Hermès is one of the most notable fashion houses out there today, richly steeped in 182 years of history. Over its numerous decades, it has designed some of the most prestigious handbags such as the iconic Kelly, Constance and Birkin.
Its ready-to-wear clothing, handbags and plethora of accessories are adored and adorned by many who want to adopt the quintessential Parisian style, appealing to the cream of society through its renowned opulence.
But fashion isn’t exactly where its story started. Hermès have always had a strong foundation in being impeccable leather craftsmen; with their stable equestrian roots illustrated through their horse-drawn carriage logo. The strength of Hermès influence is owed to its rich, familial history that has been an integral part of the fashion house five generations on.
The inception of the iconic fashion house all began with a man named Thierry Hermès. He was born in Krefeld, Germany in 1801, to a French father and German mother who were both innkeepers. The city of Krefeld was made famous for its textile industry, supplying silk, brocade and velvet to the world over. It was rumoured that Thierry’s family’s inn was located right next to the textile factory, which suggests the link to his knowledge and skill in this sector.
Thierry tragically lost his siblings and parents to war and disease. He subsequently moved to Paris as an orphan in 1821. He was proven to be remarkably gifted at leatherwork and opened his first harness workshop in 1837 in the Grands Boulevard Quarter of Paris, which boasted in producing the highest quality saddles, wrought bridles and other riding gear for European noblemen. Quality was integral to Hermès’ branded workshop and it flocked the attention of several European elites such as Emperor Napoleon III, his Empress Eugénie and numerous Parisian socialites. He scored countless awards for his fine craftsmanship, including first in its class at the Expositions Universelles in 1855 and 1867.
The most notable client for Hermès, however, were the horses. The saddles were hand-stitched; a custom piece of work that required detailed measurements from both the rider and their horse, marrying up the two in harmony. Hermès became one of the most well-known saddlery retailers in the world, and also produced leather bags for rider’s equestrian items such as riding boots, as well as feed for the horse.
During the evolution of Hermès and the involvement of his sons and grandsons, the workshop had moved to 24 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore which has been the fashion house’s home ever since. Their client list continued to exceed, with Czars of Russia and Eastern royalty. However, the era was beginning to change and Hermès felt the roar of the industrial revolution taking over. Thierry Hermès’ grandson, Adolphe, felt fearful of the new turn, whereas his brother, Emile-Maurice felt hopeful. After meeting Henry Ford, he discovered a zip used for the canvas roof of cars. Recognising the shift in the era, Emile-Maurice returned to France with a 2-year European patent on the zipper. It was donned the ‘Hermès Fastener’, which ended up changing fashion forever.
Hermès’ relationship with bags started with the Haut a courroies in the 1900s, a bag designed specifically for riders to carry their saddles. The design inspiration came from Argentinian cowboys during Emile-Maurice’s trip to South America. The bag’s notable features include its trapezoidal shape and eventually became the muse for Hermès’ other iconic bags such as the Kelly in 1956 and Birkin in 1984.
In 1922, a redesign of the horse-friendly Haut a courroies was introduced after Emile-Maurice’s wife complained that she was unable to find a bag that suited her requirements. The new design was smaller in size and now commonly acronymed to HAC. It now serves as the perfect gender-neutral weekend bag due to its size.
Through its equestrian roots, Hermès continued to make bags and accessories constructed to perfection. Hermès has produced numerous pieces inspired by their equestrian past. Their Picotin bag’s design was taken from the nosebags horses wore, which allowed them to walk and feed simultaneously. The trim bag was used to be filled with hay and put around the neck of the horse. In 1958, Hermès re-designed this and made it into a ladies’ holdall, with the original hook into a belt buckle.
The worth of Hermès’ creations can’t simply be measured by its name or the cost of goods, but the intense level of skill that goes into producing each item with mastery. They are crafting something that is functional and practical, just as much as it is visually appealing.
To this day, Hermès is still masterfully producing saddles in their workshops on the fifth floor of the 4 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore. In 2016, they have become the official saddler of the Brazilian show jumping squad. Their Equestrian range features sleek riding gear such as breeches, gilets, jump competition jackets and even stirrups.
Our favourite equine inspired Hermès handbags from our collection:
The Brique Togo Leather Kelly closely resembles the HAC; more compact in size but definitely sizes up well for all your necessities - equinal or not! Togo leather is grained, anti-scratch calf leather, which feels textured yet smooth. It is one of the most popularly used leathers by Hermès.
Our Black Box Calf Vintage Kelly is certainly one for the races with its supple leather and gold hardware. It features a 43cm sangle cavale strap, making it easier to carry on-the-go. The strap is comprised of braided leather provides an excellent pop of colour.
For those looking for something more petite, we have a Mini Kelly in navy box calf leather. This is a great evening wear option, and the box calf leather provides an elegant, soft-to-the-touch feeling.
It is clearly evident that Hermès are proud of their rich history and strong heritage as equine masters, as they continue to triumph excellent, precision design and interweave their technical skill into every iconic piece they create.