He’s the eldest member of the luxury house’s seventh generation, but don’t let Dimitri Mussard-Hermès’ pedigree fool you. Currently residing in São Paulo, Brazil, he’s the co-creator of the new Hermès Smart car and works passionately for social change and environmental awareness through the Hermès Foundation. You could say he’s an eco-bohemian, Birkin-eschewing, nice-guy badass.
Ines Schinazi: It’s interesting that Hermès has always maintained such a classic, traditional image, while simultaneously being very conscious of its surroundings and the current pop culture. I’m thinking of Grace Kelly famously concealing her pregnancy with what was later named the Kelly bag or Jane Birkin inspiring the Birkin bag. Today musicians like Kanye West and Jay Z rap about Hermès in their songs. For instance, Jay Z raps, “But girlfriend work with the kid, I keep you workin’ that Hermès Birkin Bag…”
Dimitri Mussard-Hermès: (Laughs.) Kanye West actually came to a recent fashion show. It was really funny because everyone usually comes dressed in a very classic way. And all of a sudden, I see this guy with this huge bright red coat, and these shiny gold sneakers, and everyone’s saying “It’s Kanye West! It’s Kanye West!” I was laughing because as far as the Hermès fashion shows go, there usually aren’t celebrities. I burst out laughing, and I turn around and see Kanye right in front of me. I thought: Things have changed a lot. Ever since I was little I’ve been going to these fashion shows, and I’ve never seen a single celebrity there.
As the next generation of clients emerges, who do you think the new Hermès icons will be?
Honestly, I have no idea. I think there’s a side to all this, where people who have a lot of money want to show their power. They know very well that it’s really hard to obtain a Birkin or Kelly bag, because there’s a waiting list. And if you show that you’ve got ten of these bags, then it means that you’ve got the money and time to obtain them, and in turn it shows your power. I find that a bit sad, but it’s the reality of the matter.
You recently came up with the idea for the Hermès Smart car, along with your friend Karim. The car really speaks to Hermès’ roots since the brand was originally tied to travel and transportation, starting with Thierry Hermès’ saddles.
In the beginning our ancestor was only making amazing saddles, and had a small hotel in Alsace. So the horsemen were his guests in the hotel, and he took care of their horses. He made such exceptional saddles that word spread. At one moment, he stopped having a lot of clients, and he started to think and ask himself some questions. He realized that this was an important transitional moment. People were not going to rely on horses anymore. The car was going to replace that. So he decided to make accessories out of the leather he used for saddles. He moved to Paris and he began creating accessories in his atelier. The clients that used to come see him for their horses began to come see him to buy purses for their wives, and things like that. It worked really well for a while. Then there was a moment of economic crisis, when business wasn’t so good anymore. One of his sons, Emile, who was taking over the business, went to Canada for his military service. While he was in Canada, he saw zippers on Jeeps—you know, the zippers that everyone uses today. At the time, zippers were only on Jeeps. When Emile returned to France and business wasn’t going so well, he had the idea of importing the zipper. He also thought of not just using it for cars but actually putting it on purses, clothes, gloves, etc. This was extremely innovative. He made quite a lot of money, and essentially saved Hermès from bankruptcy. What’s really interesting as well is that since he was the only one who knew how to apply the zipper, all the big fashion designers like Chanel and YSL would actually drop off their clothes so that zippers could be applied. In the meantime, he would look at these clothes and sort of draw inspiration from the styles and materials. And that’s actually how Hermès started making clothes. It’s a really cool story.
Did this history play a role in the creation of the Hermès-Smart car for you?
Yes. In the 1920s, Hermès almost went bankrupt, and we teamed up with Bugatti, and actually made cars. So in response to the people who say that we don’t have the tradition of manufacturing cars, it’s actually not true. Almost 100 years ago we were already making cars. Also, a lot of people were telling me that the brands were completely opposite. Smart is rather young and trendy, and Hermès is classic. I would say it’s not true. I mean, we do make classic products. Everyone knows about the Birkin bag or the Kelly bag. But there are lots of other things, like the double bracelet on watches; that’s an Hermès invention. It was created by Martin Margiela and everyone wears it today. So there are lots of little things that Hermès makes that don’t always work so well in the beginning, but which are quite innovative. It’s a shame that these products don’t get talked about. We only talk about the Birkin and Kelly bags.
In a previous interview you talk about how simply being a member of the family means that you are naturally involved in the business. You worked in finance for a while, but now it seems you are getting into the family business.
I worked in finance, and it was going very well. But I decided that I really wanted to travel around the world before starting my career. When I got back from my trip I heard about the work at the Hermès Foundation and thought it was brilliant! The Hermès Foundation is dedicated to children’s education. Actually when I was on my trip visiting Brazil, I went to check out the soccer player Rai’s association Gol de Letra. I really loved the organization. I really liked that there was an emphasis on the Arts within education. I thought that together, along with Hermès, it would be a great collaboration. For the past few months I’ve really been concentrating on that. When Hermès opened the São Paulo store, I took some of the Hermès executives into the favela so that they could see Gol de Letra for themselves. They really liked the idea, so we’re working on creating a partnership. We’d like to work out some sort of exchange. We actually don’t want to just donate money. The goal isn’t to get the media to say, “Oh, Hermès is donating money. That’s great.” We like the idea of perhaps using the children’s art and incorporating it into Hermès creations, like ties or pocket squares. I’m really thrilled about that! Honestly, before taking the world trip, I really didn’t care about social change. I was like, I want to work in finance and earn a lot of money. But I don’t feel like that anymore. I’m not Mother Theresa, but I feel that if you can contribute in one way or another, it’s important to do so.
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