So who is Christophe Lemaire bloke we keep hearing about? The designer I mean, not the award French winning jockey? As the (relatively) new creative head at Hermes, taking over the reins (can’t seem to get away from the equestrian references) from Jean Paul Gaultier in 2010, Lemaire has taken this daunting task on the chin. Despite being relatively unknown outside of fashion devotee circles Lemaire has his own successful label with his “austerely sophisticated collections” and “lofty stylishness” gaining a devoted ‘in the know’ following. He had also previously worked for Christian Lacroix, Jean Patou, Yves Saint Laurent, and Thierry Mugler as well as being hailed as the man who revamped the image of Lacoste. Not a bad resumee.
His first collection for Hermes, AW11 was met with praise, albeit muted in some cases, from the fashion press. With a focus on simple minimalism and the label’s signature “discreet luxury” the collection centred around soft, roomily tailored leather and cashmere kimono jackets alongside geometric prints in yellow, orange and blue. There were also soft, harem inspired silk trousers and sweaters in bright turquoise and orange. He also introduced the new dossier style Hermes handbag.
For SS12 Lemaire stuck to his pared back luxury guns with loose white blazers and pleated skirts alongside tobacco suede coats over taupe kaftans, Oriental ‘Hermes orange’ mandarin collared shirts and ankle grazing trousers. Lemaire said he was “looking for…a balance between something rich and simple, something that is easy to put on, easy to wear and that is evocative of travel”. The fashion press were certainly sold, some predicting that Lemaire has done for Hermes what Phoebe Philo did for Celine.
And AW12? With shades of Martin Margiela (himself a past designer at Hermes) the collection “moved with serene confidence through a shadow land between mens and womenswear.” With sleek tailoring and muted shades this was another collection that put luxe minamalism to the forefront.
Legend has it that Robert Dumas-Hermès was inspired to develop the iconic Birkin bag after sitting next singer and actress Jane Birkin on a flight from Paris to London in 1981. When Birkin’s straw bag fell from the overhead compartment to the floor, spilling its contents she bemoaned the lack of leather weekend bags to her taste. Three years later Hermès launched the Birkin bag which has, like the Kelly before it gone on to become an beacon of both the Hermès brand and the luxury designer lifestyle.
The Birkin’s high cost, limited production runs and special exotic leather editions have greatly increased its desirability. The Birkin is distributed to Hermès boutiques on an unpredictable schedule, in very limited quantities and waiting lists are very long. The house has seen profits for the first half of 2011 climb by 50% and has recently intimated that they are struggling to keep up with demand for their legendary handbags. They have recently added nearly 400 new workers to speed up production; traditionally each Birkin takes one craftsman two full days to produce.
The Birkin’s prices range from £5,000 to £100,000, costs varying greatly according to the type of materials used. One of the most expensive Birkins ever created was the ‘Silver Himalayan’ which was adorned with diamonds and retailed for £80,000. Birkin bags are sold in a range of sizes from 30cm to the rare 45cm JPG and can be made to order with customisation of the colour and hardware detailing. Customers can also plump for embellishments such as gold studs or diamonds. Possible materials include calf leather, ostrich, crocodile and lizard and one of the most expensive skins used to make the Birkin is the saltwater crocodile, easily identifiable by its smaller scales.
Hermes handbags are a true investment and are bags for life so it is only natural that Hermes offers a “spa treatment” for reconditioning overly used bags. The Birkin is today carried by the rich and famous, celebrities such as Victoria Beckham to style icons such as Kate Moss.