FASH­ION: THE BUSI­NESS OF EX­CLU­SIV­ITY

Aside from its cov­eted leather goods, French lux­ury house Her­mès is per­haps most fa­mous for its wait­ing lists. Ex­ec­u­tive Vice Pres­i­dent of Sales and Dis­tri­bu­tion Flo­rian Craen shares why it’s so dif­fi­cult to get your hands on those Her­mès must-haves.

The Peak (Hong Kong) - - Contents - STORY GLO­RIA FUNG

Flo­rian Craen shares why it’s so dif­fi­cult to get your hands on Her­mès’ must-haves

f there's one brand that has fi­nessed the art of an­tic­i­pa­tion and scarcity, it's Her­mès. It's been ru­moured that the un­of­fi­cial way to land­ing your name on the cov­eted wait­ing list (not guar­an­tees of a pur­chase) for a Birkin or Kelly bag will set you back a few hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars in ready-to-wear pur­chases. Spec­u­la­tion aside, there's no short­age of women, and in­creas­ingly men too, who will go to about just any lengths to get that Kelly on the crook of their arms.

But the dig­i­tal age has changed all of that, even for a house with a 180-year his­tory that's solidly built on crafts­man­ship, qual­ity and that so­phis­ti­cated French touch no one else seems to quite be able to repli­cate. Fif­teen years ago, the only times you'd ever get glimpse of an ex­otic leather Birkin would be on the arms of ul­tra-fab­u­lous so­cialites chitchat­ting over high tea at the Man­darin Ori­en­tal, or if you've cul­ti­vated a re­la­tion­ship with a spe­cial sales as­so­ciate over years of adding to your tremen­dous silk scarf col­lec­tion, at a bou­tique. To­day, images of the brand's two flag­ship bags are flashed across so­cial me­dia platforms, on­line re­seller shops, and auc­tion houses, in ev­ery colour of the rain­bow and in ev­ery leather imag­in­able.

Her­mès it­self has opened an on­line por­tal to its plethora of fash­ion and life­style prod­ucts, and oc­ca­sion­ally, if you're lucky, you might even come across an ex­otic leather bag ( but of course, never a Birkin or Kelly). On the eve of the Her­mès's new flag­ship bou­tique open­ing, Flo­rian Craen, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of sales and dis­tri­bu­tion, fig­ures this is just one of many ways that the in­dus­try is pro­gress­ing.

Progress is seen nowhere as ev­i­dently as the new Prince's Build­ing bou­tique. An­chored in the cor­ner of one of Cen­tral's most de­signer-lined streets, this new three-storey bou­tique-slash-life­style em­po­ri­um­slash-vip lounge, is a big leap from the beloved Gal­le­ria bou­tique that's been sit­ting across the street from this new lo­ca­tion un­til very re­cently.

“Af­ter 25 years, we moved across the street,” Craen joked. “[Now] we have tai­lor rooms, crafts­man space, watch re­pair, and a pri­vate lounge.”

This new flag­ship has been over four years in the mak­ing, and is one of the most im­por­tant open­ings for the brand this year. “As much as we loved our [Gal­le­ria] store, it was too small, far too small, to of­fer what we want to of­fer now. A broader store for our col­lec­tions that have ex­panded. There's a whole floor ded­i­cated to home, there was no way to present that be­fore.”

For those who fell in love with the brand for its leather goods, or silks, or fash­ion, there's still much to be dis­cov­ered. Home ob­jects, life­style ac­ces­sories, watch and jew­ellery are among some of the fastest ex­pand­ing prod­uct cat­e­gories in the house. “What we need over­all is…to of­fer a stronger ex­pe­ri­ence to our clients. We pay at­ten­tion to de­vel­op­ing our col­lec­tions, the work which is done by our cre­ative teams, by our crafts­men; we need to en­hance the ex­pe­ri­ence in-store [to re­flect that].”

A more spa­cious pres­ence doesn't nec­es­sar­ily mean more ex­po­sure, how­ever, and that's an im­por­tant dis­tinc­tion Craen makes clear. “I wouldn't say [we need] less stores, and not more stores ei­ther, but big­ger stores. This is what we are com­mit­ted to and I think this store il­lus­trates per­fectly what we stand for. We are also in these times of where we have to be also very se­lec­tive about our pres­ence. There is this idea of not be­ing ev­ery­where.”

Con­sid­er­ing how of­ten we see gi­ant or­ange shop­ping bags be­ing tot­ted around shop­ping av­enues and air­ports, you'd imag­ine that a brand with a pres­ence around the world will have points of sales at all ma­jor lux­ury malls and shop­ping cap­i­tals. The truth is, the choice to be se­lec­tive has al­lowed the brand to limit its shop fronts, a means to not fa­tigue shop­pers with over­ex­po­sure, per­haps? “To show­case ex­cep­tional prod­ucts, we need to have ex­cep­tional ad­dresses and not to be ev­ery­where. So the selec­tiv­ity stands high in our com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment ap­proach. We have 300 stores world­wide, roughly, in­clud­ing 50 air­port stores, which open doors to the world of Her­mès in many ways. But that re­ally means that we have 250 stores in cities around the world, which is not that much.”

Once upon a time, over­ex­po­sure meant see­ing a mono­gram on celebri­ties in the pages of gos­sip mag­a­zines, or bill­board ad­ver­tise­ments, much of which brands had con­trol over. How­ever, any­one with a mo­bile phone is now a fash­ion com­men­ta­tor, stylist, or a fash­ion cu­ra­tor, a shift that has taken some con­trol from brands as to how their prod­ucts are per­ceived, pre­sented and pur­chased.

The no­tions of de­sir­abil­ity and ex­clu­siv­ity sur­round the brand heav­ily. And Craen is very much in tuned with how this plays out for the Her­mès. “Some peo­ple are look­ing for very in­ti­mate re­la­tions with a brand. They want to have prod­ucts, which they don't find ev­ery­where and we cer­tainly of­fer this You know the dis­cus­sions about de­sire and ' is it suc­cess­ful be­cause it's de­sired or is it de­sired be­cause it's suc­cess­ful?' It's prob­a­bly a com­bi­na­tion of both. So I would guess, [this at­ten­tion] around some of our most iconic bags, re­in­forces the ap­peal of the brand to some.”

A bal­loon­ing on­line pres­ence of its prod­ucts might have cre­ated the il­lu­sion that there's more to buy. But the fact the house has 16 cat­e­gories of prod­ucts means that, while there's cer­tainly a grow­ing cus­tomer base and more pur­chases are be­ing made, Brikins and Kellys are not flying out of stores.

The ex­clu­siv­ity re­mains to be re­served for a small num­ber of cus­tomers, if for no other rea­son than the fact that these hand­made bags are ex­tremely labour-in­ten­sive to pro­duce, and there just aren't that many made. “There may be more at­ten­tion, there's not many more to sell.”

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