The New Hermès Store is a Postage Stamp Versailles on Madison Avenue
Among the distinct isles that make up New York City, each with their own zip codes and reality distortion fields, 706 Madison Avenue is drama-free principality, both exclusive and inviting, where service is the lingua franca.
On a recent bright morning, a select few convened at a former bank on Manhattan’s Upper East Side for the first look at one of those enviable renovations where no expense was spared. Scarves floated overhead, suspended between tall open frames, and along the walls like resplendent, illuminated scrolls.
One of the hosts gestured to the “obsessive collections of art” started by his great-great-great-grandfather, 150 of the works now hanging on the walls, and then mentioned that there was a champagne bar on the third floor. A perfectly timed collective titter erupted that made me certain I had suddenly become an extra in a crowd scene on season two of And Just Like That…
“New York City is a dream. We still believe in the American Dream,” said Pierre-Alexis Dumas, the artistic director of Hermès and a descendant of founder Thierry Hermès. With the unwrapping of the label’s newest Maison, at the corner of 63rd Street and Madison Avenue, “there’s a bit of Hermès in New York, but also a bit of New York in Hermès.” Everyone applauded, then excitedly swept around the store like so many Charlottes, yet…I couldn’t help wondering, do they really want to bring New York into Hermès?
Do they know how crowded it is here now? That everyone moved back to the city post-pandemic bringing three friends, and they’re all too busy BeRealing each other to say ‘Excuse me’? That 99 percent of restaurants are 100 percent full of 30-year-olds on Raya dates? That they wait in line for hours for every sneaker drop like it’s a royal funeral? That the fictional façade that was the Friends building is among the most visited sights in the city? That’s New York now: congested like a Harry Styles concert just got out.
The beauty floor at Hermès on Madison Avenue.
The antidote to all that may be found here, the grandest iteration of the growing store-as-immersive-museum category. Like that Van Gogh experience, this place envelopes you. I visited again on a Friday morning, a week after the official opening, and was greeted by the serene concierge director, Casey Legler, a French-born former Olympic swimmer and model who was the first female to be signed to Ford Men’s.
With Legler’s extensive background in hospitality (Le Coucou, Blue Hill at Stone Barns), there may be no better person to represent the city for Hermès than Legler, who uses they/them pronouns: tall, magnetic, friendly, they are the unfazed, confident New Yorker that you can still spot every now and then around town, if you bother to look up from your phone. Clients may come in irked about the wait time for an appointment or how long it took to snag their Birkin, but among Legler’s responsibilities is to gently remind customers that quality takes time.
“You have to complete 18 months as an apprentice before making a bag,” they said.
Casey Legler, the concierge director at Hermès’s 706 Madison Ave. store.
The concierge desk here is the first of its kind, a staff of six in addition to a butler service befitting a store that’s bigger than a flagship (the other two Maisons are in Paris and Shanghai). Legler’s role is to create “animations”—moments when servers bring out afternoon tea, or an evening conversation with artists (programming begins early this year).
“I’ll work here forever,” they said. “When I started, I felt like I was going back to an Olympic team.”
A man walked around holding his phone out and talking to a woman loudly in French in speaker mode, and rather than getting irritated I became calmer knowing that annoying people are an international class. Legler looked at him without a hint of distaste. We strolled the first floor and stumbled into the Horizons section, where patrons’ wildest dreams are made real: a portable dog tent, a skateboard, a pool table. “It’s bespoke on top of bespoke,” Legler said.
In the equestrian section, over a series of beautifully crafted leather saddles with a combined price that would get you two Audis, they pointed to a painting by Paul Slater featuring a jockey floating in midair without a horse and whispered “Farfelu,” one of those beautiful French words that sound like something Juliette Binoche would sigh into her belted camel coat.
The equestrian section at Hermès New York.
Up the stairwell, which features artwork of different eras, is the Maison department, where Tim Skeeter, floor director, showed me his favorite items: a $47,600, hand-painted papier-mâché armchair by Studio Mumbai with a beechwood frame that looked ancient yet fresh, and a similarly priced table in Belgian blue stone, its cool, dark surface hand-chiseled by someone who, like me, may have mild OCD but harnessed it for a better use than going back home three times to make sure an ember from his one-hitter didn’t spontaneously leap onto the New York Review of Books back issues he will never read.
Next door, Allan Quintanilla, men’s floor director, noted that the deep green mosaic marquetry walls of his domain alone took three months to install; the store, which is the first Hermès Maison to house the men’s and women’s boutiques under the same roof, has been in the works for eight and a half years, “because,” said Bob Chavez, president and CEO of Hermès Americas, “everything takes time at Hermès.”
Quintanilla led me to the made-to-measure suite, where one can begin a customized journey with a $1,100 shirt (even I know that is sort of affordable). When asked what he liked most about this new space, he immediately replied as someone who is excellent at retail because he loves it: “The intimacy. It’s really a moment to be with your client.”
An $869,600 Kelly Gavroche necklace at Hermès New York.
One flight up, Nicole David, the women’s floor director, also curates her area to speak to the locals. If someone wants to serve heiress-at-daytime-charity-event realness, there’s a status-screaming cream cashmere jacket that’s exclusive to the store (there are only six in existence) for $37,200. She picked up a $3,725 embroidered cardigan off the rack. “Just put this over a T-shirt and jeans… I’ve noticed that women coming out of the pandemic are taking the sweatpants off,” she said.
High on a shelf but too bright to ignore was a jumping boot in acid pink (or “rose flash”; only four pairs exist) timed perfectly for next summer’s inevitable Barbiecore wave. And then there’s the jewelry inner sanctum, where an $869,600 Kelly Gavroche necklace encased in glass was so elegant yet deceptively casual that it was begging to grace Cate Blanchett’s neck at next year’s Oscars.
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A Birkin 25 at Hermès New York.
The fourth story is Valhalla: leather goods, and the air is ripe with the pheromones of bag lust. “People can really browse and wonder at a Birkin or Kelly and understand what it is,” said floor director Denise Persad. Nearby was a $9,350 medium-size roller, in a “Traffic Jam” print that you can only get here and in Beverly Hills; it stirred my own luggage thirst because it would help complete my impossible daydream of moving into Gore Vidal’s Amalfi Coast villa. I needed to get some air to snap out of it when, miraculously, a door opened onto a rooftop garden, a postage stamp Versailles that materialized like a mirage.
Across the street a neighbor had taped posters on the windows: Hillary 2020 on one and Bernie 2020 on the other, the handiwork of a confused recluse marooned inside their own fantasyland. That’s also New York, a series of distinct isles with their own zip codes and reality distortion fields all floating in the same ocean. The original multiverse.
Here, Legler and company had fashioned a drama-free principality, both exclusive and inviting, where service is the lingua franca. Ask and you shall receive, usually with a Dominique Ansel cookie thrown in.
This story appears in the December 2022/January 2023 issue of Town & Country.