Continuing this blog's long tradition of defending the indefensible, and more recent one of covering scandals in the fashion world, I'm going to have to take LVMH's side over that of Hermès in this battle of the luxury-goods purveyors. That is, I'm not weighing in on the business-ethics aspects of this, which veer towards legal technicalities that one would need one of those JD-MBAs to understand, but rather the cultural question of a big, mean conglomerate taking over a poor little expensive-leather handbag shop. Which is how the head of Hermès is describing this, as a "'cultural fight.'"
We have in one corner LVMH, the fancy-schmancy-stuff empire behind those bags that are emblazoned with LVLVLVLVLVLV, and behind some champagne, and behind a whole lot of other stuff mentioned in the article. In the other, there's a family business, a quaint and humble little workshop that makes aw-shucks products like... the Birkin bag and ridonkulously expensive logo'd scarves. The dude from Hermès "likened [LVMH dude's] incursion to the rape of a beautiful woman," which begins to get at why I'm not sympathetic to the leather-goods-company's cause.
But aside from objectionable word choice, there's the preposterous idea that the folks at Hermès are not in it - "it," remember, being the business of fancy handbags named after celebrities - for the money. That it's all artisanal and about Old Families and How Things Once Were:
One February morning in Pantin, Mr. Dumas pointed to a large Birkin bag that required four Australian marine crocodile skins, instead of the usual three, to obtain a perfectly symmetrical pattern. Such extravagances cost money, but no matter: Hermès artisans never skimp to achieve a lower price point, something they fear that LVMH would press them to do.
“We never discuss price,” Mr. Dumas says. “We are never thinking that we can sell X number of bags if we lowered the cost.”OK. I believe that more attention goes into one of these handbags than, for example, the various tote bags I keep accumulating only to find they're less durable than the plastic bags they ostensibly replace. But we're supposed to believe that an international luxury business does not give consideration to price point? That in the Hermès family, which runs Hermès, "money" is "a subject that is almost taboo"? And we're supposed to think the value of a perfectly symmetrical crocodile handbag is something it's noble to protect?
I mean, on the one hand, I get the whole fine-leather-goods appeal (this purchase changed my life, or at least made me 500% less dowdy, and for anyone in Paris or willing to order something off the Internet that they haven't seen in person, I highly recommend that store, where the gorgeous bags will set you back a whole lot less than the logo'd variety), and that even when the end results are identical, which they aren't always, but are sometimes, there's an aesthetic appeal to the off-the-beaten-path atelier that's lacking from something with a massive flagship on all upscale shopping drags worldwide. But Hermès is not a very good example of that kind of small-scale operation. It's relative small-scale-ness, to the extent it's holding out from conglomerates, is precisely about appealing to wealthy consumers' artisanal-leather-goods fantasies. In other words, about making money.
Hermès's leader, who's not part of The Family but nevertheless has rustic credentials on account of riding his bike "in rural Auvergne, in south-central France, whose rocky peaks form the backbone of the Massif Central," reacted to one of LVMH dude's incursions on his company as follows: "This was not the way business was done, he thought — not in France, and certainly not among gentlemen." Blech, blech, and blech. It's one thing if a company is violating the law. But the notion that because the schmattas you're selling are fancy and worn by fancy types, you're "gentlemen" is just... Are these two men going to duel?
Without going down the paranoid road, and mentioning that the artisanal vs large-scale battle once waged in France as a pretext for heaping piles of anti-Semitism, there's a whiff of something unpleasant about the fact that LVMH's head, though "born and raised in France, [...] is, to his detractors here, something of a brassy American in finely tailored Dior." Or maybe it's just my own aesthetic preference against hypocrisy, which is how I interpret a big-name luxury-goods manufacturer portraying what it does as honorable and disinterested.
Surprise surprise, Hermès now claims to represent "slow fashion." Which is, in principle, a reaction to the fast-paced world of Fashion Today, which as we may recall is what turned Galliano into a drunken anti-Semite, but which apparently also involves having models walk down the runway more slowly than usual.