On the occasion of the reopening of the flagship store in Beverly Hills—after an 18-month, multimillion-dollar renovation that quadrupled its size—Hermès artistic director Pierre-Alexis Dumas and his cousin, co-CEO Axel Dumas, sat down for a chat with Departures. We didn’t discuss their competition, nor did we concentrate on their phenomenal success, up by 22 percent this year in the Americas. Rather, we used this opportunity with the two cousins and heads of Hermès state to try to understand what makes the French luxury goods company—concentrating on everything from bespoke suits and scarves to furniture and fabrics—one of the most highly coveted brands in the world.
Q: This store’s fantastic. I want everything, but…if you could buy only one thing?
Axel: Definitely the blue basketball in the window downstairs.
Pierre-Alexis: For me, it’s the wine trunk [see “Inside the Shop”], which was specially made for this store. Just imagine it at your side by the pool.
Axel: That’s perfect, I’m sweating with the basketball and Pierre-Alexis is by the pool with his wine.
Q: Why is Beverly Hills so important to you both?
Axel: When Jean-Louis Dumas, my uncle, opened this store, going abroad was a very heated subject. Why go overseas, everyone asked, when the whole world is coming to Paris? It’s costly. It’s going to be risky.
Pierre-Alexis: …And the fact that my mother, Rena Dumas, designed the original store.
Q: Axel, you just recently became co-CEO, a title you now share but are expected to assume on your own next year. You weren’t always in the family business?
Axel: I was working in New York as a banker, when Pierre-Alexis’s father called to ask if I wanted to join the company. I said yes. He asked me what I wanted to do, and I said, “Anything you think relevant, except for finance.” So…he put me in finance for a year. After that, I was retail manager for France, managing director of the jewelry business, which was the smallest business at the time.
Q: And now?
Axel: We don’t publicly disclose those numbers, but last year it was up by 45 percent.
Q: Pierre-Alexis, you’ve been artistic director for two years. What does that mean?
Pierre-Alexis: To give contemporary expression to Hermès and to encourage the interconnection between craft, which is so important to us, and creativity. Craft needs creativity to grow and creativity needs craft to exist. Together, they are the heartbeat, the muscle that makes Hermès work.
Q: What makes something from Hermès, well, Hermès?
Pierre-Alexis: That’s a complex question, but making an object an Hermès object goes beyond its mere function.
Axel: We are the rare company with no marketing department, because our first goal is the product. There is also a lot of freedom, in creating the product and even in the stores themselves. Each one looks different and has different windows, and every shop carries its own unique products. Within our company, you can express yourself.
Q: Pierre-Alexis, what was it like growing up with Hermès?
Pierre-Alexis: First of all, I didn’t grow up with Hermès—I grew up at home. As kids we were taken constantly to markets, museums and antiques stores…and we hated it. Today, when I have free time, those are the only things I want to do. Now I understand the magic of objects, their history, the fantasy.
Q: And the future?
Pierre-Alexis: You have to challenge tradition in order to enrich it.
Axel: While Hermès may be unique, you also don’t want to be the last of the Mohicans. That doesn’t end well.
Q: Back to that blue basketball in the window…why not an orange one?
Axel: A little story about Hermès and the color orange: After World War II we were redoing our bags and boxes. Orange was a color no one else in the world wanted, so there was plenty of dye. It was the one color that couldn’t be sold during a difficult time. So while it is emblematic, for sure, it is also about chance, luck and serendipity.
Q: Could Hermès operate if it weren’t a family business and culture?
Pierre-Alexis: Probably not, because a lot of work is required, and it’s easy to give up.