HOW HERMÈS BAGGED THE LUXURY MARKET, ONE EXCLUSIVE ACCESSORY AT A TIME
BY RHIANNA JONES
As the world’s most coveted bag, the Hermès Birkin needs no introduction; it literally put the “access” in “accessory.” With a price tag rivaling that of a car (ranging from $10,000 to $500,000), it remains pretty much the ultimate bag status symbol, and with pop cultural references to match. Martha Stewart’s trial made headlines not only for its adjudication of fraud, of course, but for an abundantly pressnoted display of her Birkin on day one of the proceedings. Then there’s the notorious Sex and the City episode in which Samantha drops client Lucy Liu’s name to skirt the bag’s five year wait list, only to lose both it and her job. We also have U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s wife, Lucy Linton, and her glamorous gaffe toting an $11,500 Birkin off a jet and Instagramtagging both it and other designer pieces she was sporting while on a government trip.
Put simply, this bag’s timelessness and desirability made it an industry icon, and its seemingly ever skyrocketing market value still fascinates the finance set. But beyond birthing the Holy Grail of accessories, for nearly two centuries, maison Hermès has built a legacy of impeccable craftsmanship and unparalleled luxury across a range of products.
Like a number of today’s high end houses, this enterprise started off as a saddlery its founder, Thierry Hermès, began making exquisite equestrian accessories for the European elite in 1837. Thierry’s grandsons modernized the brand in the 1920s, expanding into accessories and clothing, and introduced the first patented zipper to France. The company established itself as a pioneer in leather goods, and as such, when it debuted its original handbags in the ’30s (the also cultish Kelly bag, along with signature silk “Carré” scarves), they were an instant success. The ’50s crowned Hermès celebrity when Grace Kelly used her bag to shield a baby bump, landing it on the cover of Life magazine. A chance 1984 plane encounter between Hermès’s CEO and “It” actress, Jane Birkin, led to a co design of what’s come to be considered as, among other distinctions, the perfect weekender. Fast forward to the present, and everything from housewares and perfumes to handbags and haute couture comes packaged in the company’s iconic orange boxes.
So what’s the key to Hermès’s eternal relevance? To this eye, it’s the art of taking creative risks that allure next gen markets, while maintaining a classic inventory that sells itself. While the brand is less known for runway collections, it took liberties in the ’90s and early aughts, for example, in the hiring of visionary designers like Martin Margiela and Jean Paul Gaultier to refresh its prêt à porter lines. They evolved the brand’s signature leather laden separates and exotic resort wear for younger jet set clients and other sky high aspirants. As the 2019 company tagline goes, “It Starts With a Dream” selling a lifestyle of realizing fantasies both online and “IRL.”
As millennials are more charmed by experiential moments than expensive china, Hermès’s ashy activations have kept it trending on Instagram. Take its Hermèsmatic, a global tour of laundromat inspired and interactive pop ups; their throwback retro design spoke to the company’s old school roots, while inviting customers to dip dye new life into their old scarfs or discover new pieces from a one of a kind hand dyed silk collection. Or, consider the Carré Club, a scarf making studio cum speakeasy where local artists customized scarves the experience complete with membership card, scarf patterned café, karaoke bar, and live music. As the brand’s Art Director, Bali Barrett, told Vogue, “[We aren’t] about a big statement, the real Hermès is this a lively, creative community.”
That community spans from ladies who lunch and rap stars to Gen Z graffiti kids, each carrying the brand in their own way. Hermès’s artisanal appeal remains at the highest industry standard, never decreasing prices or diluting its image. Even its recent entry into the competitive cosmetics world, a lipstick, is exclusively sold and made in house (sorry Sephora). At $67 a pop, Rouge Hermès comes in 24 matte and satin shades, taking inspiration from the sumptuous hues of its handbag range. From entry level makeup to investment icons, every product is sealed with the house’s handcrafted and thoughtfully designed stamp of approval.
Like Kanyé said in his Jay Z collaboration track, “Otis,” “Couture level ow is never going on sale. Luxury rap, [is] the Hermès of verses.” In other words, whether dangling oof a boomer’s arm or dropping on a mic, this legend plans to stay on everyone’s lips for generations to come.
The Shops at Riverside / 390 Hackensack Avenue,
Hackensack / 201.487.1111
The Mall at Short Hills / 1200 Morris Turnpike,
Short Hills / 973.376.6843
Several locations in Manhattan / hermes.com/us/en