It is a legendary name among family businesses and is currently overseen with the same love and eye for impeccable quality by its fifth-generation chairman, Jean-Louis Dumas-Hermes. The saga began with beautifully handcrafted harnesses and saddles, made by founder Thierry and his son Emile-Charles, who catered to the wealthy carriage trade. When grandson Emile-Maurice saw that the invention of the automobile could mean extinction for the company, he expanded into travel accessories, silk scarves, and jewelry. Emile-Maurice is also known for introducing zippers to France in 1922. He promptly put them in leather jackets, the very first of which was immediately snapped up by the Prince of Wales.
The family tradition has continued for over 160 years, with Hermes craftsmen using the same tools and specialized techniques of those before them. These makers of saddles, boots, luggage, and silver, along with product managers and developers, often travel together to remote areas of India, Mexico, the Amazon, and Africa to learn the techniques of artisans who still practice age-old crafts, such as complicated embroidery and unusual metalworking. The Hermes team then brings these techniques back to the Paris and Pantin workrooms, using their newfound knowledge to stay far ahead of competitors.
Hermes: Of all the luxurious leather, silk, and cashmere accessories designed by Hermes, the item they are most noted for is the "Kelly" bag, popularized in the 1950s by Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco.
Among their best-known, most coveted luxury items are sumptuous leather goods, including boots, belts, and briefcases, stunning silk scarves, opulent cashmere shawls and blankets, and the famous Kelly bag, first introduced in the 1930s but named in 1956 for the Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly. There is currently an eighteen-month wait for a Kelly bag, which can range in price from $5,000 to $13,000.
Hermes currently produces menswear, designed by Veronique Nichanian since 1988, and women's ready-to-wear, designed since 1998 by Martin Margiela. Margiela, one of the Antwerp Six, a group of young Belgian designers including Ann Demeulemeester and Dries Van Noten, was originally known for his participation in the deconstructionist movement of the early 1990s. This avant-garde movement, in part a reaction to the excessive fashions of the 1980s, endorsed the philosophy that clothing should be looked at from the inside out; thus linings were used on the outsides of garments, surged seams might become part of a garment's design, the sleeves of a jacket might not match. Originally an assistant to Jean-Paul Gaultier, Margiela was at first rejected by fashion's mainstream, but ultimately he was recruited by Hermes to modernize its image.
All items bearing the Hermes name are manufactured by the company itself—no licenses have been granted in order to maintain perfection. Hermes also makes its own fine watches, creates its own fragrances, and manufactures its own hand-painted porcelain dinnerware. Although Hermes went public in 1993, 80 percent of the shares are still controlled by relatives. Today there are over 150 Hermes stores around the world. As of this writing, Hermes owns 35 percent of Jean-Paul Gaultier's business, as well. See also: Jean-Paul Gaultier.
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