H FOR HERMÈS
Most would know that the Hermès Birkin handbag is considered the most iconic and sought after handbag in the world. But did you know that the longest waiting list to purchase one of these bags is six years? Or that the Hermès Himalayan crocodile Birkin bag (the most expensive Hermès bag to date) sold for a whopping US$432,000?
As it turns out, there seems to be a lot that people don’t know about Hermès and this goes well beyond the Birkin and those mind-blowing prices + waiting lists. Unlike most companies who exploit pretty much any positive attribute or story to grasp a better market position for their brand, Hermès have played the modesty card for decades and built their prestige through subtlety and trust. I love this! Their history is like an eclectic storybook of intimate tales showcasing different princesses, presidents and iconic faces from around the world but all with one thing in common… a love for the quality craftsmanship that is the essence of this institution.
Sometimes luxury brands can be judged like the rest of us, observed from a shallow platform based on mass generalizations imposed by others. But over the last couple of years I’ve spent a good bit of time getting to know the real Hermès through my darling Parisian friend, Michael Coste, who heads up External Relations for the Hermes Group. I've sipped coffee at Parisian sidewalk cafes while he's shared magnificent tales of riches and romance and things that you struggle to believe really happened! I've since realised that there's a lot more to Hermès and their colourful history than I had originally thought and consequently I've fallen even more in love with this brand than ever before. Maybe that’s the key to their success? Undoubtedly the quality of Hermès products has always spoken for itself, but like the key to every adored rockstar… there’s an air of mystery surrounding Hermès which leaves you craving more.
MY TURN TO WHISPER…
Here’s some of the fabulous little titbits and stories I’ve learnt along the way. Unfortunately I can’t share all the goss - it wouldn’t be right on a public forum like this, but I'm sure you'll find the below interesting regardless!
- Hermès began as a small harness workshop in Paris, creating luxury harnesses and bridles for horse-drawn carriages to nobleman. That’s why the Hermès logo is a royal carriage and a horse. This is no secret.
- In 1900 the firm introduced the Haut à Courroies handbag, which was specially designed for riders to carry their saddles with them. Also no secret but how many of you knew that the first handbag Hermès produced was actually for carrying saddles?!
- When President Nixon tried to make a discreet visit to the flagship store in Paris, he ended up being caught in the elevator for hours when it got stuck between floors! Can you imagine the state of his security detail?!
- It was Hermès who 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. Stroke of genius right here – I hope their head of marketing received a decent bonus.
- The Birkin was named after British sex kitten and style icon Jane Birkin after she had a chance encounter with the then CEO of Hermès, Jean-Louis Dumas. Apparently she was sitting next to him on a plane when all her things fell out of her handbag and she complained that her Kelly bag wasn’t big enough for everyday use. They dreamt up a new design together and the Birkin was born. If only we could all have a luxury handbag named after us…
- The Queen is a firm favourite of the Hermès colourful silk scarf designs. OK most people probably already knew this… but it is noteworthy – she is the Queen after all.
- Hidden above the Hermès flagship store in Paris is the most divine rooftop garden, manicured perfectly by the same lady who has been tending it for years. Very few people get to visit the rooftop, so it’s a real privilege to be invited up. Most people don’t even know it exists! Over the years, this very rooftop garden has been the place of romantic rendezvous’, dinners and even marriage proposals by royalty. I'm sure we'd all LOVE to be a fly on that wall!
- Among the soft landscaping of this rooftop is an old apple tree and one of the scents in the Hermès perfume range called Un Jardin, which has a distinct apple smell, was the inspiration of this scent. There’s a sketch of the actual rooftop garden on the front of the box but again, most people have no idea about the connection. Goes without saying that after visiting the garden myself and hearing this story, I headed downstairs and purchased myself a bottle.
- Inside the flagship Parisian store there’s the most incredible workshop where a small crew hand craft bespoke pieces for special clients. I call it ‘the romance room’ because each piece they craft, has a story and reason for being commissioned. For example, Brad Pitt commissioned a picnic basket for Angelina on their anniversary because they had shared a picnic together on their first date. This is an EXAMPLE – obviously I’ve substituted names but you get the jist. I imagine this room had helped create some very special moments in people's lives.
SIDE NOTE: The Hermès craftsman use the same tools they did 150 years ago (so cool) and furthermore each craftsman has his/her own set of tools, which are extremely personal and mould + conform to the owner’s hands and movements. When they leave they take their tools with them.
There's nothing like tradition, passion and colorful stories all rolled into one... and there's no place like Paris to help create the perfect setting for them.