By  on October 24, 2007

PARIS — Hermès has given its historic flagship here a new wing.

The French luxury house on Tuesday unveiled a 4,000-square-foot extension to its store at 24 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, which almost doubles the space allocated to the women's ready-to-wear collections designed by Jean Paul Gaultier.

All told, the addition, overseen by architect Rena Dumas, expands the store's total selling space by about a third to 17,000 square feet. That makes the store the largest Hermès emporium in the world, just ahead of the 16,000-square-foot shop in Tokyo's Ginza.

"This is the heart of our house," Patrick Thomas, Hermès' chief executive officer, said at a news conference attended by Hermès family members, including co-artistic directors Pascale Mussard and Pierre-Alexis Dumas. "It is our icon."

The store is also an important cash-generating machine. Sources estimate annual sales of the flagship are 150 million euros, or $212.7 million. Asked if sales would increase commensurate to the new square footage, or by about a third, Thomas said: "We're keeping our fingers crossed."

Renovation of the space took about a year. Dumas meant it as a seamless transition between the existing historic space, with mosaic tiled floors and lush wood-paneled walls, and a new modern point of view. Much of that was achieved with a premise of transparency.

Dividers were cleaved of translucent glass, and a new, transparent glass staircase links the ground floor men's department with the new women's area on the first level.

"The idea was to give the space finesse and elegance," said Pierre-Alexis Dumas. "We wanted that it be modern, but also refer to the past subtly, like with the mosaic floors."

Indeed, much of the new store looks like the old one.

Differences include undulating wave-like plaster walls in the women's shoe department and chrome racks with curving spear-like tops on which the women's collections hang. Besides the mosaic floor, the new space reprises the old store's crystal ceiling lamps and Egyptian ceiling friezes.

Thomas, who reminisced about the store's past illustrious clients (including Jean Cocteau, Marlene Dietrich and Richard Nixon, who incidentally spent an hour marooned in the elevator when it got stuck between floors), said the expanded women's space underscored Hermès' ambitions to grow the category.Thomas also highlighted the strength of the fragrance business, which now is housed in a small, mirrored cubical space on the ground floor. Other categories given more room include small leather goods (agendas, belts and gloves) and men's shoes.

Though the store has been running at reduced space, store manager Laurence Reulet said business has been robust with a "just under double-digit" gain for the year to date. She said all categories are growing equally, with silk scarves turning in a good performance. Reulet said waiting lists for up to a year and a half persist for models of the perennially best-selling Birkin bag, which can cost between 4,000 euros, or $5,672 at current exchange, for a simple leather version to 110,000 euros, or $155,980, for the diamond and crocodile bag currently displayed in the window. (It has yet to be sold.)

Exclusive products were created to fete the store. There are about 10 canvas and leather handbags (1,800 to 4,900 euros, or $2,552 to $6,948) embroidered with the neoclassical motif from the store's mosaic tiled floors; a "champagne" trunk replete with Saint Louis crystal goblets and a silver Puiforcat ice bucket (165,000 euros, or $233,970), and an elaborate backgammon set (35,000 euros, or $49,630).

Six silk scarves embroidered by François Lesage have also been created, as have a small selection of jewelry pieces by Pierre Hardy, who also designs Hermès shoes.

Meanwhile, an around-the-clock party to inaugurate the expanded space started Tuesday evening. As Hermès likes quirky symbolism, the 24-hour shindig to fete 24 Faubourg Saint-Honoré was scheduled for Oct. 24. Among those slated to perform were Jane Birkin, the Birkin bag's namesake; French pop star Camille, as well as a panoply of musical acts, from Bollywood-style song and opera arias to flamenco and a late-night disco lounge, with music provided by the likes of Paul Sevigny and Ariel Wizman. The evening was slated to end with onion soup and a yoga class.

"We wanted to have fun, like we were inviting friends over to the house for a party," said Stephane Wargnier, Hermès' corporate communications director. "Everyone does these serious store openings. We just wanted something completely off the wall."

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