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Herms Iconic Economics


It’s the latest in a string of luxury retailers to call Fashion Valley home. Hermès, a name synonymous with silk scarves and iconic handbags, is opening just in time for the holidays.


Hermès’ decision to move south was prompted by demand from San Diego-area clients who shopped at the company’s stores in Beverly Hills and South Coast Plaza or on its Web site, says president and CEO Robert Chavez. “We started to realize we had a pretty loyal customer base that was looking for Hermès and we felt it was really time to invest and build our clients a new home in San Diego.”


Chavez says Fashion Valley is a good fit because of its mix of high-end department stores like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue along with luxury boutiques. Henri Bendel, Jimmy Choo, CH Carolina Herrera, and Rolex are among the top retailers setting up shop. Chavez says he was also excited about Simon Property Group’s plans to upgrade the center. When I saw that,” he says, “I thought it definitely was the right place for us to be.”


Whether it’s the right time is another matter. The opening — just a few days before Thanksgiving — may seem inopportune given economic uncertainties, but Chavez says Hermès takes the long view. This is a luxury house, after all, that has weathered two world wars in its 170-year history. “Building this new home in San Diego is one of those decisions where we really believe the long-term health and growth will come, it will come back. This, too, shall pass as everyone says. And we’re just confident that our client will continue to want a quality product.” 


When the doors open, shoppers will find an emporium that pays homage to the iconic elements of Hermès’ flagship Paris store, both classic and contemporary. It will carry an array of goods from belts and bags to classic silk scarves and ties — tailor-made for the San Diego market with brighter hues and lighter fabrics, say a cashmere shawl for chilly nights. In a nod to the company’s roots, Hermès will sell custom saddles to the area’s equestrian set.


It was 1837 when founder Thierry Hermès opened a harness workshop in Paris, catering to the carriage trade. At the turn of the century, Hermès made luggage to meet demand created by the horseless carriage, and later introduced small leather goods and bags after the zipper was invented in the U.S. In 1937, the company began to sell its signature printed scarves inspired by jockeys’ racing silks. And in the ’50s, a photograph of Grace Kelly with an Hermès handbag caused a sensation. The company promptly renamed it the Kelly.


More recently, customers — both real and fictional — have gone to great lengths to snag another Hermès icon — the Birkin — considered the Holy Grail of handbags with prices that start at $8,500 and long waiting lists. In Sex and the City, Samantha goes in desperate pursuit of the legendary bag, as does author Michael Tonello in his memoir, Bringing Home the Birkin. But Chavez believes the Hermès appeal is less about trends — getting the latest “it” bag — than timelessness. “It goes back to that level of quality, that handcraftsmanship that Hermès represents to our clients, people who just really want something enduring.”


So even in uncertain economic times, Chavez is bullish about Hermès’ future in San Diego. “People are buying less these days, but what we’re definitely feeling is that when they’re going to buy that one thing, they want it to be something that’s going to last them a long time.”


Oh, and about that Birkin bag. Chavez says you just never know what customers may find waiting for them on the day that Hermès opens its doors. (619/574-9570, www.hermes.com)   ANDREA NAVERSEN


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