STAY­ING THE COURSE

Given his ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence with La Mon­tre Her­mès, CEO Lau­rent Dordet is well poised to per­pet­u­ate the cre­ativ­ity and crafts­man­ship in its watches

World of Watches (Singapore) - - Interviews - WORDS & IN­TER­VIEW JAMIE TAN

When it comes to fill­ing a CEO po­si­tion at a watch man­u­fac­ture, it’s all too easy to fol­low the com­mon prac­tice of parachut­ing an out­sider with the rel­e­vant ex­pe­ri­ence in, but such a move wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily work at La Mon­tre Her­mès. For one, the po­si­tion de­mands an in­ti­mate un­der­stand­ing of the brand, which has staunchly re­mained in­de­pen­dent to pro­tect its brand eq­uity and phi­los­o­phy – that an Her­mès prod­uct is as much a func­tional ob­ject as it is a work of art. Be­sides, much fi­nesse is re­quired to steer a busi­ness that’s slated to drive the group’s growth in the years ahead. There’s also the ques­tion of syn­ergy: How would the CEO play off the mai­son’s other lines to cre­ate watches that in­habit a co­he­sive prod­uct uni­verse?

The cri­te­ria may be ex­act­ing, but Lau­rent Dordet was more than equipped to meet them when he took over as La Mon­tre Her­mès’s CEO in Fe­bru­ary 2015. Dordet’s ca­reer at Her­mès started in 1995 as its CFO. Lengthy stints in var­i­ous di­vi­sions fol­lowed, in­clud­ing Hold­ing Tex­tile Her­mès, Her­mès Cuirs Pré­cieux (pre­cious leathers), and Her­mès Maro­quinerie-sel­l­erie (leather goods and lug­gage). La Mon­tres Her­mès was a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion, and his ex­pan­sive ex­po­sure honed a keen per­spec­tive that proved ad­van­ta­geous, as the divi­sion re­ported pos­i­tive growth de­spite tepid mar­ket con­di­tions. Chal­leng­ing times look set to con­tinue, but Dordet is still putting the prod­ucts and the know-how be­hind them first at La Mon­tre Her­mès. This is, af­ter all, what the mai­son has been do­ing since it was founded.

You’ve helmed La Mon­tre Her­mès for just over a year. How has it per­formed, and what are your cur­rent con­cerns?

The mar­ket last year was volatile due to many dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic fac­tors, and it caused our re­sults to vary both from month to month, and from mar­ket to mar­ket. De­spite these con­di­tions, which led to poor per­for­mance in a few ar­eas like Asia’s travel re­tail mar­ket, there was rea­son­able over­all growth, which was sat­is­fac­tory. The en­vi­ron­ment looks sim­i­lar this year, which is chal­leng­ing, but I see a lot of po­ten­tial in La Mon­tre Her­mès’s medium term fu­ture, be­cause we have an es­tab­lished core busi­ness and an­other fledg­ling one. The ques­tion now is the short term. I can­not make any pre­dic­tions about the fi­nal re­sult, but I will still try for pos­i­tive growth in 2016, just like last year.

What are the “es­tab­lished” and “fledg­ling” busi­nesses that you are re­fer­ring to?

The es­tab­lished one is, of course, our women’s watches, which have been very well-known and suc­cess­ful for the past 40 years. If we de­velop this fur­ther by open­ing new mar­kets, im­prov­ing our com­mu­ni­ca­tions, and creat­ing new lines like the Slim d’her­mès, then we will see even greater suc­cess with them. Our rel­a­tively new busi­ness is the mas­cu­line mar­ket. We have in­vested a lot into this seg­ment over the past 10 years to ac­quire the know-how, and to in­te­grate our pro­duc­tion ver­ti­cally to cre­ate a proper man­u­fac­ture, which we now are with 98 per cent of our com­po­nents are pro­duced in­ter­nally. This ef­fort and its re­sults are be­ing in­creas­ingly recog­nised by watch spe­cial­ists, so we want to con­tinue work­ing our way up to be on par with the best brands in the in­dus­try.

Does be­ing part of a mai­son help La Mon­tre Her­mès in stormy mar­ket con­di­tions like this?

Yes, ab­so­lutely, be­cause 70 per cent of our busi­ness is done within Her­mès bou­tiques, which of­fer all of the mai­son’s metiers un­der one roof. These stores are far more re­silient in dif­fi­cult mar­ket con­di­tions be­cause of this, as they have the ad­van­tage of the brand’s im­age, and the abil­ity to of­fer the en­tire Her­mès uni­verse to the cus­tomer. In­house bou­tiques also give us the ad­van­tage of com­plete in­for­ma­tion. Since we man­age them our­selves, we know our in­ven­tory lev­els, which prod­ucts are suc­cess­ful, which are not, and why. Fi­nally, in­house bou­tiques of­fer in­sights into who we are sell­ing our watches to, for bet­ter cus­tomer re­la­tion­ship man­age­ment.

What about the other 30 per cent of your sales?

The re­main­ing 30 per cent of sales comes from ex­ter­nal retailers, which was gen­er­ally suc­cess­ful ex­cept in Asia. Multi-brand stores fol­low a “pre­scrip­tion-based” model – sales staff rec­om­mends watches, and buy­ers get to do com­par­i­son shop­ping. This is im­por­tant be­cause our watches need to be seen and sold out there along­side those from other brands.

We see that sev­eral high-end brands with mul­ti­ple prod­uct lines have be­gun tak­ing their watch­mak­ing busi­nesses more se­ri­ously. Louis Vuit­ton, for ex­am­ple, now has some of its watches cer­ti­fied Poinçon de Genève. Do you think there are lim­its to where a mai­son like Her­mès should go when it comes to watch­mak­ing?

Ev­ery brand takes its own path. We are happy that the one we took has given us the abil­ity to pro­duce our own straps, di­als, and cases, while Vaucher Man­u­fac­ture Fleurier, which we have par­tial own­er­ship of, sup­plies our move­ments. I think that tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise is ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary, and Her­mès needs to be at the level of the best brands out there. How­ever, we will not win the bat­tle by be­ing bet­ter tech­ni­cally. Our am­bi­tion is not to sur­pass Patek Philippe. Let’s be frank and hum­ble here – our skills will not ex­ceed theirs. We have to el­e­vate our­selves to the level of Jaeger-lecoul­tre, or Cartier, and then use the know-how

that we have ac­quired to ex­press a dif­fer­ent type of cre­ativ­ity, and our own point of view about time. Le Temps Sus­pendu, for in­stance, isn’t a gim­mick, but one such point of view. It’s a state­ment about our vi­sion and per­spec­tive of time as some­thing that is qual­i­ta­tive, rather than quan­ti­ta­tive. We may be in­ter­ested to have some cer­ti­fi­ca­tion that con­firms our watches’ tech­ni­cal ex­cel­lence one day, but for now, we are happy to be recog­nised with Grand Prix d’hor­logerie de Genève (GPHG) prizes once in a while.

Is the cur­rent sta­ble of in-house move­ments suf­fi­cient to ex­press your phi­los­o­phy of time, or do you think there’s more work ahead?

There is al­ways more work to be done, but I think we have the right tool in Vaucher Man­u­fac­ture Fleurier, which al­lows us to de­velop new move­ments. We also have a part­ner­ship with Agen­hor, which we are very happy with. They are more than enough for now.

Her­mès also show­cases metiers d’art tech­niques in its watches, and com­mu­ni­cates openly about the crafts­men be­hind them. What are the rea­sons for do­ing so, and how has this paid off for the mai­son?

It’s sim­ply be­cause we have noth­ing to hide. Why present a minia­ture enamel paint­ing from Anita Porchet and claim that it’s ours? Her­mès is au­then­tic, so we tell the truth, and that’s it. The Arceau Mille­fiori’s dial, for ex­am­ple, was made with a tech­nique we de­vel­oped our­selves, so we said so. The shaded enamel tech­nique on the Arceau Ti­gre, on the other hand, was jointly de­vel­oped by the hus­band-and-wife team of Olivier and Do­minique Vaucher based on an idea we had to­gether, and that’s what we said. I think the big­gest pay­off for us is that our cus­tomers are very loyal to the brand, be­cause they know that they are pay­ing for value and not mar­ket­ing.

You have been col­lab­o­rat­ing with ex­ter­nal crafts­men for quite some time. Don’t you think it’s about time to start de­vel­op­ing your own in-house ex­per­tise in this area?

No, be­cause there’s no pur­pose in it­self to in­te­grate such know-how. We have fan­tas­tic part­ner­ships with some of the best crafts­men from around the world, and if they want to re­main in­de­pen­dent and work with mul­ti­ple brands, it’s fine with us. More im­por­tantly, we want a win-win sit­u­a­tion where we get to pro­pose our ideas to them, and they are will­ing to lend their skills to help us tell our story, or ex­press a point of view ar­tis­ti­cally. Lux­ury is about rar­ity, so hav­ing too much of any­thing in this in­dus­try is not good. Tech­niques or cre­ations don’t nec­es­sar­ily need to be con­fined to just ex­cep­tional pieces, but they must not be pro­duced in large vol­umes. It’s not a quest to de­velop hun­dreds upon hun­dreds of pieces ev­ery year. Projects must be unique and have lim­ited runs.

Her­mès has sev­eral prod­uct lines, and we can see some crosspollination be­tween them, such as the Slim d’her­mès Mille Fleurs du Mex­ique, whose dial de­sign is from an Her­mès scarf. What other ad­van­tages are there in be­ing a part of a mai­son with mul­ti­ple metiers?

Cre­ativ­ity. We will not win the game with su­perla­tive tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise, but we can be dif­fer­ent with our style, de­signs, and sto­ry­telling. There is no doubt that our watches’ de­signs are good, and this is partly be­cause we ben­e­fit from the cre­ativ­ity of 14 other metiers be­hind us. Some­times, they take ideas from the watches we cre­ate, and at other times, we are in­spired by them, whether it’s table­ware, scarves, or some­thing else. It’s cross-fer­til­i­sa­tion, and it’s a huge ad­van­tage.

And nat­u­rally, ideas are the most pre­cious com­mod­ity for a mai­son like Her­mès.

Yes. This is where we can bring some­thing dif­fer­ent to the mar­ket.

Slim d’her­mès Mille Fleurs du Mex­ique

The Arceau Le Temps Sus­pendu dis­plays the time only when its pusher at nine o’clock is ac­tu­ated

Slim d’her­mès QP, the win­ner of 2016’s GPHG Cal­en­dar Watch Prize

Left: The Arceau Mille­fiori’s dial is the first time the mille­fiori tech­nique has been used in watch­mak­ing; Right: The Arceau Ti­gre, one of Her­mès’s 2016 novel­ties, uses a newly de­vel­oped shaded enamel tech­nique on its dial

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