Hermès was first established by Thierry Hermès in Paris in 1837 as a shop selling harnesses for carriages. He prioritised materials, quality and craftsmanship, and soon received commissions from European nobility and Napoleon III. In 1880, Hermès and his sons introduced saddlery to their array of products.
In the 1920s and ‘30s, Hermès expanded its product range by adding accessories for women, including silk scarves and handbags. As is the case with many iconic Hermès products, the silk scarf was inspired by an item of equestrian clothing — the riding silk. Today more than 2,000 scarf designs have been produced.
The Hermès Kelly bag, originally known as the ‘Sac à dépêches’, was first introduced in 1935. It was renamed after Princess Grace Kelly in 1956, when she used hers to shield her baby bump from the paparazzi. Hermès Kelly 25 and Hermès Kelly 20 bags are known to command high prices at auction. The Hermès Mini Kelly and the Hermès Micro Mini Kelly are also highly sought-after by collectors.
By the 1950s, Hermès had moved into the production of watches, perfumes and silk ties.
The House launched the Hermès Constance bag in 1959 and its first ready-to-wear collection in 1967. The brand’s success continued throughout the 1970s and ‘80s.
Notable launches included the Hermès Evelyne bag in 1978 and the Hermès Birkin bag in 1983. The leather carryall with flap closure was famously born out of a chance meeting between Jane Birkin and Jean-Louis Dumas, then creative director of Hermès, on a plane from Paris to London. The black Hermès Birkin 25 with gold hardware has been a collector staple since its inception.
Cutting-edge fashion designers such as Martin Margiela and Jean-Paul Gaultier further secured the brand’s international reputation in the 1990s and '00s. The highly collectible Hermès Picotin Lock Bag was first introduced in 2002. Nadège Vanhée-Cybulski took over as creative director from Christophe Lemaire in 2014.
Hermès bags and are now the most valuable handbags in the world. The rarest are the Hermès Himalaya bags, which feature a colour gradation that resembles the snow-capped Himalaya mountains. In November 2020, a Himalayan Birkin 25 with palladium hardware achieved HK$3 million at Christie’s, then the most expensive Birkin bag sold at auction.
Limited-edition Birkins and those made with jewels and precious materials, such as ostrich and crocodile, also do well at auction. As do pinks, blues and special-orders with bespoke colour pairings and the horseshoe stamp. Hermès orange has been the hallmark colour of Hermès since the Second World War and is now recognised the world over.
In 2022 Christie’s sold the largest single-owner collection of Hermès ever offered at auction. It included more than 250 lots ranging from Birkins and Kellys to watches, belts and charms.
A SET OF THREE: A GRIS PERLE CLÉMENCE LEATHER RETOURNÉ KELLY 32 WITH PALLADIUM HARDWARE, A MALACHITE RODÉO CHARM GM & A RUBIS RODÉO CHARM PM
1. HERMÈS, 2011 2 & 3: HERMÈS, CIRCA 2010