Hermès is in the business of longevity. That is true of its products—which ranges from women’s and men’s fashion and accessories, to jewellery, textiles, homeware, saddlery, beauty and more—but it also applies to the people that make up the beating heart of the House. For instance, Véronique Nichanian, who has been the Artistic Director of the men’s universe for 35 years; or Pierre Hardy, Creative Director of the brand’s footwear since 1990 and its high and fine jewellery lines since 2001. Though not on the design team, Olivier Fournier is another stalwart who has been with the company for decades. Today, Fournier is the Executive Vice President for Corporate Development and Social Affairs, but his trajectory at Hermès—which started in 1991—has taken him from roles in finance to general management, first of the textile production division in Lyon, and then of the leather goods and saddlery craftsmanship division. Since 2016, Fournier has also been the President of the Fondation d’enterprise Hermès, which supports projects in the areas of artistic creation, the training and transmission of savoir-faire, biodiversity and environmental preservation. Here, Fournier tells us about the importance of respect and authenticity, and how luxury can be sustainable.
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Would you say luxury is about committing to the traditional way of doing things even when there are modern shortcuts available?
Not really. Technology and craftsmanship should not be opposed. Sometimes, technology is useful for quality, or even adds to it. If we talk about silk printing for example, we have very, very modern techniques that give us better results today than in the past. It helps the creators create more colours, for example. But technology should be at the service of creativity—it’s not about saving time. We take the time we need. Sometimes customers don’t understand; they ask, ‘Why do we have to wait for so long? Why are some products not available?’ It’s a matter of respect and authenticity. As long as you respect the way you do things, you can guarantee the quality at the end.
Even though the House takes craft very seriously, there is also a lightheartedness and playfulness behind everything that Hermès does. Can you talk a little more about that?
We bring culture, but also lightheartedness, authenticity and a singular aesthetic to the world. When you play with materials, with colours, it’s very joyful. And that’s what we want to transmit also, even though behind all of this, there is something very serious. When you learn a métier, it’s a long process but at the end, the result can be fantastic. And as you know, the scarf designs can be very playful; or the bags—we have very creative bags. So it’s always about that—bringing culture but also joy to our customers and the public. It’s also to get people to consider that you can do beautiful things with few materials. If we look at petit h for example, which was created by Hermès to upcycle leftover raw materials, it’s the same—it’s very joyful because it’s very creative. Porcelain can become a lamp, or a teapot can become a hanger. You can do a lot by just being open-minded.
What is your advice for young designers who want to build a successful business without compromising on sustainability?
The young generation today does it quite automatically, because there is so much concern. It’s important for them, and for us to listen to them, because they represent the future. There isn’t only one solution or one idea. As long as we remain authentic, I think that’s what is important—to remain different and singular, to not copy anybody but bring your own ideas and creativity. And maybe also to think global, but act local—which means that we have to consider the world today, but at some point, we have to be very much anchored in one territory or country or region.
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And when faced with problems, what should be the right strategy in formulating a solution?
We have a strong network of people we work with—whether it’s our suppliers or internally (around 60 percent of our products are made in-house)—and we are very loyal to our long-lasting relationships. In our sustainable development strategy, we have a pillar called Communities and we strongly believe that working deeply and loyally with communities can help in finding solutions and improving situations. With our top 50 suppliers, we have a relationship of more than 20 years—some of them even longer, but the average is at least 20 years. This strong community helps us face challenges and come up with new ideas and solutions; it helps us make progress in the research and development of new materials. It goes back to the idea of respect. If you look at the roots of the brand, Thierry Hermès started the company in 1837 by making harnesses for horses. The first thing he had to do is to respect the horses—if you want the horse to be comfortable, you need to understand the way it moves. This is why we make useful objects—there is always a function behind the product. It’s based on this history from the very beginning.