NEW YORK — Hermès clearly isn’t worried the luxury customer might be cutting back.
In a big bet the wealthy will keep spending, the French luxury brand is doubling its presence on Madison Avenue with the opening of its first men’s-only store in the world. And this being Hermès, price is no object — the store’s offering ranges from signature Hermès silk ties to an Hermès baseball at $1,100 and glove at $8,500, to custom leather jackets with a starting price of $50,000.
“There’s no other place where a man can order exactly what he wants,” said Veronique Nichanian, artistic director for men’s ready-to-wear, who called the men’s store “a dream come true. The store is très cozy and chic.”
Patrick Thomas, chief executive officer of Hermès International, said the men’s business at the brand is actually stronger than most people realize. Hermès on Friday revealed 2009 sales for the fashion house rose 8.5 percent and the company raised its forecast for operating profit to 3 to 4 percent growth.
“Traditionally, our clientele has always been mixed,” Thomas said. “Today, in volume terms, we sell roughly as many objects to men as we do to women, but in terms of sales, the split is closer to one-third for men and two-thirds for women, because a tie is roughly half the price of a silk scarf.”
From the Greek-key frieze that surrounds the entryway to the small Hermès rouge tiles embedded in the marble floor, the French luxury house was meticulous in the creation of the men’s-only store.
Hermès Man, located in a townhouse at Madison Avenue and 62nd Street in New York, is directly across the street from the company’s decade-old Manhattan flagship. It will have its debut tonight at a party for more than 500 before opening to the public on Wednesday.
The store spans four floors and provides shoppers with an intimate yet comfortable shopping experience designed to feel like a walk-in closet. It offers the full range of Hermès’ men’s wear products, including the company’s iconic neckwear and small leather goods, as well as tailored clothing, sportswear and an entire level devoted to custom apparel.
The men’s store has been two years in the making, according to Robert Chavez, president and ceo of Hermès of Paris Inc., and resulted from a phone call he received from a real estate agent.
“I get a lot of calls, and 99.9 percent of the time, I’m not interested,” he said. “But this one said the space was available at 690 Madison Avenue. At first it didn’t register, but then I said, ‘Wait, we’re at 691 Madison.’” Chavez then found out the entire building was available — a brick landmark whose coloring was close to Hermès red — and he signed on.
“We needed more space in the existing flagship and it made the most sense to take out our men’s product and give it its own boutique,” he said.
The flagship, which will now offer an expanded assortment of women’s apparel and accessories and home goods, had devoted 2,500 square feet to men’s on the club level, Chavez said. The space allows the company to blow out the men’s wear assortment to 4,000 square feet while giving the remainder of the 6,000 square feet over to needed back-office and stockroom space.
“It’s a very warm, intimate place,” Chavez said. “Gentlemen like shopping in this kind of environment. It’s like shopping in your own closet.” He said the company “had really strong business on the club level, but this allows us to give the product its own setting on street level.”
Neckwear, one of the largest men’s businesses for the company, gets prominently displayed. A large assortment is merchandised directly inside the front door, along with pocket squares, dress shirts, small leather goods, fragrances and some knitwear.
“The ties are right at street level, and the color immediately catches your eye,” Chavez said.
For this store, Hermès created some exclusive product, including ties with an image of the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower on the front and French and American flags on the back. Another tie sports an apple with an “H” in the center.
The company also re-created one of its classic scarf prints for use in ties, shirts and vests, again in the Hermès rouge.
The Madison Avenue window includes the baseball and glove created especially for the men’s store. “This is the first time Hermès has ever done that,” Chavez said. “But it’s really so Hermès with the leather and stitching. And the gods were shining on us because the Yankees won the World Series. We made around nine of them, but they’ll go fast.”
The store’s interior, designed by RDAI, the Parisian architectural firm founded by Rena Dumas, boasts custom-designed fixtures in cherry wood with shelves that pull out to merchandise additional product. The narrow size of the store also necessitated that Hermès get creative with the fitting rooms. When not in use, they are mirrors and walls, but they open on hinges to create a room in which customers can change. “We found a way to maximize the space,” Chavez said, noting the company was “looking for that townhouse feel.”
The second floor has a “more relaxed ambience” and showcases sportswear, more knitwear, swimwear, luggage, belts, hats and casual footwear. Bright spring colors are offered to provide pop on the selling floor.
The third floor is devoted to more formal businesswear, along with watches. It’s also where the company offers its exclusive rouge-colored Hermès bags and briefcases.
The fourth and final level of selling space is designed as “a very special, quiet place,” Chavez said, and is devoted to made-to-measure and custom apparel. “We can offer you whatever you like, whatever may be your dream.”
The selection encompasses suits, dress shirts, formalwear, knitwear and ties. “You can choose any of 500 colors and we’ll make it for you,” he said of the neckwear assortment.
In the current flagship, he said, the company offered its “demi-mesure” and “sur-mesure” services in a retrofitted fitting room, but the new space is expected to further increase sales of these unique products, he said.
But the pièce de résistance on the floor is its leathers. “You can choose your skin and your style, and we’ll make you a special jacket,” Chavez said, opening a cabinet to expose the selection. Retail prices for these products will be $50,000 and up, he said.
A regular dress shirt retails for around $500 and a regular off-the-rack suit starts at $3,500. A bespoke shirt starts at $850.
Chavez said he expects the store to attract the gentleman who had been shopping across the street and who will be pleased with the expanded assortment, space and environment. “They probably didn’t realize how many products for men Hermès made because they were mixed with other elements [in the old store].”
Although he declined to provide a figure, Chavez said the men’s store should “easily double the business from across the street in its first year. Our business was strong last year and men’s outpaced women’s, so we realize we have more potential.” Top sellers in the old space included neckwear, dress shirts and made-to-measure products. Sportswear and colorful knitwear were also popular, he added.
The men’s store will allow the company to expand the assortment of popular items across the street. Chavez said Hermès will create a leather floor in the former men’s space on the club level, hopefully by the end of the summer. The silk scarf collection will be expanded, along with fashion jewelry and accessories, particularly the enamel jewelry, which is crammed into about three feet of space right now, he said.
Thomas said there are no immediate plans to open any other men’s-only stores, but if the store is successful, it may prompt others. He said: “We do not plan any other initiatives of this kind, at least in 2010. If it turns out to be a big success, maybe afterwards, we will see.”
Chavez added: “We’re sure [this concept] has legs across the globe.”