IN THE AUTUMN of 2010 le tout Paris of business braced for the sad, if predictable, end of an era. After 173 years and six generations, Hermès, a purveyor of handbags to bankers and neckties to their husbands, was to become part of LVMH. The champagne-toevening-gowns mastodon, home to Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior, among many others, had disclosed a stake of 17% and rising. Bernard Arnault, LVMH’s boss, with a knack for closing in on companies he admires, had only to pick off a few Hermès heirs ready to cash out. Bankers assumed the “wolf in cashmere” would take mere weeks to gobble up his elegant prey.
Fast forward to autumn 2020, and the various descendants of Thierry Hermès not only still control their family’s firm, they have beaten LVMH at its own game. One of their own, Axel Dumas, has reclaimed the helm from an outside manager. Mr Arnault has all but scarpered off the Hermès shareholder register and moved on to other targets, though not always successfully: on September 9th LVMH said it would not go ahead with a $17bn bid for Tiffany, an illustrious American jeweller. By just about any measure, Hermès has led the luxury pack, nearly trebling revenues between 2010 and 2019, to €6.9bn ($7.7bn). Operating margins last year hit 34%, best in the industry. Even as it has been roiled...
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