Handing Over the Reins: CEO Jean-Louis Dumas Set to Retire at Hermes

Jean-Louis Dumas, who for nearly three decades led Hermes to the top of the luxury sector, is stepping down as artistic director and ceo.

with contributions from Emilie Marsh
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"You look with your eyes at an Hermès product, but you can also feel a product in other ways," he said in a rare interview in 2002. "It can also be about the sound of a clasp that a handbag makes, the smell of the leather."

Born on Feb. 2, 1938, Dumas is a fifth-generation descendant of harness maker Thierry Hermès, who founded a company in 1837 that would go on to add saddles, leather goods, ready-to-wear, silk scarves and all manner of fashion accessories.

After graduating from Paris' prestigious Political Science Institute, Jean-Louis Dumas started as an assistant buyer for Bloomingdale's in New York in 1963. A year later, he joined Hermès, ultimately becoming general manager in 1971. He stepped into the role as chairman after the death of his father, Robert Dumas, in 1978.

Over his career, he saw Hermès acquire luxury shoemaker John Lobb; christen major flagships, like its 11-story glass brick tower in Tokyo's Ginza district, and hire unexpected, edgy talents like Martin Margiela and, more recently, Jean Paul Gaultier, to design its women's ready-to-wear. Today, Hermès products are sold in 237 stores around the world, and 36 other sales points.

Hermès took a 35 percent stake in Gaultier in 1999 and a 31.5 percent stake in German camera firm Leica in 2000 based on Dumas' belief that Hermès can learn from others. "Professionally, if people consider themselves on the summit, they can only go down," he once said.

The first-half results disclosed Thursday confirm Hermès is adding its horsepower to a turbocharged luxury sector.

Fueled by a pickup in Europe in the second quarter and "robust" sales in its American stores, Hermès said operating profits grew 12.8 percent to 171.2 million euros, or $220.2 million, for the six months ended June 30. What's more, a marked improvement in Japan during July and August underlines an upbeat stance for the balance of 2005.

"We are confident because the trend is good in all parts of the world," said Mireille Maury, executive vice president of finance and administration. She declined to quantify the increase for the summer months, but in the first half, the uptick in Japan was a slim 1.7 percent.
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