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Magical Hermès

October 06, 2020

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I think we’re all taken by the incredible mystique of the famous French fashion house, Hermès that has been with us for two centuries and is still owned and operated by the same family. From its beginnings in fine equestrian leather goods, they are – in the tumultuous year 2020 – best known for their handbags and many other items.

Hermès Catalog CoverThe elegant cover of the Hermès publication: for Spring and Summer 2020

My image of Hermès has always been rarified products at equally rarified prices so imagine my surprise when I recently received a very stylish publication of theirs in the mail. This 8 1/2” x 11” visual treat with 130 pages (artwork on 120) could never be called a catalog in the usual sense – even though it featured both male and female fashions. The cover was like an expensive hard cover book that opened up to a treasure trove of color and black-and-white photos, marvelous drawings, glam fashion shots and humorous captions in both single and double page spreads.

Hermès WatchThe famous Hermès watch with the Double Tour strap

If the purpose of this book was to pique my interest in Hermès – it definitely worked! I thought to myself, “I have to learn more about this incredible company that was founded by Thierry Hermès in 1837 as a harness workshop in Paris. Its main purpose was to create wrought iron harnesses and bridles for the carriage trade.”

Moving on to Scarves and Handbags

Forty-one years later Thierry Hermès passed away and his son Charles-Emile took over his father’s workshop and moved the store to 24 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, where it remains to this day. In 1902, Charles-Emile retired and left his business to his son Emile-Maurice who became the first person in France to use a zipper – that became the “Hermes fastener.”

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In 1922, the first leather bags were introduced and seven years later the company created its first couture fashions. In 1937 it introduced silk scarves followed by the creation of a perfume division. In 1951 Emile-Maurice died and the husbands of two great-granddaughters took over the company. This is also when Hermès began using their iconic orange boxes.

Hermès ScarfThe striking Hermès scarf: prices range from $295 to $355; available in three sizes

In 1956, a photo of Grace Kelly appeared on the cover of Life magazine and overnight the Hermès Sac a Depeches became “The Kelly Bag.” The iconic Birkin bag was named after British actress Jane Birkin in 1981.

In 2012 the fifth generation Hermès family member, Axel Dumas, was named CEO of the company and remains so today. Over the years the Birkin bag has been a better investment than stocks or gold. It can sell for a significant profit on the secondary market as folks are willing to pay a premium in order to get their hands on an unobtainable bag.

The Incredible Mystique of the Birkin Bag

What makes the Birkin bag stand out from its competitors? There are several factors:

  1. Attention to details: The company considers every Birkin bag a piece of art. They are extremely fussy about the quality of materials used and the artisan who will craft the bag.
  2. A single artisan is responsible for the creation of the bag from start to finish. He identifies his work with a sequence of numbers, letters and symbols that are located beside the blind stamp on the clasp.
  3. He looks for any defects in the hide or skin – only a high grade of leather is used. This material is placed on a wooden clamp and stitched to form the shape of the Birkin bag.
  4. Once he completes the stitching, he gently uses a hammer to conceal the seam. Shaving, sanding and waxing are also part of this time-consuming process.
  5. He uses five layers of leather to create the handle – that is stitched onto the main body of the bag. The locks, studs and clasp are attached without any screws. A workshop inspector thoroughly inspects the bag before it is shipped out. The bags are never advertised and it is impossible to buy a Birkin directly from a Hermès store or boutique. YES, YOU READ THAT CORRECTLY.

Are you a celebrity? If not, forget it! A London newspaper sent out three ladies to Hermès stores in Manchester, UK and London to buy a Birkin. The first went to Selfridges and was told none were available, even to view. The second one went to the Hermès shop on New Bond Street in London and was told, “there are none in stock” and they had “no idea when deliveries would come from Paris.”

Hermès OutfitA glam Hermès outfit – all photos are courtesy of Hermès

The third attempt to purchase a Birkin directly from a Hermès store in Manchester got this response, “There are none in the store and the waiting list was closed two years ago.”

When Hermès was contacted with all of the above they simply said, “Each store director worldwide is responsible for buying for their own store. They place seasonal orders twice a year. These are usually received six to 12 months later.”

I have no comment about all this – except to leave you with a quote from Business Insider: “Hermès Birkin bags are the most expensive bags in the world, ranging from $40,000 to $500.000 for a single bag. A 2017 study revealed that the value of Hermès Birkin bags has increased 500% in the last 35 years, an increase of 14% every year.”

Shaun Nelson-Henrick



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