This particular object of affection could more appropriately be called an object of downright lust. Expensive and elegant — it’s anything and everything that might arrive in one of the world’s most coveted boxes from Hermès. Especially in orange, my favorite color. One of the world’s most famous luxury brands, 90% of what Hermès makes is beyond the reach of anyone who’s not rich or not willing to max out all her credit cards for one handbag (and then wait 18 months for it). But it sure is pretty stuff to look at.
Hermès remains a true luxury brand in a sea of companies that now exist under corporate conglomerates. LVMH, for example, owns Louis Vuitton, Pucci, Céline, Marc Jacobs and Givenchy (to name just a few). PPR claims Gucci, YSL, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga among its holdings. But the majority of Hermes’ stock remains with its founding family — though it’s in the sharp takeover sights of Bernard Arnault, head of LVMH. But it’s fighting back — and in an era when fashion is heralding the true artisan, it’s a company with credible chops and integrity in that category.
Started in Paris in 1837, Hermès was originally a harness and bridle workshop, outfitting the horses of noblemen. It’s occupied the space of the current flagship store on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré for 132 years. Last year, the company commissioned a beautiful tribute to the individuals who continue to produce its products. Called “Hearts and Crafts,” it’s worth 45 minutes of your day.
Hermès makes beautiful things. With lovely authentic provenance. It starts with that orange box. While the famous Tiffany blue box evolved from the color of gemstones, the Hermès orange box came from necessity. During the occupation of France in WWII, plain orange paperboard was all that was available (the original boxes were cream, and then a sort of mustard yellow). It stuck, and now with embellishments, the Hermès box is made in some 188 sizes.
Of course, even better than the orange box is all that might be inside. A scarf, of course — with its hand-rolled and stitched edges. Maybe an enamel bracelet. A leather wrist-wrap. A tie. A watch. A little notebook for penciling in your next lunch date. A cashmere blanket. A Birkin even (yeah…right). There’s nothing Hermès makes that doesn’t come in orange.
I’ll never own most of what Hermès produces. But it’s a brand I love for what it still stands for. And to me, it’s not that far removed from the artisans that work right here in Nashville — who make luxurious beautiful things, carefully, with great skill, by hand. And sometimes, in orange.
My friend Dana Thomas wrote a fascinating history of the luxury trade called Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster and has covered the Bernard Arnault’s efforts to takeover Hermès (her 2011 piece in the Wall Street Journal is a great read). I learned a lot from Dana about what makes Hermès so special — and a lot about hostile takeovers. Some of you may have heard Dana speak last spring when I invited her to be part of Lexus Nashville Fashion Week’s industry panels, sponsored by Imogene + Willie. If you missed it, you can watch online here.
About Cindy Wall
Cindy’s a communications and marketing pro, a writer, a grammar snob, and a rapacious reader. In her own words, she knows “a little about a lot”—i.e., 19th century literature, Karl Lagerfeld’s latest adventures, professional bike racing, and when to use the Oxford comma. She’s a fan of indie film and music, and bullish on local eating and shopping. And she’s recently re-reved her blog, Paris State of Mind, where she writes about all things French.