square feet, are devoted to selling space and a fifth is dedicated exclusively to repairs of Hermès products as well as artisan studios. The two lower levels are offices and stockrooms.

“There is no better tribute to retail,” said Florian Craen, executive vice president of sales and distribution at Hermès International. “Not only does it offer room for all our métiers, but it also offers the opportunity for enchanted discoveries and a place to smile.”
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The store, at 706 Madison Avenue on the corner of 63rd Street, encompasses three buildings, one a former bank built in the Federalist style that dates to 1921, and two adjacent town houses that create an L-shape around the bank.

The store was designed by the Parisian architectural firm RDAI that was founded by Rena Dumas, the wife of the former chief executive officer of Hermès. It replaces the two smaller Hermès stores — one for menswear and the other for women’s — that have now been closed.

In the new location, there are two entrances on Madison Avenue. One is for the men’s store, which has been expanded from around 3,000 square feet to more than 6,000 square feet over two floors.

The other offers a preview of some of the highlights from each of the brand’s métiers. So upon entering, shoppers get a taste of the extent of the mix with scarves, jewelry, apparel, leather goods and beauty products all being offered. The main floor also features fragrances and makeup stations.

“As our stores are getting larger, it’s something we pay attention to now,” Craen said. “We’re very careful when we design our stores that there is an expression of all our métiers.”

And in addition to the products, the “extended scope of services” is also being featured with the repair department on the fifth floor that is now the main repair site in the U.S., as well as a concierge, VIP rooms in each department as well as bars.
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Throughout the store are more than 150 paintings and pieces of art including a child’s hansom cab from 1830s London on the main floor that pays tribute to both Hermès’ heritage as well as New York City cabs, Craen said. “It’s a house of many stories.”

Some of the features of the former bank building were retained, including a plaque at the rear of the main floor dedicated to the founders of the Bank of New York, including Alexander Hamilton; the original staircase; the grillwork from the former entry to the safe deposit box area, and an antique clock that is still on the wall set to 7:06.

“It’s part of American history,” Craen said.

One of the biggest changes is the significantly expanded men’s store.

“We’re really excited about bringing men’s and women’s together again; they’ve been separate since 2010,” said Robert Chavez, president and CEO of Hermès USA. “That’s going to be a dynamic change for us. The other thing that is new for us are these multiproduct displays so people get a feeling for the extent of the offering that we have.”

In the men’s department, that includes neckwear, shirts, accessories and fragrances in addition to apparel.

The back of the men’s department also showcases some of the brand’s creative offerings such as bicycles, roller skates, skateboards, boxing gloves, dog tents and other novelty items. A selection of saddles is on display here too.

“That’s where we came from,” Craen said, adding that Hermès continues to provide equipment for the best riders in the world.

The second floor is a “men’s universe,” Craen said, showcasing ready-to-wear and footwear along with watches, gloves, bags, fragrances and a made-to-measure salon where customers can create their own suits, shirts, knitwear and other products.

“The breadth of the offering has been significantly expanded,” Chavez said. “We’ve never been able to offer this much before.”

Upon climbing the Portugese limestone staircase to the second floor adjacent to the men’s store is the home area with its assortment of dishes, blankets and furniture.
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The third floor is home to a large fine jewelry and watch department. “We’re able to showcase fine jewelry like never before,” Craen said. There is also a large women’s accessories area for gloves, belts, hats and other products as well as the ready-to-wear. “No other Hermès store can present such a diversity of offering.”

The fourth floor is dedicated to leather goods and has a giant glass-fiber bas-relief wall designed from ink drawings by French artist Francois Houtin that feature American trees. A large skylight brings sun and light to the floor. The piece de resistance is a Miranda Brooks-designed roof garden that will be used to host special events and will also be open to clients.

Throughout the store are several seating areas where customers are invited to sit and relax, Craen said. There are wet bars on each floor and butler service for the first time so that shoppers can have coffee, Champagne or other beverages brought to them while they’re resting. There’s a display case on the fourth floor with a collection of leather bags from the 1920s and ‘30s on loan from the archive in Paris.

“We love to see our customers spending time here. The only reason for a store to exist today is to offer special moments that the digital world cannot offer.”

He continued: “Compared to the former stores, there is more space and more interactions with all the seating areas and private rooms.”

Although the artisan studios are currently private, Chavez said the hope is to eventually allow customers to interact with the craftsmen and see them work.

Craen said one of the primary reasons for selecting this location was not only its size but also the “characteristic of the building itself,” with its many windows that allow the light to flow in.

“It’s a very New York feeling that makes it feel more like an apartment.”

Each Hermès store is unique and designed to fit into the community in which it is located. Some are big and others are small. Craen used London as an example, saying it will soon have one of the largest units in the world as well as one of the smallest.

“We’ve always been like this,” he said, “this idea of having very different addresses matching the environment. The network is built on this juxtaposition of small stores and large stores — stores where there’s a lot of traffic and others that allow our clients to have very intimate relation with the brand.”

There are 32 stores in the U.S., Chavez said, which means there is “enormous potential to grow.” Some of the most recent additions include the 7,600-square-foot Austin, Texas, store that is not located in a luxury mall, but on South Congress Avenue, with its lively music and restaurant scene. “It’s a little bit of a renegade, but the response has been phenomenal.”

Other small stores are slated to open in Princeton’s Palmer Square, he said, as well as Aspen, Colorado, and Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York.

The company no longer has a wholesale business, except for fragrances, but sells exclusively through its own network of stores as well as online. In reporting its first-half figures at the end of July, the company said sales rose 26 percent and the company achieved record operating profits of more than 42 percent for the first time. The gains were driven by strong growth in retail in the U.S. and China and the return of tourists to Europe.

Leather goods continue to represent around half of the brand’s sales and in the U.S., Chavez said, it’s shoes, fine jewelry and home products that are leading the way. “We’re becoming a lifestyle brand now,” he said. “We’re not just known for the scarves and bags anymore. And that’s great to see as we continue to expand our network across the country.”

E-commerce is also a growing business. The category launched in the U.S. in 2002, which Craen said caused “an earthquake in the company,” but it has turned out to be very successful and continues to grow. “Brick-and-mortar came back strong,” Chavez said, “but e-commerce is even stronger.”

And Craen said Hermès’ online presence not only leads to higher sales but also helps with name recognition. “You can find everything we make on hermes.com,” he said. “Our distribution is so limited that we needed to have a door wide open.”

Craen said that despite the challenging macroenvironment, Hermès continues to see “strong growth everywhere.” The goal is to continue to grow the brand in Europe, America and Asia, he said.

“It’s our job to adjust to an unpredictable and fast-moving world. And everything [that] is happening at the very moment was unplanned and couldn’t be foreseen. So we’re adjusting ourselves. We manufacture in France so we don’t have the complexity of supply chains where production is scattered across the world. We are confronted by inflation in France, but I would say we’re in a more manageable situation, because we are in full control of our manufacturing.”

Craen said that while retail may be garnering the most attention of late, Hermès remains first and foremost a manufacturing company. And as a result, it will continue to explore additional products and categories.

“There’s a constant flow of new product coming up so there will be a lot of extension of existing categories for sure in the future,” he said.
 
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