Despite early warnings that events in Paris and the staggering world economy would dent the acceleration of growth at Hermès, the family-owned company reported a solid 14.5 per cent increase in sales for the fourth quarter on February 10, and consolidated fiscal revenues of €4.8bn ($5.2bn) in 2015, up 18 per cent. They are the kind of numbers other luxury brands dream of as they battle currency devaluation and the Asian consumer conundrum: the brand posted an 18 per cent increase in sales in Japan, and a more modest 5 per cent in the rest of Asia.
It’s easy to see why Hermès is working. Steered under the leadership of chief executive Axel Dumas and his cousin and artistic director Pierre-Alexis Dumas, Hermès continues to occupy that rare tier of luxury still twinned with artisanal authenticity: people believe in the product. They invest in it, and sensibly so: according to a study undertaken in January by Baghunter, the website that trades in high-end accessories, the brand’s Birkin bag, named for actress Jane Birkin, which was launched in 1984, has had an average annual return in value of 14.2 per cent. And that’s a lot more than gold, fashion-haters.
So, too, has Hermès’ ready-to-wear seen a fillip in growth: 8 per cent, under the calm, collected eye of its 37-year-old creative director Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski, formerly of The Row. A year into the job, she has ironed out the details that wrinkled her first collection — the curious trouser shape, the slightly Frau jackets — to deliver an elegant line in wafty luxe sportif that simply whispers exclusivity.
This season Vanhee-Cybulski had worked on the colours and the house codes. “I call them the new neutrals,” she said of her sorbet-shaded palette. “I wanted to frost the colours, by changing the weave of the cloth which gives it a slightly different colouration.” Her new colours were kumquat orange, tobacco and absinthe. They could have seemed sickly but the tones were toughened with dark suedes, navy silks and shearling. A black suede coat was covered in 3,500 palladium studs — a bit of heft among all the hues.
The horsey elements one expects at Hermès were here quite hidden: a riding silk jockey jacket and sweatshirts had equestrian echoes, but Vanhee-Cybulski is trying to “break perceptions of the traditional riding dress”.
Her line was fluid and super-feminine: “I can get obsessive about length,” she said of the seven-eighth hemline that defined most every look, be it the leather culottes or twillaine cashmere mohair skirts, and worn with a knee boot with stacked heel. “I wanted an elongated silhouette. Utterly feminine.”
The charm of the Hermès wardrobe is in its inconspicuous elegance: Vanhee-Cybulski’s gentle touch works a treat.