They were lined up around the block by 7 a.m. several days this week to get into the twice-yearly sale at Hermes, where the slightly misprinted scarves are sold for about $40 instead of $60 and the shopworn leather goods are similarly marked down.
But that sale, which attracts about 5,000 people from all over France in four days, has nothing to do with the upsurge in business that Hermes and other quality shops have witnessed this fall. Earlier this month Hermes did 1 million francs on one day, the kind of volume the shop expects only around Christmas; business for fall is ahead by 30 percent over last year. One Japanese customer last week bought 14 scarves, for all her friends.
Some percentage of the business comes from the increased buying power of the dollar -- more than 20 percent over last year -- but it is not only that, according to Guy de Brantes, chief operating officer at Hermes. "I think when people feel depressed, they want to buy themselves beautiful things," he said.
At the show of the spring collection by Eric Bergere and Bernard Sanz, it was clear that Hermes is not all scarves and leather items, although that is what customers have been snapping up like mad. The new collection includes wonderful jackets, precisely tailored, like riding clothes, a welcome relief after all the recent drapey clothes. The leathers are superb, and the riding habits could encourage one to sign up for courses in dressage.
To go with your Grace Kelly bag there is now a Grace Kelly dress in white or beige, worn by models with heads wrapped in the style of the late Princess of Monaco. And Hermes may have discovered the ultimate dress-for-success item: a short jacket with pockets for pens, lipstick and notebook.