Almost two centuries ago, a royal coronation might be delayed until the arrival of its exquisitely stitched Hermès carriage fittings, just as today even the richest women must wait for an exquisitely stitched Hermès Birkin bag. With the family-run French company passing to a sixth generation, the author chronicles its rise to global pre-eminence, where a modern aesthetic meets the humble tools—awls, mallets, needles, knives, and stones—of unsurpassed tradition.
For 28 years, from 1978 to 2006, the most quotable voice in retail—pragmatic, poetic—came from Jean-Louis Dumas, the head of a company that in every other way speaks with its hands. It is an old company with a Protestant spine and a Parisian perfectionism, one of the oldest family-owned-and-controlled companies in France. Its name alone prompts sighs of desire among those in the know, and those in the know run the gamut from French housewife to fashionista to queen , from social climber to Olympic equestrian to C.E.O. The name itself is a sigh, a flight, and its proper pronunciation must often be taught. "Air-mez"—as in the messenger god with winged sandals. Mischievous, witty, ingenious Hermès.
Dumas, fifth generation of the Hermès family, was eminently quotable because he expressed clear concepts that made sense in any language. Though Hermès is grouped with other luxury brands, it hovers ineffably higher, apart, and not only because it is more costly. Dumas himself pooh-poohed the term "luxury," disliking its arrogance, its hint of decadence. He preferred the word "refinement," and intrinsic to that refinement is what Hermès won't do. Hermès bag It does not boast, does not use celebrities in advertising, does not license its name, does not let imperfect work leave the atelier , does not get its head turned by trends. What it does do—Dumas's "policy of product"— is create necessary objects made from the most beautiful materials on earth, each so intelligently designed and deeply well made it transcends fashion . When Diane Johnson, in her best-seller of 1997, Le Divorce, describes a gift box from Hermès "set alluringly on the desk, like a cake on an altar," she catches that special blend of the senses and the soul inherent in an object from Hermès.