Hermès opened its first restaurant concept, The Blue Horse, at South Coast Plaza on Thursday. For one night.
To celebrate its new, larger store at the Costa Mesa, Calif., shopping center, the French luxury powerhouse hosted an evening of fun, starting with cocktails at the 7,100-square-foot boutique, then moving to the former Sears Auto Center that had been made over as The Blue Horse.
Hermès USA president and chief executive officer Bob Chavez was relishing his role as April Fools jokester, telling the crowd they were being treated to an exclusive preview of the first Hermès restaurant (oohs and aahs ensued). Then, after they took their seats at dinner tables, he informed them there had been a mistake and they needed to get up and move to another room.
And voila! The other room was an open kitchen of interactive delights, Hermès style, with chefs in house-printed toques serving up all kinds of gustatory whimsy, from smoked salmon rice pudding to lobster salad with flash-frozen rose petals that guests crushed themselves from stems dipped into a cylinders of liquid nitrogen.
Between each course, the chefs de cuisine orchestrated a musical interlude, turning pots, pans and ice water glasses into instruments in a scene tailor made for Instagram.
There were about 100 guests, mostly locals (nearly every one with an Hermès bag in hand) and some from Los Angeles, including beauty entrepreneur Marianna Hewitt of Summer Fridays and her beau Adam Goldston, cofounder of the footwear brand A.P.L. South Coast Plaza scion Anton Segerstrom and his wife Jennifer took selfies with Chavez.
The executive had a starring role in the grand finale, a Big Easy-meets-Big O (Orange County) Second Line parade that had him processing with percussionists, brass players and chefs carrying Hermès orange boxes with Birkins, H sandals and lipstick that — surprise! — turned out to be doppelgänger cakes.
“We’ve had people Googling The Blue Horse, and there’s nothing there,” Chavez smiled, noting the frenzy that the invitation to the soiree started.
In all seriousness though, the business of luxury brand restaurants is burgeoning, from Ralph’s Club in New York, to Monsieur Dior in Paris, to the new Petrossian at Tiffany at South Coast Plaza itself.
Was this a bit of beta testing for Hermès? “You never know,” Chavez laughed.
Opened March 4, the newly located Hermès boutique has wood paneled walls and coastal-themed artwork that makes visiting feel like stepping onto a yacht. Hermès went from having 4,000 square feet of selling space to 7,100 square feet, and had its best month of sales yet since opening, Chavez said.
The horseshoe-shaped open floor plan was designed to showcase the growing world of Hermès, seamlessly flowing from one department to the next. Women’s footwear, including clogs and sandals, flows into menswear, fine jewelry and watches. There’s a leather salon with a dedicated area for after sales and repairs, a silk room, home area with a bridle leather brown sofa, globe, sterling silver water bottle and other luxe novelties. An equestrian collection caters to the riding community, and the beauty department has the full range of fragrance, Hermès Orange Boite and other shades of nail color and lipstick, or a deluxe set that includes one of each color.
The Hermès surf board, skateboard, rash guards, scarf print swimwear, short shorts and tracksuits and “Faubourg rainbow” T-shirts look right on point for the SoCal locale. And there’s a coffee bar with built in phone chargers for the Silicon Beach south set. Artwork by Filipe Jardim, Suzel Caspard and Marion Dubier Clark enhances the space’s connection to maritime motifs.
“Our business has grown phenomenally here and because it was our 25th anniversary at South Coast Plaza, it was the perfect time to do this,” Chavez said during an interview in one of the store’s sleekly appointed VIP rooms. “If you’d seen our back of house before, it was tiny and we were maxed out on our capacity to do business. Now we’re able to offer a more extensive, deeper selection, and we had our best month ever here in March since we opened.”
South Coast is now in the top five best-performing stores in the U.S., he said, behind New York, Beverly Hills and the two Hawaii stores. Leather goods is still the biggest volume category, but the fastest growing is fine jewelry, followed by men’s and women’s apparel. “We’ve more than doubled our sales in those three categories in the first month,” he said, suggesting customers are responding to the new environs.
Whereas pre-pandemic, South Coast’s Plaza’s clientele was largely tourists, Chavez said it is now 90 percent local.
The executive is on a western tour, educating store staffs about future plans, including boutiques opening April 20 in Austin, Texas, in November in Naples, Fla., and renovations in New York and Chicago following next year.
Womenswear designer Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski, who has been with the house for seven years, “has come to understand the DNA of Hermès and is now interpreting it in a modern way, and clients are reacting phenomenally,” Chavez said. Indeed, the designer’s fall 2022 collection was more “Emily in Paris” than Left Bank madam, and the crowd at the party tended to follow.
“A lot of people are wearing the ready-to-wear who would not have been customers before,” Chavez added.
Hermès has big plans for next year in the L.A. area, where it will open its second store in the old Sears anchor space at Westfield Topanga mall in May or June 2023.
“They tore it down and are creating a valet parking circle, so we’ll have only an outdoor entrance. And since we announced, Dior and Fendi have announced they are also moving in on the first floor,” Chavez said.