Hermes at full gallop

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Hermes, maker of some of the loveliest handbags on the planet, has announced that its annual theme this year is ‘nature at full gallop’ – a celebration of the energy and inspiration of nature.  Hermes itself also seems to be at full gallop – their 2015 annual results just released show an 18% rise in revenue.  The leather goods and saddlery product lines showed the strongest growth (13%), not only because those gorgeous handbags continue to be in hot demand but also thanks to two new workshops and a third on the way that will help to meet it.  Great news for all those languishing on the waiting lists.  Growth of 8% in their ready-to-wear and accessories lines also confirms the success of new womenswear designer, Nadege Vanhee-Cybulski and of Pierre Hardy, long-standing shoe designer, now also designing jewellery.

Why do people love this brand?  Certainly it evokes all the cultural power and sophistication of France as well as the full-beam glamour of the highest of high luxury.  Today’s customer demands more than this though.  We know when we’re being marketed to.  We know when a company just wants our dollars and then wants us out of the door.  Hermes maintains the loyalty of its customers because it is authentic and it is entertaining.  From their playful website animations to their highly creative, sometimes surreal window displays and their twice-yearly Monde d’Hermes manifesto that features arts and sustainability as much as products, it is a luxury brand with values, personality, and a certain friendliness.  Who else would bring us a furry motorcycle helmet?

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They stay close to their roots.  This month they sponsored the Saut Hermes showjumping event held at Paris’s Grand Palais – grand luxe and high style combined with equestrianism. As they observe themselves, the horse was their first customer (Thierry Hermes was a harness-maker when he started his company in 1837) but there has always been a certain glamour associated with equestrian sporting clothing and equipment.

Many of Hermes’s most sought-after handbags have a close link to saddlery. The Kelly and Birkin bags are both descended from hunting kit bags.  The Picotin is based on a nosebag and the Trim on a hay bag, the closure clip modelled on its hanging hook.  The Evelyne is based on a groom’s satchel.

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The testament to the quality of these designs is that these products, though luxurious, are designed before all else to be functional.  The beauty of the design lies in the clean lines, uncluttered by unnecessary decoration or detail.  The beauty of their function lies in their practicality but also in the extremely high standard of workmanship that means that they not only withstand regular use but look better as they age.  This is also what makes them so special when they are passed on between users.  Whether you inherit one from a relative or come by one second hand, like antique jewels a big part of their interest lies in the object’s own history. You can watch a pochette bag being made here.

A luxury business model based on artisanship, sustainability, artistry, practicality and a strict adherence to its roots and values is a rare thing today.  Perhaps these stellar commercial results will persuade more brands to adopt a similar profile.  If nature is to continue at full gallop, we must all hope so.

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