when you think of the fashion industry, if you think hard enough, or at least read about real fashion, you can clearly see some spectrums that represent the word "fashion". these spectrums, or icons as i call them, say the Chanel nº5 bottle, or the Manolo stilettos, or the Valentino red dress, are pieces that have become ambassadors from the past and to the future that tell us what true elegance is about; but how were the icons of fashion created? some because of chances, some where products of heavily successful marketing campaigns like "a diamond is forever", others cannot be explained, but with certainty you can say that creating these icons is a thing that happens sometimes only once for a fashion house, or at least once a century....
well, not quite, for Hermes; An almost two-centenarian fashion house that started out as a workshop that made horse harnesses and saddles. Thierry Hermes ,the founder, catered for the european high class and aristocracy and developed a business that was based around qualitative products. by the year 1900 his son Charles-Émile had created HAC (haut á courroies) a bag for horse riders to carry their things in, by 1922 the first leather handbag was created and by the 1930's the house had reached america. but this Parisian house is not known anymore for their saddles, rather the three icons of fashion they created: the Constance bag, the Kelly bag, and the legendary Birkin.
When you have created not one, not two, but three different icons, in the same field, during the same century, under the same family then you know you are doing something right, that there is something special in your genes or that you are somehow... blessed? and certainly under any of the options stated above we would want to understand why this happened, and how to get this luck, perhaps one day you or me could end up creating our own icon, so lets get to it, lets examine the Birkin, The Kelly and the constance and come up with the formula to creating an icon.
Catherine Chaillet in 1969, and named after her fifth child, the Constance is made of beautiful leathers, with a geometric form, round edges and toped with the iconic "H" (for Hermes) closure and a shoulder strap. it has been worn by socialites, movie stars, hundreds of fashion bloggers, and not to forget Jackie Onassis (or kennedy, as you will). it's making takes up to 14 hours, by a single worker, and i'd say it is worth it because as Christopher Bartley said "Constance, the girl, grew up to become a celebrated journalist and literary critic. Constance, the bag, has similarly aged well, losing not an ounce of its grace, chic, or contemporary function."
Jackie O. and the Constance.
the kelly was created during the 1930's by Robert Dumas, as the "Sac á dépêches", the Kelly bag had a revolutionary design, that caught the heart of a costume designer from Hitchcock's movie "to catch a thief" where grace kelly (later princess of Monaco) starred. The princess ,to be, fell in love with the french purse and after her marriage to Rainier the second she used it to hide her baby bump from the paparazzi. the luxurious leather bag (she used a black one) was from then on popularly called the kelly, and officially renamed in the 70's. the kelly is made in all kinds of sizes, colours, exotic leathers, and can be made with hardware materials as platinum, gold and so on. fun fact: a version of the kelly sports hands, feet and eyes (the kelly doll).
Princess Grace Kelly and her black kelly bag.
But it is the Birkin the one that should interest us, as it has the most fun story and is widely recognized as the most famous purse in history (and the most expensive). it all starts in a plane and a disorganized Jane Birkin, a british singer sits in her first class seat, it is the year 1981 and scrunchies are all in. suddenly the contents in the bag of the star get scattered all over the floor, and she reaches down to pick them up with the help of a mysterious kind man next to her. the rest of the story is mostly myths, but some people say the conversation between the man (Jean-Louis Dumas) and Jane went a little like this:
-you need a purse with pockets
-yeah, ill get one of those when Hermes makes them...
and guess what, he was the chief executive of Hermes and in 1984 the Birkin was created inspired in the HAC and Jane's awkward situation... it was an icon ever since, and a favorite not just for Jane Birkin that has had 4 from then, but for people like Victoria Beckham (who is said to have over a hundred), Mark Jacobs, Pharrell Williams, and the entire upper east side.
So... what do these icons have in common? can we draw a guide to Iconize something? Not really, and thats the magic of fashion; sure there are similarities, they were all popularized by stars, and they all have interesting stories, but most importantly it was the "savoir faire" the quality that characterized Hermes from the beginning, and their craving to innovate that created these icons, and the truth is that the most i think of it the most i believe that these icons were so before even known by all these stars or socialites... so in the end, we'll never know how hermes does the magic, but i'm guessing passion, design, quality, qualified workers, lots of hours, exotic leathers, and luxurious hardware. (yes, i'm not including the stars)
Thierry Hermes, founder.