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.
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.”