Hermes rides elegantly into Seoul with a world-class investment

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Hermes rides elegantly into Seoul with a world-class investment

The elite among Korea’s fashion consumers have rarely received such overwhelming acknowledgement as was recently bestowed upon them by Hermes. Not one, not two, but 12 members of the Dumas family, which owns the French luxury house, descended upon the opening of the new Maison Hermes Dosan Park, southern Seoul.
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Legendary French couturier Jean-Paul Gaultier, who is now chief designer at Hermes, said when he joined his employers that “discretion, refinement and subtlety” are their hallmarks. These qualities are abundant among the the Dumas clan whose demure smiles and discreet presence might have gone completely unnoticed by some 700 multinational champagne-sipping guests at the Dosan Park event. For the most part the fashion crowd was too busy being surprised by impromptu mini concerts throughout the night, and the guests went home with a warm feeling of l’air de Paris, meticulously prepared by Hermes.
From the magnificent personal collection of original Hermes products displayed in the store’s basement, to Pierre Alexis Dumas’ co-ordination of Jean-Paul Gaultier’s productions for Hermes fashion, to the youngest member of the Dumas clan, Louis Dumas, a 19-year-old student currently studying in Brighton, U.K., the message was clear. After six generations, Hermes is a living legacy of authentic French luxury with an eye to the future. For the family-owned company, profit growth will depend upon building its business around the world.
What started as a humble saddlery in the 19th century is now an international group of 250 stores with 43 additional sales networks globally. The reported total sales figures in 2005 from the U. S., Europe and Asia-Pacific regions were nearly 1.5 billion euros (1.9 billion dollars.)
The edifice in Seoul is truly impressive, enough to mesmerize guests who might normally be too worldly wise to be enchanted.
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With the building’s gilded facade illuminated from within, the symbol of the brand’s equestrian heritage, a soaring sculpture of a horseman and his horse, shone golden bright on the roof of the building. The shop sprawls over two floors and is stocked with all things Hermes, from a $15 Twilly scarf to a sumptuous three-carat diamond ring with a price that is not disclosed to the public. Throughout the store there are classic oil paintings by French artists, such as Louis-Robert Heyrault and Paul Delaroche, best-known for their equestrian paintings.
The white staircase, whose rail is covered with leather, winds up from the basement, which houses Le Musee “Promenade” and Cafe Madang, to the art space on the third floor, which displays the store’s inaugural exhibition, 25 color panels by French artist Daniel Buren, titled, “Filtres Colors, Travail in Situ.”
In the basement, visitors can experience the illusion of a surreal forest, created by the world renowned artist Hilton McConnico. The trees are made with colorful strips of vibrato leather used for making Hermes handbags; the trees’ hollow trunks are designed to display items from the permanent collection of Emile Hermes, one of the founding fathers of the company. The book cafe adjacent to the museum stocks over 250 books on art, travel, equestrian sport and children’s literature, the latter including some written by Philippe Dumas, who came to the opening with his four sons, Emile, Jean, Robert and Louis.
The opening of the Hermes flagship store in Korea has placed the quiet two-lane street near Dosan Park on a par with the world’s most luxurious shopping districts ― Faubourg Saint-Honore of Paris, Madison Avenue of New York City and Ginza of Tokyo ― where the company’s three other flagship stores are located.
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And Hermes wanted to make sure the world knows about its latest investment in Asia. It invited 80 journalists to the event including representatives from Le Monde, Women’s Wear Daily Japan and Domus.
Weeks before the opening, the six-story-high cubic edifice, covering 22,000 square feet, had been the talk of the town. Talking about the minimalist design of the building’s square shape, Rena Dumas, one of the senior members of the Dumas clan, who heads her own design company RDAI, explained she incorporated two key elements: Squares found in traditional Korean homes, and the theme of transparency by maximizing the use of natural light.
“We wanted to avoid being in a densely commercial area and chose to be near nature,” Ms. Dumas said during the press conference.
Overseeing the fine details of the construction meant numerous visits by “countless” staff members from around the world, and one of regular visitors has been Patrick Thomas, the chief executive officer of Hermes International. Formerly chief executive of Lancaster Group and William Grand & Sons, Mr. Thomas, 59, joined Hermes in 2003 when the fifth generation owner-executive Jean-Louise Dumas retired. From the Dumas clan, the sixth generation son, Pierre Alexis Dumas and niece Pascale Mussard currently serve as co-artistic directors.

“I’ve been specializing in luxury, cosmetics and perfume divisions, and Korea has been always strong in all three categories. So far I’ve been to Korea 40 times, usually twice a year,” Mr. Thomas said at the opening party. When asked about how he will make a profit from the colossal investment Hermes has made in the Korean market, he said, “It [our presence in Korea] is not about getting a short-term monetary return, but about building connections and friendships with Korean consumers ― over a very long run.”
Hermes Korea had a humble beginning with a small perfume counter inside a duty-free store in 1974. Over three decades, the Hermes brand became a hallmark of Korean high society, with a strong presence inside major Korean department stores. Hermes Korea became a limited company in 1996. The current managing director, Jun Hyung-sun, announced at the Dosan Park store opening that Hermes Korea sold 35 billion won (about $35 million) worth of products last year.

The IHT-JoongAng Daily caught up with Pierre Alexis Dumas, a sixth generation son of the Dumas family. Mr. Dumas currently works as a co-creative director, overseeing Hermes fashion. He joined Hermes in 1993 to work in the Asia Pacific division.

Q. What’s it like to work with Jean-Paul Gaultier? Do you get to confirm his designs?
A. Yes, he does confirm his designs with me, but we have five designers in the team.
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Every designer needs three or four seasons to fully understand the brand. It’s been a while since Mr. Gaultier joined Hermes, and he’s delved into our heritage designs for his inspiration. I think he now has a mature collection that connects the threads of Hermes.

Are there any products in the Hermes store that make you feel ‘this is our family’s own’?
There are many products that make me feel like they are from my family. I have a special fondness for our portable desk. This desk is designed by mother and used by my father. It is made with the heart of a pear tree, so it’s very nice to touch. The desk can be folded and carried like a briefcase. When my father goes to our country house, he takes it with him and puts it under the tree, and he sits there to write letters. Unfortunately, if I want one, I have to pay for it myself.

What other items have you worked on?
I like the plates and cups, because this is the collection I’ve worked on myself. If you lift the cup, you can find a little drawing of a horse underneath, on the saucer. If you flip any cup or plate, you can see each piece comes with a tiny mark of the person who made it. What I like about it is that every item is personally crafted. Not all luxury brands make their products the way we do, but we have 1,000 craftsmen working in our atelier, who make exquisite products that can last a lifetime or more.


by Ines Cho
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