La Gazette du bon ton: Hermès

Fig. 1. La Gazette Du Bon Ton, 1925, No. 7. Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum Library and Archive. Photo: Jennifer Dares

During a recent research visit to the Royal Ontario Museum Library and Archives to view the La Gazette du bon ton collection, I was intrigued by four pages, consisting of six fashion illustrations of Hermés bags, along with text in the 1925 issue of ‘Numéro spécial de la Gazette du bon ton’ (Fig. 1) simply titled ‘Hermés’ (Fig. 2-3).

This edition was created for the ‘International Exhibition of Decorative and Modern Industrial Arts in Paris in 1925 (Fig. 4-5). This world’s fair was similar to trade shows of today, such as Maison & Objet Paris (www.maison-objet.com) or the Coterie in New York (www.ubmfashion.com/shows/coterie/), but on a much larger scale. The Pavilion of Elegance (Fig. 6) was one of nine pavilions and displayed luxury brands such as Lanvin, Worth and Cartier (www.madparis.fr).

La Gazette du bon ton, an expensive luxury fashion magazine, whose target audience included the elite of France, was published monthly from 1912 through until 1925 (Davis 48). Inside this issue, it was noted that numerous luxury brands directed this edition (La Gazette du bon ton 1925). Barthes states ‘… the magazine is a machine that makes Fashion’ (50), and it was through this lens that I questioned whether this was an article or an advertorial? Once translated, would the text reveal what a Hermès leather bag signified in 1925?

Fig. 2. “Hermès.” Numero Spécial De La Gazette Du Bon Ton, 1925, No. 7.
Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum Library and Archive. Photos: Jennifer Dares.

Fig. 3. “Hermès.” Numero Spécial De La Gazette Du Bon Ton, 1925, No. 7.
Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum Library and Archive. Photos: Jennifer Dares.

Fig. 6. ‘Lanvin House Salon in the Pavilion of Elegance’ (www.madparis.fr).

Fig. 3. ‘International Exhibition of Decorative and Modern Industrial Arts in Paris in 1925 poster and Fig. 4. Exhibition entrance (www.madparis.fr).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fig. 7. Grace Kelly with her Hermès bag, 1956 (www.wsj.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hermès brand has received much attention in fashion magazines, celebrity culture, film, television and the media since the 1950s. The power of celebrity has helped to promote the iconic bags beginning with Grace Kelly who was photographed in 1956 holding what was already an iconic Hermès bag (Fig. 7), initially designed in 1935, which was then named after her (Boyd 82). The story behind the inspiration of the Birkin bag depicted Jane Birkin on a flight in 1981 when the singer and the actress met the president of Hermès, Jean Louis Dumas. When he noticed her basket bag, he mentioned she would benefit from a larger bag which he would design for her (fashionista.com). Birkin had used the basket bag for every occasion, from day through to evening during all seasons, from summer through to winter, which had been well documented since the 1960’s (Fig. 8-10). The newly designed Hermès bag was launched in 1984 and named after Birkin (Boyd 82).

Fig. 8. Jane Birkin carrying her signature basket bag at the “Slogan” film premiere in 1969 (www.crfashionbook.com).
Fig. 9. Birkin carrying her signature basket bag in Tokyo, 1971 (www.harpersbazaar.com.sg).
Fig. 10. Birkin in fur with her signature basket bag (www.rdujour.com).

Fig. 10. HBO’s Sex and the City in 2001 depicts Samantha and Carrie as they gaze at the Birkin in the Hermès boutique window (Boyd, 2014).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2001 HBO’s Sex and the City depicted Samantha and Carrie as they gaze at the Birkin in the Hermès boutique window (Fig. 11). As they discuss the Birkin, Samantha states “When I’m tooling around town with that bag, I’ll know I’ve made it!” (Boyd 82). Kim Kardashian’s obsession with the bags (Fig. 12) has been credited with helping to increase sales at Hermès in 2016 (Rhodri 54) and on August 11, 2016, Kris Jenner’s Birkin closet (Fig. 13) was featured in an article titled “Meet The LA Artist Behind Kris Jenner’s New Birkin Closet on the Harper’s Bazaar digital platform (www.harpersbazaar.com 2016). The closet is filled with Hermès bags, and a neon sign which reads ‘NEED MONEY FOR BIRKIN’ by Los Angeles artist Beau Dunn (www.harpersbazaar.com 2016) exemplifies conspicuous consumption (Veblen L22). Baudrillard’s theory of consumption and signs, quite literally are displayed within this one closet (Tseelon L4455). The aim in these examples of the Hermès bag as an object would be to signal their status economically, socially, symbolically and culturally through the collection of their Hermès bags.

Fig. 12. Kim Kardashian and her Hermès bag (www.thejeansblog.com).
Fig. 13. “Meet The LA Artist Behind Kris Jenner’s New Birkin Closet.” Harpersbazaar.com. Photo: Randy Tran

The theory that a Hermès bag would never be sent to a landfill and would be considered slow fashion is also of interest in learning more about this brand’s history (Jung and Jin 517). Hermès bags have traditionally been passed down from one family member to another or sold as a second hand or vintage item, often for more than their original worth. The narrative and the myth behind the brand may be what assists the bag in holding or exceeding its initial value.

So, what did a Hermès leather bag signify in 1925? The article begins by describing the history of the brand, noting Thierry Hermés was a skilled artisan making saddlery for nobleman and royals (La Gazette du bon ton 1925). His success in this industry provided him with the confidence to expand his business into leather goods (La Gazette du bon ton 1925). The double-bottom red Hermès bag illustrated at the top of the page is what first caught my eye (Fig. 2). The illustration includes two brushes in the lower bottom which look similar to those used for horses and a tin container which may indicate horse hoof polish. The text suggests this bag might function for toiletries, which alludes to the luxury of travel (La Gazette du bon ton 1925).

Fig. 14. “The Wardrobe to Meet the Travel Urge” (1925, Vogue, 58-59).

Through further research in the Vogue Archive, I located an article in the January 1925 issue of Vogue magazine titled ‘The Wardrobe to Meet the Travel Urge’ (Fig. 14). Similar to the Hermès text, it is difficult to tell if this is an article or an advertorial as all of the bags and gloves illustrated to accessorize are the Hermès brand only. Usually, the selection of accessories for a magazine editorial would be from various brands. Is this another example of Barthes reference to “the magazine is a machine that makes Fashion” (51)? This article discusses the “nouveau riches’” adoption of an aristocratic lifestyle, as they travel to their country homes wearing the latest fashions (Vogue 58). These fashions accessorized with Hermès bags and gloves signal economic capital as they can afford an additional home and the wardrobe to go with it (Vogue 58). The first fashion illustration has a similar double-bottom Hermès bag positioned beside the user (Vogue 58). This bag has two handles on top, whereas the red bag did not have handles, which indicates the origin of this bag was most likely for saddlery and the version in Vogue was for travel (Vogue 58). This bag is a signifier or a fashion code indicating economic and symbolic capital (Rocamora L4909). Economic capital is demonstrated in that the consumer can afford a Hermès bag in which the base price is approximately $4,000.00 and up in 2018 (Hermès.com).

Fig. 15. Advertisement: Dobbs & co., inc. (1925, Dec 01). Vogue,163-164.

As I continued to research, I found two advertisements in the December issue of US Vogue 1925. They are both DOBBS and feature many Hermès leather goods, including the double-bottom bag and a golf case which were exclusively carried in America (Fig. 15). Travel and sport are referenced here signifying economic and social capital within the user’s habitus (Vogue 163-164). Most interesting is the statement “Travelled Americans, familiar with the beauty and quality of Hermès Leather Goods abroad, will not be misled by crude imitations …” (Vogue 163). This statement alludes to knockoffs and the desire for those of a lower class to aspire to join the elite (Boyd 83).

The second page of text in the Hermès article describes the leather golf case with two straps illustrated on a young man, worn like a backpack (Fig. 2). He wears a loose-fitting white golf shirt and pants with a tartan peaked cap to protect the eyes from the sun. In the same issue is a fashion plate titled ‘Le Jeu Interrompu,’ and below is ‘Etui de Golf, d’Hermès’ (Fig. 16)

Fig. 16. “Hermès.” Numero Spécial De La Gazette Du Bon Ton, 1925, No. 7.
Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum Library and Archive. Photo: Jennifer Dares

which translates to ‘The Interrupted Game. Hermès Golf Case.’ This fashion plate features a young man, perhaps a caddy for the older male golfer. The young man is wearing the exact golf case featured in the Hermès article, except the strap is worn across his body. This fashion plate in combination with the article seems to reinforce each other by creating a narrative which embodies an elite luxury status. The golf case is a signifier or a fashion code indicating economic capital, social capital, symbolic capital, and, cultural capital (Rocamora L4909) and I will use Bourdieu’s theoretical framework to illustrate each (Rocamora L4909). The golf case signifies economic wealth as it is a luxury item and the fact that it is worn by a caddy, who would be hired help, further illustrates the user’s wealth or position within a field. The act of being able to participate in the game of golf which indicates they are part of an elite leisure class furthering their network signifies social capital (Rocamora, L4909). Symbolic capital is signified through their status as they can purchase the golf case, hire a caddy, pay to play on a golf course and afford the leisure time to play which links into Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class (1899). Being able to participate in the elite game of golf signifies cultural capital.

The third page discusses Hermès as the first designer to use lizard skin for all types of bags, described as the most prestigious of the collection, and signalling symbolic capital and, the highest status within their habitus (La Gazette du bon ton 1925). The final page discusses Hermes as a belt maker in collaboration with apparel designers, and at times his belts serve as the inspiration for the garment (La Gazette du bon ton 1925). The article closes with a description of the luxury lizard skin cushions Hermès has just designed and states precisely where they should be placed “which naturally find their place on the low sofa of Coromandel lacquer” (La Gazette du bon ton 1925). The suggestion of Coromandel lacquer (Fig. 17) an imported product from the East assumes only an elite class would purchase these cushions.

Fig. 17. “Folding Screen in Coromandel Lacquer, 20th Century.” Expertissim.com.

In conclusion, Hermès in 1925 signalled economic, social, and cultural capital as the brand aligned its identity with elite leisure activities. Dell argues that the combination of interior design and fashion design at the ‘International Exhibition of Decorative and Modern Industrial Arts in Paris in 1925 provided a narrative around materialism for the upper classes (311). This exhibition in combination with the luxury magazine La Gazette du bon ton offered aspirational imagery to the consumer to further engage them in conspicuous consumption (Veblen L22). The origin of Hermès as a craftsman for nobleman and royals adds to the social capital of owning and being seen with a Hermès bag by signifying one is part of an elite class. The Hermès bag explicitly has its own identity which creates symbolic capital for the consumer. Perhaps some of the consumers are buying a borrowed identity? The article, in my opinion, is meant to create a narrative to elevate the brand’s identity from the consumer’s perspective.

Special thank you to Marie Madi, a French immersion teacher, who assisted with the translation of the text.

Discussion question: Are some consumers buying a borrowed identity?

Works Cited

Advertisement: Dobbs & co., Inc. (1925, Dec 01). Vogue, 66, 163. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/897847574?accountid=13631

Advertisement: Dobbs & co., Inc. (1925, Dec 01). Vogue, 66, 164. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/897845431?accountid=13631

Barthes, Roland. The Fashion System. University of California Press, 1990.

Boyd, Annita. “’Oh, Honey! it’s Not so Much the Style, it’s what Carrying it Mean’: Hermès Bags and the Transformative Process.” Fashion, Style & Popular Culture, vol. 1, 2013, pp. 81-96.

Coterie | UBM Fashion. www.ubmfashion.com. Accessed 7 August 2018.

Davis, Mary E. “La Gazette Du Bon Ton.” Classic Chic: Music, Fashion, and Modernism. (2008): pp. 48-92. Oakland, CA: University of California Press. (pp. 48-92).

De Berker, Elsa. “It’s Jane Birkin’s Birthday.” CR. https://www.crfashionbook.com/celebrity/g9202822/jane-birkin-birthday/

Dell, Simon. “The Consumer and the Making of the Exposition Internationale Des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes, 1907-1925.” Journal of Design History, vol. 12, no. 4, 1999, pp. 311-325.

“Fashion History Lesson: The Iconic Hermès Birkin”. Fashionista, 17 June 2016. https://fashionista.com/2016/06/birkin-bag-history-jane-hermes

“Folding Screen in Coromandel Lacquer, 20th Century.” Expertissim.com. Accessed 27 April 2018. https://en.expertissim.com/folding-screen-coromandel-lacquer-20th-century-12246693

“Hermès.” Numero Spécial De La Gazette Du Bon Ton, 1925, No. 7. Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum Library and Archive.

Hermès. www.hermes.com. Accessed 27 April 2018.

Jobling, Paul. “Roland Barthes: Semiology and the Rhetorical Codes of Fashion.” Thinking through Fashion: A Guide to Key Theorists, edited by Rocamora, Agnès, and Anneke Smelik.  I.B. Tauris, 2016.

Jung, Sojin, and Byoungho Jin. “A Theoretical Investigation of Slow Fashion: Sustainable Future of the Apparel Industry.” International Journal of Consumer Studies, vol. 38, no. 5, 2014, pp. 510-519.

“Le Jeu Interrompu.” Numero Spécial De La Gazette Du Bon Ton, 1925, No. 7. Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum Library and Archive.

MAD. ‘The Museum of Decorative Arts’. madparis.fr/francais/musees/musee-des-arts-decoratifs/collections/dossiers-thematiques/l-exposition-internationale-des-arts-decoratifs-et-industriels-modernes-de/. Accessed 7 August 2018.

Maison & Objet Paris. www.maison-objet.com. Accessed 7 August 2018.

Manlow, Veronica. “Creating an American Mythology: A Comparison of Branding Strategies in Three Fashion Firms.” Fashion Practice, vol. 3, no. 1, 2011, pp. 85-110.

Fisher, Lauren Alexis. “Meet The LA Artist Behind Kris Jenner’s New Birkin Closet.” Harpersbazaar.com. Accessed 27 April 2018. https://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/interiors-entertaining/a17141/kris-jenner-birkin-closet/

Phang, Gracia. “The Original Birkin Bag: Where To Get It And How To Style It.” Harper’s Bazaar Singapore, 8 December 2017. Accessed 27 April 2018. http://www.harpersbazaar.com.sg/fashion/the-original-birkin-bag-where-to-get-it-and-how-to-wear-it/

Phillips, R. (2017, Mar 23). HERMES HAS IT IN THE BAG. The Sun Retrieved from http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/1879910508?accountid=13631

Rocamora, Agnes. “Bourdieu, Pierre: The Field of Fashion” Thinking through Fashion: A Guide to Key Theorists, edited by Rocamora, Agnès, and Anneke Smelik.  I.B. Tauris, 2016. Digital

RDuJour. Rdujour.com. Accessed 10 April 2018.

The Jeans Blog. www.thejeansblog.com. Accessed 27 April 2018.

“The Wardrobe to Meet the Travel Urge.” (1925, Vogue, 65, 58-58, 59, 90. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/879165206?accountid=13631

“Bags of Style.” The Wall Street Journal, 16, August 2013. https://www.wsj.com/articles/bags-of-style-1376603723

Tseelon, Efrat. “Baudrillard, Jean: Post-modern Fashion as the End of Meaning.” Thinking through Fashion: A Guide to Key Theorists, edited by Rocamora, Agnès, and Anneke Smelik.  I.B. Tauris, 2016.

Veblen, Thorstein. The Theory of the Leisure Class. Oxford University Press Inc, 2007.

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