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Designer vintage - hermes history

From their incredible Kelly and Birkin bags, to their luxurious and intricately patterned silk scarves, Hermès are one of the most prestigious and sought after labels in the world, as well as one of our personal favourites here are My Vintage. In this article we take a look at the history and the making of this style royalty.

In 1837 Thierry Hermès launched Hermès in Grands Boulevards, Paris, making harnesses for the noble gentry of Europe. He won several awards for his harnesses and bridles and soon became the most sought after manufacturer in the equestrian arena.


In 1880, his son Charles-Émile took over from his father, and with the help of his two sons, created a retail shop at 24 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré where it remains to this day.

The prestigious company catered to the elite and aristocracy across Europe, Africa, Russia, Asia, and the Americas. Even though we now know Hermes best for their exclusive handbags, it was in 1900 that created their very first type of bag. The Haut à Courroies bag was designed for riders to carry their saddles around with them in a more sophisticated manner.

After Charles-Émile retired, his sons Adolphe and Émile-Maurice took over and decided to rename the company as 'Hermès Frères and by 1914 they had almost eighty craftsmen making saddles. It was at this point that Hermès was granted exclusive rights to use the zip in leather goods and clothing. A few years later, they used this right to commission the first-ever leather golf jacket for Edward Prince of Wales.

It was in the roaring twenties that Hermès began to introduce lines of accessories that were purely for fashion rather than just for purpose. In 1922, the first leather handbags were introduced by Hermès and we have Émile-Maurice's wife to thank for this as she had been struggling to find one she really liked and so her husband stepped in to make a collection to her liking. Not a bad gift really!










The mid-twenties saw Hermès make a presence in America and in 1929 the first women's couture fashion collection was debuted in Paris. However, it wasn't until the 1930's that they introduced some of the most iconic items such as the Sac à dépêches and the Hermès carrés - known better to us as the Kelly bag and the Hermès scarf. In the 1950s, a photo of Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco, was shown carrying the Sac à dépêches bag. It is rumoured that she held it in front of her stomach to hide her undisclosed pregnancy. The media and the public could not get enough of this new icon's stunning and chic accessory and began to call it the "Kelly" bag; a name that was adopted by Hermès as the bag grew and grew in popularity.

It was also in the fifties that Robert Dumas became the first man to lead the company who was only connected to the family through marriage. He added the name to his own, becoming Robert Dumas-Hermès. He introduced original handbags, jewellery, and accessories but was particularly interested in silk scarves and played around with more interesting and unusual designs, as was the fashion for novelty prints in this iconic era.

In the 1970s, Hermès appeared to be soaring as they opened more and more shops on an international level, but the truth was they were not achieving at the same level as their competitors. This could well be because of their policy on only using natural materials for their products such as silk and leather. The rest of the fashion world were exploring new and previously unexplored man-made materials which were not only more fashionable at the time, but much more profitable. It is said that there were times in the 1970s when Hermès workrooms were literally still and silent, with no orders at all coming in. That said, it didn't take long for the demand for more natural resources once again grew as the love for all things artificial subsided!


Needing an injection of youth, Hermès brought in Jean-Louis Dumas, the son of Robert Dumas-Hermès, in 1978. Having trained at Bloomingdale's, the New York department store, Jean-Louis was keen to produce more ready to wear collections and undoubtedly brought Hermès back from the brink and into the hearts and minds of the fashion buying public once more.

Designers Eric Bergère and Bernard Sanz were brought into the firm to revamp collections and they came up with some highly unusual ideas which included python motorbike jackets and ostrich-skin jeans. In 1979, Jean-Louis came up with an unusual, and now infamous, advertising campaign which featured a young woman dresses in casual denim and wearing a stylised Hermès scarf. Although this provoked a certain amount of displeasure within the traditional company, it certainly brought Hermès to a whole new and younger audience. The annual sales were reported to soar from 50 million dollars to 460 million dollars by the early nineties, due to Dumas' strategy.

Interestingly, throughout the nineties, Hermès pulled back their retail presence, favouring a smaller number of company-owned stores, rather than the myriad of franchises they have amassed. This served only in their favour, as it heightened the exclusivity of the brand and made it even more sought after.


There is no better example of this than the 6-12 month waiting list that you would have to be on before you could get hold of an iconic Kelly bag. Each of these stunning leather handbags takes at least 18 hours to produce. But once you have your Hermès Kelly, it can be returned to any store in the instance you need repair or recondition. It will be shipped to Paris and worked on by the master craftsman, before being returned to you in all its glory. A pretty amazing service don't you think?!

Another famous Hermès handbag is, of course, the Birkin, named after actress Jane Birkin. During a chance encounter with Jean-Louis Dumas on a flight, she couldn't help but tell him that her Kelly bag just wasn't proving to be practical for everyday use. He responded by inviting her to France where they designed the Birkin bag together.

No matter whether it's Kelly bags, Birkin bags, clothing, jewellery or scarves, a vintage Hermès item is most definitely special. Here at My Vintage, we currently have some beautiful Hermès scarves in our collection – and each one is most definitely a work of art! Take a look here.

Don't forget to visit My Vintage at our vintage shop or online for a wide range of designer vintage, vintage clothing and vintage dresses dating from the 1920s to the 1980s.

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