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Guillaume de Seynes

Hermès - a Family Tradition of Quality and Creativity

Guillaume de SeynesHermès helped to contribute to the success of French Heritage Society’s 30th Anniversary Celebration this fall. As a part of the program in Paris, the Minister level guests were hosted at the company’s flagship Parisian boutique on the rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré. They visited the company’s private collection of works of art and objet d’art, often highlighting an equestrian theme. They were then treated to an exclusive private lunch on the boutique’s terrace, a serene Parisian garden in the heart of the city, and even enjoyed a tart prepared from the apple trees on the terrace. A rare visit of the Hermès workshop on the rue Saint Antoine, a traditional artisans’ quarter in Paris, allowed the guests to witness first-hand the exquisite craftsmanship that is the hallmark of the company. For the brunch at the ornate Hôtel de Ville, Hermès’ Pascale Mussard, creative director of “Petit h”, teamed-up with long-time collaborator and renowned florist Eric Chauvin, to create tables laced with leather and a visual symphony of fall foliage of brilliant ochres, reds, and of course – orange. 

Karen Archer spoke with Guillaume de Seynes, Executive Vice-President of Hermès, at the company’s headquarters in the center of Paris just before the 30th Anniversary Celebration. 

Hermès – All In the Family

Guillaume de Seynes displays a welcoming smile as he settles into his chair. His office, with a terrace overlooking the city, is both elegant and understated, with neat stacks of future projects assembled on his desk. A few modern works of art evoke horses, amid photos, books and catalogues. “Hermès is indeed still controlled by the original Hermès family” he begins. “Myself, I am a member of the sixth generation of the family whose founder, Thierry Hermès, a harness maker, created the company in 1837. The fact that Hermès is still family-controlled is of course essential to the long term coherence of the strategy and of the respect for the original values of this company; the values of quality, of dedication to trying to create and manufacture the best made objects in the world. This really comes from the founder, and our family has always followed the same route over the years and throughout the development of the company, which today covers a lot of different activities.”

The Secret to Hermès’ Success

“The success of Hermès is based on two basic things: quality and creativity” he stresses. “It is this combination of the best quality, the quality of the raw materials, we use only the best skins, the best silk, the best cashmere, combined with the best craftsmanship. Whether it be for leather goods, for silk, for ready-to-wear, for all of our activities, Hermès has the best craftsmen in the world. So this is really the first pillar of the success of Hermès, quality combined with huge creativity, rich creativity.”

“We create thousands of new products every six months and of course the dialogue between the craftsmen and the creative people is essential to renew the success of Hermès, to make it modern and contemporary, while still respecting the essential value of quality. So this is really the philosophy of Hermès’, creativity and quality for unique objects.” Some memorable dates in the company’s history include establishing a presence in the United States in 1924 when Hermès opened two stores. In 1929, the first women’s couture apparel collection was previewed in Paris. During the 1930s, Hermès produced some of its most recognized original goods, the leather sac à dépêches was introduced in 1935 (later renamed the “Kelly Bag” after Grace Kelly) and two years later the iconic Hermès carrés (scarves) appeared.

The creativity of “Petit h”

Following a long-tradition of creativity, Guillaume de Seynes is proud to point to one of the latest additions to the company, the very innovative activity under the label “Petit h” or “Small h”. He explains, “the idea for “Petit h” was launched by one of my cousins, Pascale Mussard. She has been working for Hermès for more than 30 years. And in fact, her idea was to recreate Hermès objects using either objects with slight defects which cannot be sold or with materials remaining from the production of other products. In cutting the skin to make a bag, there is a part that remains that she uses to create new objects and combine different materials. For example, using crystal glass which has an imperfection, she transforms it by adding leather to create a lamp or an ashtray. What is very interesting is that all this activity takes place through a dialogue between the creators that Pascale selects, who are inspired by the materials they see, and craftsmen. We have a specific workshop for the “Petit h” and the craftsmen are really collaborating directly with the creators to see together what is possible. They are reinventing new processes, reinventing new ways of creating these objects.”

“Of course, these objects are all unique, or a very small series because it depends on what she finds, what is left from the general Hermès production. These products are not sold as a permanent collection but are sold in different Hermès stores for specific events. We were, for example, in the fall of 2011 in New York and we will be going with “Petit h” to Hong Kong at the end of September 2012. It started two years ago and it has been very successful since the beginning.”

Hermès and French Heritage Society

“We are delighted to be partners with French Heritage Society on the occasion of its 30th Anniversary. We have organized for some of your guests a private visit of Hermès, of Hermès’ workshop, of Hermès’ private museum which is a fantastic collection that my great-grandfather acquired all throughout his life. This collection is dedicated to travel, horse riding, and hunting. It is not a collection of Hermès-made objects, but it is a collection of paintings, books and different objects related to these things.” 

“Also, for the brunch at Paris City Hall, we will be happy to create the table décor with “Petit h” and in collaboration with one of the best Parisian florists, Eric Chauvin, who is a longtime partner of Hermès. For the Gala Dinner in Fontainebleau, one of the companies of the Hermès Group, Saint-Louis Crystal, which is the oldest French master crystal ware maker, will of course provide the glasses for the tables. So you will drink, I am sure, some very good wines from Saint-Louis crystal ware. We are very pleased to have all these partnerships all throughout your celebration in Paris” he concludes, his smile adding the final punctuation to his thoughts.

Guillaume de Seynes

“The fact that Hermès is still family-controlled is of course essential to the long term coherence of the strategy and of the respect for the original values of this company; the values of quality, of dedication to trying to create and manufacture the best made objects in the world.”

“Hermès is one of the founding members of the Comité Colbert, the French association of top luxury companies, and I am an active member of the Board, in charge of developing awareness of what we call the “métiers”, all the skills, all the crafts which are so important to the success of the different Comité Colbert members.”

“Today, really all the major French names are part of the Comité Colbert, of course Chanel, Christian Dior, Bernardaud, Saint-Louis, Hermès. It is really a very interesting association to try to handle the challenges that we all face and to promote the “savoir-faire à la française”.