At the time, Hermès was a much smaller, simpler organization. “I have startup problems today,” says Dumas of the vertiginous growth the company has seen since that conversation between father and son. In 1993, when Pierre-Alexis Dumas officially joined the company, Hermès had 2,600 employees. There are 14,500 today, with 2018 revenues of $6.8 billion and free cash flow of $1.66 billion. (His cousin, Axel Dumas, 49, is the company’s CEO.) It’s definitely enough to embark on any major new endeavor they want, though it took the arrival of former MAC executive Agnès de Villers in 2015 to run Hermès’s perfume and beauty division to kick-start this particular development effort.
De Villers brought in Jérôme Touron, who previously developed makeup for Chanel and Christian Dior, to create beauty and skin-care products, and Dumas assembled an in-house team to surround him. Why look elsewhere, goes the logic, when you already have such a deep bench? This includes Bali Barret, overseer of all the house’s women’s offerings, to consult on the colors. (She and Touron have Hermès’s library of 75,000 silk swatches and 900 leather shades, complete with pigment formulas, some around a hundred years old, to play with.)
Christine Nagel, Hermès’s perfumer, created a delicate custom scent for the lipsticks. And Pierre Hardy, creative director of jewelry and shoes, designed the graphic packaging, which is made of lacquered metal and Hermès’s “permabrass” hardware (the same that is used on its handbags). The refillable metal case snaps shut with a resounding magnetic clack. “We wanted to do refillable so we could use more luxurious materials that had their own value,” says Hardy. “The idea is a form that’s both simple and playful enough to allow it to be done and redone ad infinitum. It’s rare for an artistic director to think about packaging over a long period of time and not just a one-off.
For now, there is only lipstick, for $67, with refills for $42. It comes in 24 colors (plus three additional options every season, for $72 each) and two different textures, a matte inspired by Hermès’s fine-grained suede and a satin meant to imitate the glow of box calf leather, of Kelly bag fame. The natural ingredients, like beeswax and white mulberry extract, were developed by Touron at Hermès’s laboratory in Normandy.
Every six months for the near future, Hermès plans to launch a new cosmetics category. The company won’t yet confirm any delivery dates or future product lines—“at our own pace” is a phrase often used at Hermès so as not to ensnare its creatives in rigid delivery schedules—but foundations and eye and cheek colors are not far behind, to be followed eventually by skin care.
Dumas, who studied visual arts at Brown University, has always preferred the French word métier when referring to Hermès’s different departments: men’s and women’s fashion, silks, shoes, jewelry, leather goods, equestrian equipment, furniture, tableware, watches, perfume and now cosmetics. Métier has no exact translation in English. It’s more elevated than craft and nobler than skill. Hermès is a company that makes 70 percent of its products in-house, many entirely by hand. Though it hosts runway shows during Paris Fashion Week, it’s always been first and foremost a maker of objects.
Rouge Hermès’s lipstick distribution will be far narrower than that of its perfume, however. (no travel retail) In March, it will be available in 35 countries at select Hermès boutiques, on hermes.com and at third-party retailers, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman and Bloomingdale’s—around 180 points of sale worldwide, a choice that de Villers calls “humble and strict.” The nude-wood retail case echoes the stand-alone displays for Hermès perfume’s highest-concept and most expensive line, Hermessence. It is designed to be modular to accommodate new product lines as they’re released. If they perform well enough, retail outlets will expand and counter space will grow.
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