By  on March 2, 1994

PARIS -- Hermes has broken into a gallop.

The 156-year-old fashion house is one of the hottest stocks on the Paris Bourse; its silk scarves and ties are in demand globally and its women's ready-to-wear -- given priority status by the company in the late Eighties -- is growing at a steady clip.

Hermes has been quietly making elegant women's clothes for nearly a quarter of a century. But in an attempt to develop a full fashion collection while not abandoning the company's trademark equestrian looks, chairman Jean-Louis Dumas surprised the French fashion world in 1988 by naming Claude Brouet women's fashion director.

Brouet, long-time editor of fashion and beauty at France's Marie Claire magazine, launched her first collection for fall-winter 1989-90. Based on projections made in 1992, Brouet's rtw designs, along with Hermes men's wear, were expected to generate 20 percent of Hermes International's total sales by 1997.

So far, the women's division is on track. In 1992, sales for rtw accounted for 7.7 percent of the firm's total consolidated sales at $32.2 million (189.7 million francs), up 7 percent from 1991 and 15.6 percent from 1990. Men's wear accounted for $14.8 million (87.5 million francs), or 3.56 percent of total Hermes sales.

Hermes's total consolidated sales for the year were $416.3 million (2.4 billion francs). Net profits in 1992 rose 45 percent to $29.8 million (176.2 million francs), from $20.5 million (120.9 million francs).

While divisional breakdowns are not available, Hermes's various operations have continued to run in the fast lane. All divisions -- save fragrances -- posted increases in 1993, with consolidated sales for the year rising 16 percent to $483.2 million (2.85 billion francs).

And since it went public, Hermes has been burning up the Bourse, launching last June at $50.84 (300 francs) and closing Tuesday at $90.84 (536 francs).

Dumas, in a recent interview at the Hermes flagship here, reflected on the move to hire Brouet and broaden the women's business.

"We needed someone who could see beyond the horizon," he said, adding that he was determined to develop a women's rtw collection that would not abandon Hermes's equestrian and silk looks, but would complement them with seasonal fashion color, fabric and styling trends.

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