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Hermes homes in

Updated: 2012-10-22 10:24
By Gan Tian ( China Daily)

Hermes homes in

Century-old Hermes has a mission to accomplish in China. Gan Tian finds out more from its COO Axel Dumas.

Hermes has an intimate connection with China. Axel Dumas, chief operating officer of the 100-year-old luxury house, says his grandmother loves playing mahjong, and his grandfather has beautified his garden in Saint Honore with China-inspired decorative items because he has always been impressed with Chinese culture.

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"This is also why after my study, I went to Beijing in 1995, and this is why Pierre-Alexis, our artistic director (Hermes International), came to Hong Kong."

"For Hermes, there has always been a keen interest in China," says the sixth-generation descendant of the label's founder, who was in Shanghai recently to showcase Hermes' women autumn/winter 2012 collection.

The label's artistic director for women ready-to-wear, Christophe Lemaire, led the extravagant catwalk which comprises 32 supermodels presenting 35 looks from this season's collection.

The French brand, which is recognized by its special logo - a horse carriage - named the Shanghai event "All About Women". It featured 16 red bags specially made for Chinese market, Mousseline scarves, and Nausicaa jewelry in rose-cut gold and diamonds.

Hermes homes in

Above: Axel Dumas, chief operating officer of Hermes, is the sixth-generation descendant of the label's founder. Top: Hermes' women autumn/winter 2012 collection shown in Shanghai. Provided to China Daily

But Dumas made an interesting observation of the Chinese fashion market, saying: "Men's market is very important in China, and is the majority of luxury spending."

For the rest of the world, according to Dumas, it is usually the women who buy the luxurious products, but in China, Hermes always adds the men's profits in its business.

The company does not have a specific sales number in terms of gender, but Dumas and his team find that the sales of men's ready-to-wear and watches are higher in the Chinese mainland compared to other parts of the world. This suggests that men's luxury market here is much bigger than the world's average.

"Social recognition for men is quite important here, and we have a very strong muscular spirit," Dumas says.

From this "All About Women" event, Hermes hopes, Chinese women eventually will know more about the brand, and lead them to buy as much as men here.

For female fashionistas, Hermes Kelly and Birkin bags are considered as the creme de la creme of the fashion world. Rumor has it that Victoria Beckham has more than 100 Birkins, worth $2 million, and Hong Kong actress Cecilia Cheung carries her Birkins to various events.

Dumas says Hermes' strong core values have enhanced its reputation: While some big names employ local companies to mass-produce their bags, Hermes insists on hiring French artisans to sew each bag.

And it's this century-old value that Hermes hopes to preach to the Chinese consumers.

Citing an example, Dumas says when they want gold color, Hermes put real gold in the material. He once asked a craftsman why they put so much gold in the material, the reply was, so that the product will look better even after five years.

"China is a new market, but very important. We try to convey the culture of Hermes here. We are thinking in long term," he says.

Hermes opened its first store in the Chinese mainland in Beijing in 1997. In the following years, it entered the Shanghai and Guangzhou markets.

After that, it expanded rapidly. Now, the label owns 21 boutiques in 15 cities in the Chinese mainland. In the first half of 2012, the sales in Asia outside of Japan, mainly led by Chinese mainland and Hong Kong, contributed 25 percent to the growth in business of the company, compared with 10 percent in France and 21 percent in the rest of Europe.

When asked about the company's marketing strategy, Dumas smiles before saying: "I'm going to disappoint you."

He pauses for a while before continuing to say: "There is no marketing department within Hermes. This is a specificity of Hermes, that we don't do marketing. Chinese consumers, who are becoming more sophisticated, really want to find what is the best to be offered, and Hermes has the best quality and the best craftsmanship.

"It's not the marketing strategy for China. It's what we try to achieve everyday, every place, where we are. The Chinese market recognizes that, and I appreciate that quite a lot."

Unlike other labels that are busy opening stores in China, Hermes will only open one boutique in one city each year in the near future.

"It would be less about opening many stores in many cities, but we enlarge our stores where we can show all the products, trend, culture, and all sides of Hermes.

"It's always important to have more quality than quantity," Dumas says.

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