Hermès

Lauren Bowes

Designer Biography

DOI: 10.5040/9781474260428-FPA240

Thierry Hermès established a business in 1837, which specialized in equestrian leather goods such as the harness. (This equestrian motif has remained associated with the brand and in the early twenty-first century, the logo bears the mark of this legacy.) In 1920, the company was inherited by Emile Hermès, a grandson of Thierry, a moment that marked a new direction for the business. Under the helm of Emile, Hermès expanded into the luxury leather market and endorsed a modern design policy. In subsequent years, the company evolved further and launched ranges in women’s wear and sportswear throughout the 1920s and 1930s. In the late 1930s, the brand became intrinsically associated with its emblematic equestrian motif headscarves—a nod to the history of the company—which became a favorite of society’s elite, including the future Queen Elizabeth II.

The brand is known for exuding an ethos of classic timelessness over the capricious whims of ever-changing fashion trends, with an emphasis on luxury materials and craftsmanship. In addition to this, Hermès is famous for its ability to create and design handbags that capture the imagination of the consumer. The iconic “Kelly” handbag was named in 1955 for the American actress Grace Kelly and the famous “Birkin” handbag was named in tribute to the English actress and singer, Jane Birkin. Both of these handbags have become emblems of the brand and status symbols across the globe with extensive wait-lists that control the possession of these bags.

In 1997, Hermès took a radical direction and appointed the innovative yet rebellious Belgian designer Martin Margiela. One of Margiela’s first creative triumphs was the “Quick” sneakers, a pair of luxury sneakers that were an instant hit. After a five-year reign by Margiela, the French designer Jean Paul Gaultier was the next to shape the creative vision of Hermès. In 2010, it was announced that Christophe Lemaire, a Lacoste alumnus, would take over as women’s wear designer. The brand has evolved substantially from its roots as an equestrian accessories store and in the early twenty-first century is firmly established as a leading luxury fashion house, with a recorded operating profit of 584.1 million euros in 2013. Hermès maintains its position as an arbiter of all things of taste, craftsmanship, and luxury.

Hermès, Fall/Winter 1991. Photograph by Niall McInerney, Fashion Photography Archive

References and Further Reading

Find in Library Calefato Patrizia. Objects in the Clothed Body . Oxford : Berg, 2004.

Find in Library Chaumette Xavier. “Jean Paul Gaultier.” In the A–Z of Fashion . Berg Fashion Library, 2010 .

Find in Library Debo Kaat, and Linda Loppa. “Martin Margiela.” In the A–Z of Fashion . Berg Fashion Library, 2010 .

Find in Library Milbank Caroline. “Hermès.” In the A–Z of Fashion . Berg Fashion Library, 2010 .