Hermés’ New Jockey: Luxury Group Hands RTW Reins to Gaultier

Hermès International tapped Jean Paul Gaultier to replace Martin Margiela as designer of its women’s ready-to-wear.

Not that Dumas won’t welcome a bit of Gaultier’s razzmatazz. He said, for example, that the house might pump up the way it presents his rtw. Since Margiela’s arrival, Hermès has staged a low-key procession of models in its flagship here on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.

Gaultier was traveling Monday and could not be reached for comment. He is in London promoting an upcoming retrospective at the Victoria & Albert Museum and a series of catwalk shows there May 30.

But in a statement, the designer said: “I am really excited about this new adventure. For me, it represents a fascinating stylistic challenge within a very fine house that upholds a certain idea of tradition and is renowned for its pursuit of excellence.”

While welcoming Gaultier with open arms, Dumas also applauded Margiela’s reign, stressing: “There is no economic reason for this decision.”

While Margiela’s collections have rarely been raved about by the press, Dumas maintained all along that he was happy with the designer’s work at Hermès. However, Margiela’s tenure at the group took place at a time of explosive growth in rtw and leather goods at other luxury houses with big-name designers, such as John Galliano at Christian Dior and Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton, who both generated significant buzz around their collections.

Women’s and men’s rtw remains Hermès’ second-most important business after leather goods, accounting for 14 percent of sales in 2002 and totaling $198.9 million, converted from euros at current exchange rates. Sales of rtw vaulted 19 percent in 1999 and 35 percent in 2000, but then slowed down along with the overall luxury sector. Last year, sales of rtw at Hermès slipped 4 percent.

“Martin succeeded in creating a contemporary language for Hermès,” Dumas said. “He understood very well our ways.”

Yet Dumas noted that Hermès’ contract with the Belgian designer is expiring at the same time he is focusing on the growth of his own business, having last September sold a majority stake in his 19-year-old house to Renzo Rosso, owner of Diesel SpA. Margiela, a Gaultier design assistant from 1984 to 1987, will present his final collection for Hermès in October during Paris fashion week.
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