The Story of Hermès
The famous fashion house was founded in 1837 by German-born French-raised Thierry Hermès.
Hermès began as a small harness workshop in Paris, which was dedicated to serving European noblemen, creating luxury harnesses and bridles for horse-drawn carriages. The Hermès logo is a royal carriage and a horse.
Thierry Hermès’ son, Charles-Émile Hermès, took over the management of the business and moved the shop in 1880 to 24 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré – where its flagship boutique still remains today.
Under new leadership and with fresh premises, Hermès introduced saddle manufacturing for the first time and began retail sales.
With the help of his sons Adolphe and Émile-Maurice, Charles-Émile grew the business global reach catering to Europe’s elite, with customers as far afield as North Africa, Russia, Asia and America. Then in 1900 the firm introduced the Haut à Courroies handbag, which was specially designed for riders to carry their saddles with them.
Once Charles-Émile retired, the two sons renamed the business Hermès Frères and by 1914 had employed 80 saddle craftsmen due to huge demand, particularly from officials in Russia. The duo began using zips on their leather goods and were the first to introduce the device in France.
In the 1920s Émile-Maurice launched the firm’s first accessories collection and in 1922 the brand’s debut leather handbag was produced after his wife complained that she could not find a suitable one to her liking.
A decade later, the luxury label launched its Sac à dépêches bag (later renamed the Kelly) and in 1937 introduced its signature headscarves for the first time.
In 1949, the same year as the launch of the Hermès silk tie, the first perfume, Eau d’Hermès, was produced.
Jean-Louis Dumas (great-great-grandson of Thierry Hermès) took over as the new head of the company in 1951.
After a commercial lull in the ‘70s, Dumas then concentrated on silk and leather goods, as well as revamped ready-to-wear, and the company’s fortunes began to turn after he modernised the business.
Dumas had nerve and put faith in new designers, hiring the unconventional Martin Margiela as creative director in 1997, and Jean-Paul Gaultier to replace him in 2003. The company was valued at £9.2billion at the time of his death in 2010.
Hermès kicked off the craze for naming handbag styles after celebrities. In 1956 a picture of Grace Kelly showed the silver screen icon using her Hermès Sac à dépêches bag to shield herself from a scrum of paparazzi photographers and so the style was renamed the Kelly.
Note that each Kelly bag, like most Hermès designs, takes from 12 up to 18 hours to make.
But by far the most famous, and most collected design, is the Birkin, named after the British singer Jane. After a chance encounter on a plane with Dumas in the early ‘80s, the actress told him how her Kelly bag wasn’t big enough for everyday use, so they dreamt up a new design together and the Birkin was born.
Copyright Grace Kelly & Miroslava-Duma