From Singapore's URBAN (originally from NYT, I think?) NO HORSING AROUND Luxury brand Hermes, which has its humble beginnings in the horse, is on a quest for perfection Patrick Thomas, the elusive chief executive at Hermes seemed downright expansive over lunch recently at his hotel, only a few blocks from his new store in New York City's financial district. For those who think of the company, which has US$1.9billion (S$2.9 billion) in annual sales, as the purveyor of conservative silk scarves with bridle motifs and capacious handbags carried by Grace Kelly, the Hermes windows were eye-opening. On one side is a motorcycle with a black leather outfit, while on the other, a deconstructed horse sculpture stands near a superb black saddle. Thomas is the first person outside the family ever to run the company, which is public but still very much controlled by the descendants of the founder. He offers opinions on the company's philosophy and new ventures. Do you consider Hermes a daring company? Yes, within reason. The motorcycle is just the modern expression of our origin: the horse. And the horse in the window was made with spare parts from a car. Hermes is known as a leather goods brand run by perfectionists. Are you a perfectionist? If you knew why some things are rejected by our craftsmen, you would say: "These people are crazy." The quest for perfection is crazy, but we all insist on it. One luxury analyst said that Hermes is a model every other luxury brand aspires to be, but added that he would like to see better earnings growth and momentum because you are so firmly at the top of the pyramid. Today, much of what we call luxury is no longer luxury. Call it luxury if you want, but some companies no longer have the quality. At Hermes, a woman walked in with a saddle not long ago, and she complained it needed restitching. We checked the records - we keep all records, even of repairs - and it was her grandmother's saddle, purchased in 1937. We fixed it, of course. Your Birkin handbags sell for as much as US$10,000. Is there any limit, a point where consumers will say: "No, not one euro more"? There is always a price limit. The best example is Japan. This year, the yen went down sharply against the euro, so we had to increase our prices. Many people told us, they were not going to pay; everyone is sensitive to price.