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Hermès is making a major push this fall to get the message out about the breadth of its men’s offering.
The first prong of the initiative kicked off in New York last week when Véronique Nichanian, men’s artistic director and designer of men’s ready-to-wear, made a rare appearance at the company’s Madison Avenue men’s store, where she met customers and hosted a dinner.
“This is my baby,” said Nichanian of the two-and-a-half-year-old four-level town house that is devoted to Hermès’ men’s collection. “We have big stores at the Faubourg Saint-Honoré [in Paris] and in Tokyo, but this is the only place in the world that is only for men.” The store opened in February 2010 across the street from the company’s Manhattan flagship on 62nd Street and Madison Avenue.
Robert Chavez, president and chief executive officer of Hermès of Paris Inc., added: “We learned we have significantly more potential for our men’s business when we show the entire universe together. Many people are surprised at how much we have.” Chavez said Hermès has experienced “tremendous growth in ready-to-wear, shoes and now bespoke. People keep discovering new elements of our men’s world.”
Nichanian’s visit to New York was centered around the company’s bespoke offering — demi-mesure and sur-mesure — that Hermès offers in tailored clothing, shirts, knitwear, leather goods and other special-order products.
“They know we have ties and shoes and ready-to-wear,” she said, “but seeing the entire world, and what we have in special order, allows our customer to realize his dream.” She said that “in a world where everybody looks the same,” opting for a bespoke offering allows a man to be “unique.”
Next on the calendar is an event at the San Francisco store on Grant Avenue from Oct. 19 to 24. Nichanian said that store, which currently offers the entire range of Hermès product, is being “transformed” into a men’s store for the length of the promotion. Mannequins and live models will sport the fall 2012 runway collection, and an invitation-only evening will include a performance by world champion fingerskaters from Europe. Fingerskating involves a scaled-down version of a skateboard that is operated using fingers. Hermès featured fingerskating at a men’s universe event in Beijing last year and created a video for its Web site of the sportsmen performing tricks around displays of men’s accessories.
“In San Francisco, men’s is really growing exponentially,” Chavez said. “So we’re taking our existing store and pushing everything else out for a week. We hope it will get a lot of publicity and bring people in.”
The focus then moves to the Seattle boutique at the Bravern on N.E. 8th Street, where an interactive art installation by digital-projection artist Miguel Chevalier will be showcased. The exhibit uses logos such as an on-off switch, USB ports and electric cables, and projects them onto an Hermès look book of sorts for its heavy-twill silk ties. Guests can manipulate the projected images by moving their fingers across the pages. That exhibition will be on display in the store from Oct. 31 to Nov. 6.
“We chose Seattle because of the advanced technology business based there. And what better place than Seattle for this digital presentation?” said Chavez, pointing out that the store is located across the street from a large Microsoft office. “We’re marrying those two worlds together.”
Overall, men’s wear currently accounts for about a third of Hermès’ sales that last year totaled 2.84 billion euros, or $3.96 billion at average exchange for the period, which Chavez said comes as a “surprise to a lot of people. This boutique made us realize how important men’s is and its true potential.”
Chavez said the Hermès men’s customer is someone seeking a beautiful, quality product. “Our client has an appreciation for timelessness and is looking for an investment piece,” he said.
“This is not fashion,” said Nichanian. “It fits into your life and the way you mix it [makes a statement about who you are]. But we know it’s not for everyone.”
She said that since she started her design career after graduating as valedictorian from the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture in Paris, she has had a love for fabric and materials. “That’s my passion,” she said. Nichanian started her career in 1976 at Cerruti, where she was stylist for the men’s collection, and joined Hermès in 1988.
“Everybody talks about luxury today, but what does it mean?” she asked. “For us, it means quality and craftsmanship. My sense of luxury is full of details.”
Despite Hermès’ success with its men’s wear offering, there are no immediate plans to open any other men’s-only boutiques, either in the U.S. or elsewhere. But Chavez didn’t rule out the possibility of adding others down the line.
“There’s nothing concrete, but we’re always contemplating it,” he said. “We’d love to do a second one in the U.S., but we haven’t found the right location. But it would have to be done just right — it has to be the right moment and the right place.”
Although it shares space with other product categories, Hermès’ Wall Street store, which opened in 2007, also has a large men’s wear offering. Chavez said the store “does well,” but its men’s performance is similar to other stores. “It’s average,” he said. “We’ve learned men come in and buy quickly,” he said. “But this store [the Madison Avenue men’s town house] has proven if we give men their own environment, they’ll spend.”
“They don’t want the perfume or the scarves,” Nichanian said. “We’re talking only to them.”