PARIS — The Hermès architect and interior designer Rena Dumas, who was the wife of the company’s former chief executive officer Jean-Louis Dumas, died here Monday of cancer. She was 71.
This story first appeared in the May 1, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The Greek-born Dumas founded Rena Dumas Architecture Intérieure in Paris in 1972. She designed the interior of her first Hermès boutique in 1976 — an addition to the Paris flagship at 24 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré — and would go on to design almost 300 more, from the brand’s New York City flagship on Madison Avenue to its Ginza tower in Tokyo, a project carried out in collaboration with Renzo Piano, the main architect for the building.
As an architect, Dumas built the Maison Hermès Dosan Park in Seoul, among others, though she was partial to interiors during her long career and known for an obsession with natural light.
In 2000, Jean-Louis Dumas told W magazine, WWD’s sister publication, that his wife was responsible for bringing the company’s look into the modern era without “overthrowing the ancient tradition of Hermès. She has patiently and effectively developed the Hermès way of welcoming our customers.”
For each new Hermès location, Dumas integrated the main elements of the Paris flagship with touches of local flavor, striving never to produce an exact replica. For example, the Madison Avenue store features Pennsylvania cherry wood with a light, matte finish as opposed to the darker glossy paneling that appears in the Paris shop, while a Beverly Hills location came with an atrium equipped with a sliding glass roof.
An affinity for sunlight was a common theme in all of Dumas’ projects. “If I knew there is natural light in there somewhere, I’ll do anything to get at it,” she told W.
Dumas met her future husband in 1959 while a student at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Appliqués et des Métiers d’Arts in Paris. Among her first clients were the Marine and Urquijo banks.
Besides her extensive work for Hermès, Dumas’ firm designed interiors for Yves Saint Laurent, Artemis, Christie’s and the Hotel Pergolese, all in Paris, as well as the Hotel Seiyo in Tokyo. Her work ethic was unrivaled — she took off only 15 days each for the births of her two children.
Valérie Hermann, ceo of Yves Saint Laurent, who, in 2006, tapped Dumas to transform the company’s Avenue George V headquarters and sought her input on its new boutique concept, lauded her sense of color, sensitivity to materials and knack for creating harmonious environments. “She was very refined, and she had a very, very sure taste,” Hermann said Thursday. “She was strong, but very feminine as well.”
In 1983, Dumas began branching out from her architectural work to design furniture and objects. Her Pippa line of pear wood and leather furniture launched at Hermès in 1987, and she recently created a line of glassware for Saint-Louis. Dumas’ designs have been featured at such museums as the Centre Pompidou and Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris, and the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York City.
Dumas is survived by her husband and two children, Sandrine and Pierre-Alexis, who is artistic director at Hermès.
Memorial services are scheduled for Saturday at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Stephen at 7 Rue Georges Bizet in Paris’ 16th arrondissement.