As Mallery Roberts Morgan pointed out to DnA recently, the venerable French fashion house HERMÈS likes to do things “properly.” So much so that when they sent out an invite to the opening of their newly purchased and renovated store in Beverly Hills, telling guests the performance and program would start at “6:30 sharp,” they actually meant it!
As a result, yours truly, stuck in traffic, missed the acrobats rappelling down the front of the new façade (photo, above, courtesy Alex J. Berliner/ABImages) and other amusements. Luckily, Mallery was there, and also attended the afterparty at 3Lab in Culver City; she sent this report and photos.
Hermès celebrated the opening of their newly renovated Beverly Hills flagship store with much fanfare yesterday evening. As acrobats cascaded down the four-story boutique’s new white marble façade in a balletic rappelling routine the three cousins at the head of the venerable French fashion house, Axel Dumas, Henri-Louis Bauer and Pierre-Alexis Dumas, cut a giant brown Hermès ribbon.
A spectacular party –guests including Jessica Alba, Balthazar and Rosetta Getty, antique dealers Joel and Margaret Chen, Architecture Digest’s Mayer Rus, and designers Cliff Fong and Commune’s Roman Alonso — followed in Culver City at 3Lab’s 30,000 square foot event space transformed into a resplendent wonderland complete with a full moon and starry sky floating above an indoor waterfront, and “pool”, left, meant to look like the special edition scarf they did for the BH shop.
A wooden footbridge, with mini orange sailboats floating underneath, led onto a Parisian-esque boardwalk, where vintage food carts offered pressed sandwiches, crepes, and fresh juices.
The event concept and design had been kept top-secret even from Hermès staff that were also amongst the guests that included loyal Hermès clients, international press and a sprinkling of celebrities.
Past the boardwalk, a labyrinth of rooms offered inter-active entertainment such as street portraits being sketched by artists on digital tablets or posing for black and white ‘Studio Harcourt’ style photographs. Those portraits, along with videos and photos from the event were uploaded to personal digital coins assigned to each guest at the entrance and later sent by email.
Elsewhere a jazz band played in a library setting complete with leather chairs and archival Hermès pieces that once belonged to Grace Kelly and Humphrey Bogart. A faux movie set offered a Broadway-style show and in a blue-lit room like a pool dancers simulated synchronised swimming.
Hermès and Los Angeles go back a long way. When the first Hermès store opened in 1972 it was a faraway west coast outpost and certainly one of Los Angeles’ first major foreign retailers.
Hermès, which began in 1837 as a harness-making workshop in Paris, is one of the last worldwide luxury brands still owned by the founding family. A much-publicised hostile take-over attempt from the mammoth luxury group LVMH resulted in the French equivalent of the SEC penalising LVMH with a hefty fine. This came on the heels of the deaths of the company president Jean-Louis Dumas and his architect wife, Rena Dumas, who designed all the Hermès stores. So it was all the more touching to be celebrating in Los Angeles, a city that holds a special place both in family and company history. The 18-month Rodeo Drive re-design project in many ways marks the start of the reign of the next Dumas generation.
The interior architecture of the Rodeo Drive flagship is centered on a circular staircase creating a light filled vortex in the centre of the store. Made of white marble & venetian plaster the staircase spirals up seemingly to the sky – the roofless roof is in fact a membrane air cushion which sits invisibly over the circular opening. Sculptural white counters designed to speak the same circular language of the staircase are also dotted throughout the store.
I sat down with Pierre-Alexis Dumas, artistic director of Hermès, whose father opened the original 1972 West Coast location and whose mother founded the architecture firm that spearheaded the redesign of the current building.
Mallery Roberts Morgan:
You’ve not only re-designed your Rodeo Drive flagship but you’ve also purchased the building. It’s the first building Hermès has bought in the USA. Does your decision have to do with Los Angeles real estate still being affordable compared to other world capitals such as New York or London?
The reason we bought was because there was the opportunity to buy. One of the great values of Rodeo Drive is that there are few streets around the world that have its kind of stability. In some areas of big cities the retail trends change- they move, uptown, downtown, etc.. Rodeo Drive is one of the few stable high-end luxury streets in the world. We’ve been here for forty years and we’ve been growing here for forty years. Our family is happy to invest in real estate here because we want to stay here.
Looking at Rodeo Drive from an artistic perspective it is the perfect street, the perfect scale, you can walk up & down it’s not too long. The buildings are not too high they have a good proportion to the human scale. That’s why the palm trees are so beautiful here – they are a good proportion to the buildings.
What’s the importance of Los Angeles for a brand like Hermès today?
We have been connected with LA for a long time. We grew up in LA. When my father came in 1972 Hermès was famous but small. It was very daring of him to invest in LA. He met immediate success. I think there is something in both cultures that relate.
The decision to do a big LA renovation was because we needed more space. The refurbishment of the store is always the occasion to re-think your business. Retail is organic it’s never static. Good retailers have to adapt all the time. We put a lot of attention to our interior architecture because we have so many ‘métiers’ to show – jewelry, leather goods, watches, ties, furniture – it’s not just some clothes hanging on a hanger. We have a lot of experience designing stores. We have more than 300 hundred stores worldwide. Every year we re-fit about thirty stores. It’s a full time activity for us. We know a lot about designing stores.
What would you like consumers who only know Hermès as a very expensive place to buy a scarf to understand about the brand or the Hermès story?
PD: First of all I would like people to know you don’t have to buy anything when you come to Hermès. Hermès is a culture, it’s also a brand and a signature, but first and foremost it’s a culture. Behind everything we make there are people who are dedicated to a specific profession with a lot of passion.
We welcome people to come and look – starting with our very famous windows. The windows created for the opening are by two young French artists (Zim and Zou) who have crafted every last detail in paper.
There are so many points of entry at Hermès – you can start with a bar of soap and keep going to furniture. It’s not exclusive but inclusive. We are really trying to be proud of what we do and there is no better compliment then people coming in and saying ‘wow, that is beautiful’.
LA competes for launch parties – what kind of thinking goes into making your event standout?
First of all it’s not about competing for us or trying to up-the-ante with anybody.
The party is really about a celebration of our beautiful new home that we are so excited about – to celebrate where we’ve come after being here for forty years.
We’ve invited all of our best clients and of course we have a lot of celebrity clients but we’re not bringing anybody in – that’s not really our thing. We’ve extended a very warm, genuine invitation and hope people will come.
What was the idea behind the design and concept of the launch party?
We always try to marry Hermès with the local community yet add that Hermès touch, flavor, history and heritage. Everything is built upon that notion.
This is the first time we’ve designed a scarf specifically for a store so we took its design as a centerpiece and started to build an event around it as a multi-experience event.
The design on the scarf is a swimming pool in mosaic tile in the pattern of the Hermès ex-libris with the shadow of palm trees. So the event is almost like you’re in the community, in Los Angeles, there’s a pool, you’re on a movie set, you’re in a library with things from Hermès owned by people of the community and iconic Hollywood actors, there’s also a lot of inter-active digital experiences you will be able to personalize at the party.