Hermès is a fashion brand deeply rooted in history; after all, it was founded in 1837. The fashion house is most prominently known for their handbags, including the infamous Birkin; which Kanye West gifted Kim Kardashian, complete with hand-painted nudes and all. However, Hermès didn’t start off as one of the most sought-after handbag brands. Their history begins in Paris in 1837 when Thierry Hermès opened a harness shop where they serviced the equestrians of the day. It is Hermès’ son, Charles-Émile, who took over the business in 1859, moving its location to 24 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré by 1880. Today, the house’s flagship store can still be found at this location. The equestrian designs continued on to sell as Hermès serviced many of Europe’s elite.
It was in 1900 when the brand created a Haute à Courroies bag, which will turn out to be an elongated version of their famous Birkin, shortly after Charles-Émile’s son, Émile-Maurice took over of the company. He secured a European patent for the zipper, allowing him to exclusively use it in leather goods and clothing. The brand began creating items such as zippered leather jackets, designing one that was worn by the then Prince of Wales. It was at that moment when Hermès truly started to take off. They introduced a womenswear line in 1929 and began producing accessories. They remained highly fashionable but kept true to their traditions and quality. In 1940, the New York Times reported that Hermès “is perhaps the only establishment in the world in which one cannot buy a single article that is not in perfect taste.” We will now take you through the top five most iconic designs coming from the fashion house, whose signature orange branding and royal horse-carriage logo is unmistakable.
The Hermès Scarf
As a staple in any fashionable woman’s wardrobe –and in Hermès history– the silk scarf is, undeniably, one of the house’s most notable creations. The first one was created in 1937 and since then, it has been a brand staple. Something you might not know, the Hermès scarf designs are as unique as the designers behind them. The vibrant and bold printed patterns are not created by the same person, sitting behind the same desk, season after season in Hermès’ Parisian office. In fact, the brand outsources designers and artists to create the prints featured on their scarves. These individuals do not have to be well known or even be artists by trade; they simply have to impress Hermès with their designs, like the U.S. postal worker who has designed over a dozen Hermès scarves. Hermès’ creative director of silks, Bali Barret is said to meet with over 100 design hopefuls each year, all waiting to design the next print. The only rule? No blood and no sexuality can be incorporated into their design and, of course, they must design within the confines of a square. Once a designer has been selected, the scarf’s design can take over a year to come to fruition and 18 months to produce; it takes engravers roughly 750 hours to engrave screens for the printing of each unique pattern. Each print is meticulously thought through, with many of the scarves telling a story. This is why they are bright and bold, with the average number of colors in a Hermès scarf being 27. Today, the Hermès scarf remains a symbol of the brand for their elaborate designs and superior craftsmanship.
In 1932 the famed Hermès Kelly bag was first created, though at the time it hadn’t been named after its celebrity fan, Grace Kelly. It was first introduced to the world as a ‘sac à courroie’, a saddle carrier. It eventually evolved into what we know it to be today: the classic, supple leather handbag with a wait list. Its name change came after Grace Kelly (who also once wore a Hermès scarf as a sling for her broken arm) was photographed coming out of a car in 1956. She was using the bag to shield her baby bump from the paparazzi, thus dubbing it the “Kelly.” The bag itself is another demonstration of Hermès’ quality craftsmanship and detail. Available in eight sizes, each Kelly bag is handmade by a single artisan and the entire process can take 18 to 25 hours. The handbag is available in a range of colors, finishes and leathers with several different hardware options, as well. As one of the most iconic handbags to ever be created, it’s no wonder this purse is a favorite amongst the rich and famous. Celebrities like Victoria Beckham, Olivia Palermo and Kelly Rutherford have all been spotted with the handbag slung over their arm. It’s also no wonder: the handbag can go well into the $20, 000 range if made in exotic skins, such as crocodile. But as a staple in the Hermès world, this famous bag will never go out of style.
The Birkin bag, much like the Kelly, is also named after a celebrity: Jane Birkin, an English singer and actress. It was in 1984 that the then chief executive officer, Jean-Louis Dumas of Hermès was seated next to Birkin on a flight from Paris to London. She had owned the Kelly bag, but didn’t find it convenient or large enough for her use and told Dumas that she wished there was a bag appropriate for her. And so he made her one, bespoke handbag in 1984 and dubbed it the Birkin. With her permission, it entered the Hermès collection shortly after to be sold to the public. With its simple, roomy design and classic silhouette, it is easily one of the most sought-after handbags in the world, with a waitlist far longer than that of the Kelly. It is free of any branding or Hermès’ logo, yet the Birkin is instantly recognizable. Its price range starts at roughly $8000 and goes up, depending on the choice of leather and finishing involved. To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the bag, in 2004, a crocodile, gold and diamond version of the cult bag was created. The exclusive handbag was attached to a $81, 000 price tag. The Birkin was the handbag of choice that Kanye West famously gifted Kim Kardashian, except his had hand-painted women on them. Needless to say, many die-hard fans of the bag were appalled. But painted over or not, the Birkin is another excellent example of Hermès’ timeless designs, attention to detail and artisanal work; like the Kelly, the Birkin takes up to 40 hours to be constructed and hand-stitched in France.
Along with scarves and handbags, Hermès also creates exquisite accessories. They are most famously known by their “H” emblazoned enamel bracelets and leather-strap watches. It was when the third generation heir to Hermès realized that automobiles were taking over for horse-drawn carriages, and their saddle shop would likely suffer, that he decided to expand the house’s product assortment to keep up with the times. He first made large handbags to strap onto cars, which were later refined and turned into the Birkins of the world we know today. Then, they ventured into other accessories, such as jewelry and horology. The brand’s first attempt at watch making came in 1912, when Hermès created a leather strap for a young child in the family to keep her pocket watch on her wrist. The rest, as they say, is history. Today, the brand manufactures their watches in the watch-making capital of the world: Switzerland. The Hermès watch is both functional and fashionable, adding to its appeal. With some styles fashioned in metal and others accented with signature leather straps, the Hermès watch is a timeless piece. Even get one to match the Kelly, perhaps. The Kelly lock watch features a leather strap and silver class with a hanging padlock to perfectly match the handbag. Or, try an enamel bracelet with the famous Hermès “H” worn by many.
Hermès is true to their roots in more than one way: not only are many of their designes inspired from their saddle-shop’s long standing history, but they still continue to create equestrian items. With such success in other areas of their business, such as handbags, this demonstrates the brands keen ability to stick with what first brought them success. Their equestrian gear includes saddles, helmets, blankets, reins, spurs, tote and riding bags and much more, all made with the utmost precision in true Hermès fashion. Not only has the brand excelled in dressing men and women everyday thanks to their equestrian roots, they continue to ensure riders are their best-dressed, with Hermès-everything, from the stables to the race track.