Hermès U.S. President Diane Mahady on the Growing Home Category

Hermès took over a Santa Monica airport hangar Thursday night to stage an immersive event celebrating its home goods business, which is soaring in the West Coast market and beyond as the brand continues to defy the slowdown in luxury spending.

The vibe at Hermès Parade was avant-garde Cirque du Soleil meets the Paris runway, with 50 acrobats dressed in blue boiler suits parading porcelain plates, leather globes and “H” pillows, twirling occasional tables, sashaying with wicker waste baskets, and dancing en pointe on the backs of Taurillon couches that cost as much as some homes.

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The event was a movable feast of crates, platforms and furniture that pushed the crowd to different vignettes in the space, from a ballet performed under an installation of Hermès blankets hanging from the ceiling over an Hermès bed, to a group chair dancing.

Chloe Fineman
Chloe Fineman

Guests — actors, influencers, clients and interior designers, including Chloe Fineman, John C. Reilly, Casey Affleck, Pamela Shamshiri, Ariana Lambert Smeraldo, Ramya Giangola, Aimee Song, Adam Goldston and Marianna Hewitt — sipped Champagne and soaked it in with their camera phones.

There was chatter among guests about the tantalizing Hermès lawsuit filed in California by two customers suing over access to Birkin bags, alleging that the process to qualify violates antitrust laws. But the elephant in the room was a no-comment from the company executives in town to talk up the home category.

“Maison is really resonating with our clients,” said Hermès U.S. president Diane Mahady in an interview earlier in the day at the Rodeo Drive store, which has an entire floor dedicated to home. “We continue to invest in it both in the real estate in stores, the larger spaces to present the metier, and events like this one to raise visibility. Because it’s surprising, other clients don’t realize we have Maison, so there’s a lot of opportunity. Usually they buy one thing, and get pretty excited. It’s an important metier we will keep investing in.”

Hermès has had a love affair with Southern California of late, signaling how bullish it is on the market, with celebrations for the opening of a new store in Westfield Topanga, the cinematic Pegasus-inspired experience at Barker Hangar last year, as well as the opening of a one-night-only Blue Horse restaurant to fete the renovation of the South Coast Plaza store in 2022.

Southern Californians “want to be involved in the Hermès lifestyle….Porcelain is very strong, we’ve had instances where a client buys it for one home and they like it so much they want it for another home or a boat or a plane,” Mahady said. “We have collectors and very limited quantities, so we have people who are anxious when pieces come out…our allocation for the U.S. may be four or five pieces.”

The Hermès home business ranges from entry-level $210 coffee mugs (which may be among the most affordable items the luxury house makes) to $142,000 leather sofas with Canaletto walnut frames, cane side panel and storage compartments.

The scene at Hermès Parade: A Live Story of The Home Collection.
The scene at Hermès Parade: A Live Story of The Home Collection.

“We offer a full universe, all categories more or less — textiles, objects, furniture, lighting and porcelain, which is a point of differentiation compared to others…and that gives a lot of credibility to our positioning. We’re not a gift items metier; we propose an Hermès way of life,” said Anne-Sarah Panhard, managing director of Hermès Maison and president of the silversmiths Puiforcat, a subsidiary of Hermès since 1993.

While the house of Hermès is nearly 200 years old, Maison is 100 years old, tracing its roots back to the dawn of the automobile age in the 1920s, when cars were open-air. “It was cold, so we first started with blankets, and ashtrays also, in between the two-seat cars, with a specific design that fixed properly,” Panhard said.

The category grew quietly for years. Furniture began with a collaboration in the 1930s with Jean-Michel Frank, and porcelain production was vertically integrated in 1984. But the launch of the wider collection of home and lighting wasn’t until 2011.

It coincided with Hermès opening its Rue de Sevres boutique on the Left Bank in Paris, a concept store that felt like a bellwether for the brand’s development, more fully displaying the breadth and whimsy of its growing categories and renewed colorful, modern aesthetic.

“We have some strong links from one metier to the next,” said Panhard, pointing out that Maison plays with some of the functional hardware that appears on fashion and accessories, but that there are also things popular in the Hermès Maison world, like the blanket stitching, that are copied by other ready-to-wear brands not its own.

The furniture category consists of archetypical dining room tables and chairs, she said, as well as more unique pieces such as the Pippa lounge chair with natural maple wood frame and braided lacing on the seat. Smaller accent pieces between accessories and easy-to-carry items go along with the Hermès Nomad way of life, including Les Trotteuses d’Hermès occasional table with folding solid oak legs, bridle leather straps and a porcelain tray.

Then there are novelties — for the person who has everything — such as a $276,000 blue lacquer pool table, a $17,200 leather marquetry jewelry box depicting a modern Mexico-inspired scene, an exquisite $16,100 wicker picnic basket and a $940 tissue box cover.

One of the most in-demand items is a $27,000 Hermès leather globe.

“It’s difficult the pairing of each piece of leather, 15 or 20 pieces you have to put together. That work is very specific,” Panhard said. “We had only one craftsman who could do it, but now we have two. We are selling 300 a year — and it’s not enough.”

While the classic Hermès H blankets have long been collectors’ items, draped on sofas and chairs in the most stylish (and photographed) homes, and still remain a large part of the business, the textile division has diversified, incorporating hand-embroidery done in India, hand-stitching done in Nepal, and prints made in Italy.

“There are so many techniques people don’t realize until they come in,” Mahady said of the work in textiles, the largest category overall.

Porcelain and tableware are the biggest on the West Coast, and Hermès has at least one new collection coming out every year, some classic and some contemporary. “It’s a lot of R&D and expertise,” said Panhard, pointing to the tropical Pacifolia pattern that requires 21 steps to make, and adding that all the product development is done from scratch internally.

The Maison collection is represented in every store, but the Rodeo Drive location has a wider selection than most. “In general, most stores are getting bigger for Hermès because that’s the strategy when we renovate and open new stores, so more and more we have a large space for Maison,” Panhard said.

Production is done all over, but primarily in the Como area of Italy and in France, where there is a facility for porcelain near Limoges. “We go where we find the best know-how. The best lacquer is in Vietnam, the best exotic woods and wood work is in Geneva so we go there, the best embroidery we go to India, but still 80 to 90 percent is done in Italy and France,” said Panhard, adding that there are more than 400 artisans working on porcelain alone. “We’ve grown faster than our competitors in recent years,” she said.

She still sees opportunities for growth, though not necessarily in fabric, which Hermès had before but stopped. “Strategically, we like to have finished product and when you do fabric you don’t know what people do with it, and it ended up we had some skirts,” Panhard said. “I think we have many more things to do which align with what Hermès stands for which is function and aesthetics, so we have many more territories to explore and also materials.”

Outdoor furniture? “We’re thinking strongly about it,” she said.

So maybe the next Hermès Parade will be on the beach.

The scene at Hermès Parade: A Live Story of The Home Collection.
The scene at Hermès Parade: A Live Story of The Home Collection.

Launch Gallery: Hermès Parade: A Live Story of The Home Collection, Photos