On the 6th of July, the ESSEC GMBA Luxury Brand Management Track had the pleasure of a conference with M. Guillaume de Seynes, a 6th generation member of the Hermès family, and member of the executive board. In addition to being responsible for production for the Hermès brand, he is also CEO of the smaller companies within the larger Groupe Hermès, including the storied shoemaker John Lobb, and cristallerie Saint-Louis.
Few but the cognoscenti are familiar with the latter marques, and it is a testament to the discreet and self-effacing good works of the Hermès group that they have stayed that way. Many were rescued from the precipice of extinction over the course of the last few decades, in order to preserve crucial pieces of European artisanal patrimony. Cristallerie Saint-Louis, for instance, traces its existence back to 1586, when it became the first glassmaker in France, and in 1781, the first crystal glass maker in continental Europe. The Paris shop of John Lobb was purchased in 1976, and continues the finest tradition of shoemaking by hand to this day.
This quiet passion for artisanal excellence and support for the craftspeople who make it possible was evident in everything M. de Seynes was kind enough to share with the class. On the topic of production, the inevitable question of the (in)famous Birkin waitlist, and the eye-watering prices commanded by these iconic handbags, naturally arose. Walking us through every detail of their manufacture, including the rarity of the materials used, the years of training required to make a single piece, M. de Seynes demonstrated categorically that the price of Hermès products correspond directly with the care and meticulousness in their fabrication, and not, as is wont with other luxury brands, a “marketing price”, as he called it, based on considerations of image and demand.
The other hot topic of discussion was of course sustainability. Was Hermès worried about the growing scrutiny of leather as an unsustainable material? Was mushroom leather really the future for the brand? As M. de Seynes explained, Hermès products are a priori sustainable, as they are made with the robust durability that enables them to be passed down over generations. Combined with other innovations in sourcing and fabrication, which have allowed the brand to cut waste to the minimum, he pointed out that this approach was much more sustainable (and luxurious) than making something from a subpar material that would degrade and need to be replaced.
Inspired by this hour of conversation, we came away thoroughly charmed, feeling the same emotions experienced by all who step into one of the 306 Hermès boutiques worldwide, where this singular vision of beauty and quality is brought to life.
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