Sponsored feature


The brand has come a long way from its roots as a saddlery to become a byword for luxury and craftsmanship.

French high-fashion house Hermes started life in the 19th century as a harness workshop established by a family of German protestants in Paris. The brand's equine roots - it also branched out into saddlery - are reflected in its logo, adopted in the 50s, of a Duc carriage and horse.

Hermes catered for the rich and discerning from its earliest days, supplying aristocratic stables with harnesses and saddles. It was rumoured that the monarchies of Europe would postpone coronations until Hermes could create an original carriage design.

However, as the use of motor cars became more widespread after World War I, Emile Hermes, grandson of founder Thierry, decided that these new-fangled trains, planes and automobiles were the future, and the company began to produce leather luggage and sports goods.

Hermes' output later widened to include belts, diaries, watches, jewellery, silk scarves, leather jackets, perfume and other fashion items. The company was boosted by the fact that it was exclusively licensed to use the zip in France for two years, Emile having spotted the novel fastener on a trip to Canada.

Its famous products have included the Sac a depeches, dubbed 'the Kelly bag' because Grace Kelly was often pictured with one, and was rumoured to be using it to hide her pregnancy in one photo.

A Hermes scarf featured on a postage stamp in 1956, when Queen Elizabeth II wore one for a portrait.

Since the 50s, Hermes products have been packaged in distinctive orange boxes, which are now almost as coveted as the goods they contain.

By the 70s, however, sales figures were poor. Analysts blamed the brand's insistence on natural, high-quality materials such as leather and silk, at a time when fashionable opinion leaned toward the man-made.

However, in the 80s, a good decade for luxury brands, Hermes recorded explosive growth, as annual sales leaped from about $50m in 1978 to $460m by 1990.

Growth continued in the 90s, when the company pursued a worldwide policy of reducing the number of franchised retail outlets and increasing the amount of its directly owned shops.

Today Hermes is still a family business; they own a majority of shares in the company. However, current chief executive Patrick Thomas is the firm's first leader from outside the family.


Silas Amos, creative strategist, JKR

Silas Amos, creative strategist, JKR

Here's a brand that creates desire beyond reason, yet succeeds through rigorous control of its products as much as through emotional flights of fancy. A brand famous for maximalist scarves and, conversely, its super-simple, but highly prized boxes.

A brand continually innovating, while also remaining somehow faithful to its traditional roots. A brand with a cutting-edge aesthetic, yet one that your granny would love to wear. In short, with Hermes, the relationship between design and business has some inherent contradictions, but it all works beautifully.

Perhaps it successfully embraces contradiction because all its designs share two fundamental qualities: skill and art. On the one hand, this is a brand of craftsmanship, from the high-end saddle-making to the 'hand rolled' hems of its scarves.

As with a fine Cuban cigar, one knows 'it's the best'. That lovely word 'atelier' comes to mind. Craftsmen and women in workshops using the best materials and the best (often very traditional) methods, and hang the expense.

These skills are put at the service of 'art' - from the stunning scarf designs to the bonkers shop windows and the ultra-contemporary homeware.

In Britain we might say that quality should be known, not shown.

In Europe it's both, with knobs on. This marriage of art and craft - is this not what all great design strives to be? Eye-watering prices, offered without a blink, simply compound the impression of excellence.


1837: Thierry Hermes established an elite harness workshop in the Grands Boulevards quarter of Paris.

1880: Thierry's son Charles-emile Hermes branched out into saddlery and relocated the shop to 24 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, where it remains today.

1918: Thierry's grandson Emile, noting the advent of the motor car, changed the firm's direction toward the production of luggage.

1935: The company introduced a leather Sac a depeches, later known as 'the Kelly bag' after Grace Kelly held it in front of her in a 1956 photograph, to hide her pregnancy.

1937: Silk scarves were introduced.

1993: Hermes went public on the Paris stock exchange: the 425,000 shares floated were 34 times oversubscribed.

1999: The company acquired a 35% stake in the Jean-Paul Gaultier fashion house.

2012: Hermes is celebrating its 175th year in business with a London exhibition called 'Leather forever'.

View more Champions of Design


Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now


Waitrose boosts content strategy with 'Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose' C4 tie-up
Hottest virals: Cute puppies star in Pedigree ad, plus Idris Elba and Fruyo
Amnesty International burns candles to illuminate new hope
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers
Ex-M&S marketing chief Steven Sharp consulting at WPP
Wolff Olins reveals new CEO after Apple poaches Karl Heiselman
Glasgow offers £30,000 prize to best digital idea for 2014 Commonwealth Games
Google's revenues surge but shares drop as it grapples with transition to mobile
Facebook beats Twitter to most 'marketing friendly' social media site crown, says DMA
Fableists believe children like Finn should be outdoors enjoying life
Homebase, Baileys and Camelot join the line-up at Media360
MasterCard renews Rugby World Cup sponsorship to push cashless message
Lynx unleashes £9m 'Peace invasion' campaign
Social Brands 100 Youth: Pizza Hut most social youth brand in UK
Cheryl Cole is wild and arresting in new L'Oreal work
Morrisons told not to show alcohol ads during YouTube nursery rhymes
O2 head of brand Shadi Halliwell departs after 23 years at company in restructure
Tesco hit by further sales decline as it turns to digital Clubcard and social network
Branding guru Wally Olins dies aged 83
Duracell short film captures epic Transatlantic voyage
Ash runs Tinder experiment to show smokers are less desirable to opposite sex
British Airways teams up with Gerry Cottle Jnr for summer of rooftop film screenings
Arklu says 'girls can be superheroes too' with doll design competition
Coke enters squash market with Oasis Mighty Drops
Virgin Galactic signs up Land Rover as space flight sponsor
Motorola marketer Andrew Morley departs as Google gears up for sale to Lenovo
US Airways apologises after tweeting obscene image at a customer
Mumsnet admits users' emails and passwords accessed via Heartbleed bug