Hermes: Luxury that isn’tWhen Korea’s first Hermes store opened in a five-star hotel arcade in central Seoul in the late ’80s, shoppers were so discreet about their purchases that they refused to have their goods packaged in the brand’s famous orange bag.
Hermes, which was privately cherished by the exclusive few, soon caught up in popular appeal. After 1997, when its third location opened at Galleria Department Store in southern Seoul, Koreans knew what it meant to carry those orange shopping bags in the street.
Favored both by Koreans and by Japanese tourists seeking better prices for a symbol of prestige, Hermes’ operations, especially in duty-free stores, have steadily grown. This month, Hermes celebrated the opening of its largest duty-free store in Asia, with its 51-pyeong (169- square-meter) space in the Shilla Hotel duty-free shopping center.
Eric Delannoy, the brand’s sales director of travel retail operations in Asia-Pacific region, visits Korea a few times a year. A native of France, he has lived in Hong Kong since 1988. Formerly engaged in the French perfume industry in Asia, he joined Hermes in 1994.
The IHT-JoongAng Daily spoke with Mr. Delannoy about the presence of Hermes in Korea.
How does Hermes define “luxury” in an age saturated with luxury brands?
Interestingly, the Hermes chairman and executives never use the word “luxury” nor discuss Hermes as a luxury brand. Just as Hermes products were personally made with excellent craftsmanship in the old days, we still carry the same spirit of craftsmanship.
We don’t even talk about a total concept or theme. We only make sure an individual item can make its own statement. Let’s say you are wearing a simple cotton T-shirt and jeans and wear a Hermes scarf or shoes ― that’s already a strong fashion statement.
Who buys Hermes at duty-free shops?
Seventy percent are Japanese tourists who buy mostly accessories for souvenirs; the rest is divided into overseas and local Koreans who prefer clothes and shoes. They buy at duty-free shops because items cost about 15 percent less in retail prices, although the price fluctuates because of exchange rates.
What is the latest hot seller?
The scarf used to be the hot item; its sales peaked in 1993 and 1994. They don’t sell as much now. We no longer have one or two hot sellers, which means our business doesn’t rely on one or two items.
Hot means it will soon get cold. Hermes used to have two legs, silk and bags, in the past. Now, we have more than several legs to expand sales in the long run. A line of pleated scarves called Twillys, for example, has recently sparked sales in Japan, but it’s just an affordably fashionable item which comes and goes.
What can we expect from Jean-Paul Gaultier, who has replaced Martin Margiela as the head designer?
Martin Margiela has successfully conveyed the image of Hermes in today’s context. The comfort, simplicity and elegance of Hermes were translated well through his lean, simple collection in neutral colors. When Martin began, he didn’t work with certain Hermes prints that were very popular, so we have carried that line separately from Martin’s. His collection for Hermes last season was the best collection ever, so it was completely sold out everywhere.
Due to a change, Hermes clients will need a little time to adjust to the new collection by a new designer, Jean-Paul Gaultier. We’ve already heard that the new Gaultier collection Gaultier would be substantially different and wilder, of course. I will get to see the first collection in February, and it will be introduced in Korea next July.
by Ines Cho