Let me start off by saying that I'm not the kind of girl who obsesses over Birkin/Kelly bags or who collects silk scarves and twillys like a crazy person. I've always been grateful for the fact that most Hermès items don't reflect my style - and my bank account thanks me for it. While Hermès might not be my favorite brand in terms of what it stocks, it's still the one I admire the most. It's been company-controlled for six generations, shuns mass production and the assembly line - therefore making it probably the only luxury retailer out there who still creates hand-made goods - and believes in using natural fibres and materials. It's the ultimate luxury label. And while many dream of owning one of their beautifully crafted bags; every time I come out of an Hermès store, I have the sudden urge to get a horse so I can buy one of their saddles, harnesses and any other equestrian gear I might need.
What I love most about Hermès is the history behind the brand. Founded in 1837 by Thierry Hermès the company started out creating harnesses for horse carriages belonging to the wealthy and royal. Later on, his son Claude-Émile introduced saddles to the range, moving the headquarters to 24 rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré in 1878, where it still stands today. The building, which had formerly housed a fine grocery store, had a saddlery on the ground floor, with living quarters one floor higher. These days the entire building belongs to Hermès and you'll still find the 'sellerie' towards the back with its own entrance located on rue Boissy d'Anglas, which is the one I chose to photograph for this blog. Throughout the years, Hermès added scarves, bags, jewelry, homewares, perfume, other leather accessories and of course men's and women's clothing to the range.
While they never strayed far from traditional and sophisticated luxury, the owners always made the effort to keep the brand contemporary, whether it was hiring Martin Margiela, followed by Jean-Paul Gaultier as Creative Director for women's RTW or taking on Pierre Hardy as an accessories designer. But if you had any doubt as to the roots of the brand, the equestrian theme is one that is often used in ad campaigns or integrated into a product design. What you'll also quickly realize once you enter the store, is that if you are a true Hermès fan, you can easily purchase every possible item to make the brand a part of your life, from tea cups and bath towels to playing cards and stuffed animals. The ultra-rich can even commission the company to decorate the interior of their helicopter, car (that is, if you don't already own the Hermès designed Bugatti Veyron), yacht or anything else you might desire, such as the crocodile skin guitar case created for Eric Clapton.
As over-the-top luxurious as the brand may be though, the main flagship in Paris is actually less intimidating than you might imagine and a lot of fun to browse. The main attraction usually begins with the store windows, which are elaborately decorated and come with special sound effects (in the past this has mainly been a mix of birds chirping and jungle noises). If you go on a Saturday, the store will be incredibly crowded. And just in case you forgot that France is one of the few countries that isn't in a recession, seeing people buy bags, scarves and jewelry like there's no tomorrow will probably remind you of this fact, though the main clientele still tends to be wealthy tourists from the Middle East, Russia and Asia. The store has been redesigned several times, and despite the modern touches, I still feel like I'm experiencing a bit of fashion history every time I drop by. The tiled floors and old-fashioned main staircase give an indication of how the store could have looked like back in the day.
The ground floor is usually the busiest part of the store, mainly because this is where the most coveted items - bags and scarves - can be found. Tables and chairs are scattered about, where clients can sit down to flip through a catalog and choose the leather, model and hardware of various leather bags or accessories. A long scarf counter tends to be the most crowded part of the store, with numerous staff members folding and unfolding the silk wares and customers trying them on in front of the mirrors.
My favorite part of the store is the back area where the saddlery is. One artisan was working away at a harness and for a while I perused the different saddles and accessories trying to figure out what I could get my imaginary horse. At the opposite end, I found a small selection of coffee table books, some related to equestrian sports, others referring to art or history.
Further towards the front of the store I took a quick look at the leather jewelry, the most popular items being the cuffs such as the collier de chien.
Fragrances had their own little section and this was probably the quietest part of the store.
The second-largest area on this floor was dedicated to menswear, with a large selection of silk ties, dress shirts but also a good range of the current RTW collection.
There are three ways to get to the first floor. Either using the traditional-looking stairs towards the front, the modern glass version in the middle or the old-fashioned elevator near bag section. While the ground floor might not seem as airy and bright, the first floor makes more use of natural daylight, thanks mainly to the skylight in the women's wear section. This area is huge and this is also where you'll realize that bags and scarves are only a small part of what Hermès does. It took me quite a while to scan the different coats, jackets, evening gowns and casual clothes.
The shoe section was slightly easier to take in and I was happy to see they had already started displaying boots and other footwear from the FW09 collection. The signature sandals were available in a wide array of colors along with some very overpriced flip flops (sorry, but I don't think I'd ever pay over EUR 250 for a pair).
Along a row of windows, I found more Hermès items you rarely get to see, ranging from limited edition notebooks and agendas to keychains, bookmarks and card holders.
What fascinated me the most though, was a small section towards the center where you could purchase baby gifts. I took a peek to see if there was anything I could get my baby niece. Ummm... yeah, something tells me she won't fully appreciate stuffed toys made of real fur going for well over EUR 600. A few non-real-fur toy horses were also available, as well as baby blankets, gloves, hats, and rompers - you could even put together your own set which comes in a little suitcase. Very cute. Very pricey.
More Hermès items I spotted included playing cards, dominoes and other travel games in the 'leisure' area, beach towels and accessories, as well as anything you could possible need to decorate your home.
Another very large section housed porcelain, linen and homewares. The entire first floor had a more modern touch with plush carpets and comfy chairs, making this area more reminiscent of a fine department store, than of a luxury flagship.
Finally, for those in need of some fine gold or silver jewelry, a separate jewelry area can be found close to the elevator. This is also where the client-service section is situated, where the more wealthy or regular clients can have a seat and talk about custom-orders, place special requests or simply order a ton of bags, as I witnessed one woman do.
This store might not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's definitely an experience even if the brand is a bit too conservative or pricey for your taste. For Hermès fans, I'm guessing a pilgrimage to the main flagship is worth a trip to Paris alone. I would like to note that the staff gets friendlier the further away you stray from the main bag/scarf section (due to the large amount of visitors in this area) and if you want a chance at scoring a Birkin or Kelly without having to put your name on a waiting list (yes, it's possible) you should go early in the morning during a weekday.
Address: rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 75008 Paris
Opening Hrs: Mon: 10:00-13:00, 14:15-18:30, Tue-Sat 10:00-18:30
Hermès Homepage & Online Shop