Monday, June 3, 2013

Why Hermes Products Are Worth The Wait

Hermes´silk scarves can take up to two years to painstakingly create, as the label's craftsmen and women print up to 40 different frames to produce just one scarf - a process not dissimilar to the making of a stained-glass window.

"That's just an example of one of the more lengthy and intricate processes," said Hermès Metiers director Guillaume de Seynes, a sixth-generation member of the Hermès family and the man responsible for protecting the high levels of skill involved in creating the brand's products. "The bags made of crocodile skins require a great deal of craftsmanship too. It's a very precious, delicate skin and each model is hand-stitched, then turned inside out right at the end of the process, to ensure that no seam is left seen. If that stage goes wrong, you lose days of work."

A selection of these arduous processes will be available for the public to see up close this week, as the French fashion house opens an exhibition at which the label's employees will hold a series of workshops when products will be created live. Craftsmanship and quality are Hermès bywords - it takes up to 18 months for staff to be trained to the high levels of expertise that the family-run business is renowned or. Even the top-level executives are required to spend two days in the workshops when they first join, where they are forced to produce a leather item.

"It was a disaster for me," recalled de Seynes. "I am not very good with my hands. I created a small purse which I still have - it was impossible to sell it was so bad. It makes you feel very humble when you see how much expertise is needed to make each product. It's like a complicated recipe."

De Seynes worked at Lacoste and in the Champagne business before joining the family firm. The label's emphasis on luxury and quality was instilled in him from a very early age.

"I remembering how odd it was discovering that not all objects were made with the same care and time - that plastic existed," he said. "My mother used to buy all our clothes as children from Harrods and I remember having to wear my best outfits to wear inside the workshops - I must have been about eight."

So far, Hermès has remained resilient towards the difficult economic crisis, managing to fight off competition from luxury conglomerates such as Kering and LVMH to create its own unique place in the market. Nonetheless, LVMH,  the company owned by Bernard Arnault, is still a controversial subject - it is currently under legal investigation after allegedly using unfair trading to obtain shares in Hermès, acquisitions the firm has branded as an "attack".

"The best way to be yourself is not to look at others," said de Seynes. "I am not interested in what others are doing. We need to focus on being innovative and recreating the techiques we will have developed over the years. Someone asked my grandfather once, 'What does luxury mean to you?' And he described it as 'an object that you can repair'. It's not very glamorous, but it's an accurate way of explaining what we do. In troubled times, people are looking for quality more than ever."

And what of the future of the brand? How will the house uphold its traditions while still remaining relevant and desirable? He maintains that its women's ready-to-wear, helmed by Christophe Lemaire, is still a "paradox", as the label strives to balance seasonal trends with the label's rich heritage.

"There is a saying, 'everything changes, nothing changes.' The world and the customers are changing - there are new spending habits and we need to adapt to that," he said. "But, at the same time, our values need to stay the same - craftsmanship, quality, creativity, dream and surprise. It is my ambition to marry the two in the future."

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