Pronunciation: [ air – mez ]
Just a hop, skip, and a jump past Le Louvre, and you will find the Hermès headquarters in the center of Paris, France.
History & Background
Thierry Hermès first opened a harness and bridle shop in 1828 in the Grands Boulevard of Paris. After travelling to Paris from Germany with his family, he dedicated his fabrication for carriages to the European nobility and their transportation. But it was his sons and grandsons that expanded the Hermès brand to the luxury symbol that persists today.
The common mode of transportation in the early 1800’s was horse and carriage, and Thierry Hermès capitalized on the industry. Hermès was renown for creating the highest quality harnesses and bridles for carriages and even won a couple of first class medals at both the Exposition in Paris and the Exposition Universelle.
Hermès at 24 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.
In 1859, Charles-Émile Hermès took the reigns (no pun intended) of his father’s company. The company then moved, in 1880, to its current flagship location at 24 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré and broadened its horizons to retail. Under Charles-Émile, the brand began incorporating saddle manufacturing to the elite of the European nobility. While Hermès now creates a wide range of luxury products, it still makes and sells leather saddles; all of which are hand-crafted and stitched on the top floor of their flagship store in Paris.
The turn of the 20th century saw another transition in the Hermès family, as Charles-Émile’s two sons: Adolphe and Émile-Maurice took over the business. The brothers operated under the name Hermès Frères (meaning ‘brothers’ in French) and diversified the leather products further to incorporate handbags, scarves and an unmistakable logo.
Hermès now iconic “H” and the horse and carriage logo.
It wasn’t until the 1950’s that the horse and carriage logo first made its appearance. The emblem features a Duc carriage pulled by a horse with an aristocratic gentleman at the head. Even though it was created over a century after the first Hermès store opened, it is an homage to the modest beginnings as a harness shop.
Origins of the first Hermès handbag
Third-generation Hermès, Émile-Maurice was central to the introduction of the first Hermès handbag. In 1900, the Hermès brand advanced an oversized bag named the Haute à Courroies. This bag was designed for horse riders to be able to carry their saddles with ease.
Photo of Émile-Maurice Hermès.
It wasn’t until Émile-Maurice visited the United States during World War II that the idea for the first real Hermès handbag developed. It was there that Émile-Maurice bought the European rights to the zipper, an American invention, and used it on a smaller version of the Haute à Courroies that zipped. This bag debuted in 1922.
Émile-Maurice was the last of the family named Hermès to head the French company. Having had only daughters, it was his son-in-law Robert Dumas who began working in the family business and eventually took over after Émile-Maurice’s passing in 1951.
Iconic Hermès Handbags
Handbags that are produced in the Hermès workshops are delicately hand-crafted from the finest materials. Typically utilizing leather coupled with a saddle stitch that is completely stitched by hand, each bag can take upwards of 18 hours to make for a skilled artisan.
Hermès utilizes several exotic leathers for its various bags. Beyond genuine calf leather, crocodile leather is a common textile as well as ostrich and lizard leather. But, with an exotic leather, the price of the handbag can fluctuate well up into the hundreds of thousands.
What would later become the well-known Kelly bag was first introduced as the Sac à dépêches in 1935. It was designed as an over-sized travel bag but was smaller than its predecessor saddle bags.
Hermès Kelly Bag.
The Sac à dépêches did not gain its infamy until the Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly, was seen carrying the Hermès handbag. After falling in love with Hermès accessories on the set of a film, Kelly was photographed for Life magazine while she was using the bag to cover her new pregnancy in the photo.
Infamous photo of Grace Kelly carrying the Hermès bag.
Grace Kelly’s iconic status in the world of fashion immediately popularized the Hermès handbag, and it became universally known as the Kelly bag in 1956. But wasn’t until 1977 that the bag was officially named after the princess. The Kelly bag remains one of the brand’s best selling products.
Hermès Birkin Bag.
Fast forward several decades to a plane ride that gave rise to another classic Hermès handbag. In the early 1980’s, the multi-talented English actress and singer, Jane Birkin was sat next to, then CEO of Hermès, Jean-Louis Dumas on a flight from Paris. Her complaints about her current bag prompted Dumas to sketch and then manufacture a bag to suit Birkin’s needs.
Jane Birkin, English actress and singer.
The over-sized tote became known as the Birkin bag in 1984. The extremely popular handbag is well-known for having extensive waitlists, all the way up to an astonishing five years. Each bag is handmade, and hand-stitched using the saddle stitch. It can take up to 25 hours to create a Birkin bag, and the company only produces about 5 a week to be sold worldwide.
The Hermès Empire
Exquisitely made leather goods have been the staple of the Hermès brand since its founding in the 9th arrondissement in 1837. Although the business now encompasses so much more than just handbags: from scarves introduced in 1937, to clothes and perfumes, but the iconic Hermès bags are some of the most sought after pieces.
With over 300 stores in the world and various online vendors, you may have a wait but there are plenty of ways to add an Hermès item to your cache.
- The quintessential bright orange Hermès boxes were first used in the 1950’s.
Hermès signature orange box packaging.