Anyone who has visited an outdoor market will have been shocked by the extent of counterfeit merchandise that seems to be so blatantly available. One of the most regularly sighted items is the striking Hermes “H” detachable buckle with a reversible belt. The fake versions tend to sell for as little as £20/€25 as a result it’s, regrettable, but not difficult to see the attraction.
So what is the heritage of this design classic?
Thierry Hermès, who was born in Germany but moved with his parents to Paris in 1828. He established his harness making workshop in central Paris in 1837 and was winning many awards for his work. Thierry’s son, Charles-Émile Hermès assumed management of the business, selling saddlery and in 1880 moved to retail premises at 24 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré where the company remains to this day.
Charles-Émile’s sons, Adolphe and Émile-Maurice, who renamed the company Hermès Frères, began supplying the Russian Court and in 1918 was the first company in Europe to manufacture a leather jacket with a zipper. In 1922, the first leather handbags were introduced – and designed – by Émile-Maurice’s, whose wife was unable to find one she liked.
The 1930s saw several iconic releases. In 1935 the hand-bag (later in 1956 to be called the “Kelly bag” (as used by Grace kelly) was launched and in 1937 the famous Hermès head scarves were released. The iconic Hermes silk tie debuted in 1949.
Emile-Maurice’s son in law, the influential Robert Dumas-Hermès, succeeded him after his death in 1951. Jean-Louis Dumas, the son of Robert became Chairman in 1978 and re-directed the business towards silk, leather goods and ready-to-wear. Dumas’s changed the image of Hermes with a much needed update.
In 1993 Hermès went public on the Paris Bourse. Jean-Louis retired from the firm in January 2006. His role as CEO was taken by Patrick Thomas – the first non-family member to hold such role and Jean-Louis’s son Pierre-Alexis Dumas became artistic director.
Hermes goods, consistent with the traditional aims of the company, are still almost entirely made in France by hand in middle-sized workshops with an emphasis on quality manufacturing.