Over the past five years, multiple vintage and archival fashion dealers told me that they have seen the market for almost anything that bears the name Hermès explode. “The one undeniable thing about Hermès is that it always conveyed aspirational fantasy luxury,” Gonsalves says. “That feeling has always been there for us, but maybe now some of the younger people can recognize that too.”
Procell traces the current wave of Hermès fanaticism in menswear to the positioning of the Birkin as hip-hop’s must-have bag, as when Drake revealed in 2017 that he was assembling a collection of them for his future wife. Many of his peers seemed happy simply to collect them for their romantic partners (Offset, Quavo) or themselves (Young Thug). Meanwhile, A$AP Rocky appeared onstage that same year draped in an Hermès blanket.
The Hermès hype goes much deeper than bags and blankets, though. The recent fervor for Margiela has turned men into collectors of the designer’s cerebral womenswear for the house. Then there’s Kermit Oliver, the famous painter-cum-letter carrier who is one of the only Americans to create the art for Hermès scarves. Teo Griscom, owner of Santa Fe Vintage, has seen the Hermès vintage market soar over the past five years. The prices for Oliver’s exuberant Southwestern-themed designs, with their Native American motifs and giant turkeys, “have skyrocketed,” she says, to upwards of $5,000 for a single 35-by-35-inch square of silk. “When you collect something that iconic,” Griscom says, “you want that story.”
The way Hermès devotees see it, the house converts clients into collectors by encouraging those who seek its most exclusive products to accumulate a portfolio of objects from other métiers first, not unlike the way Rolex dealers develop collectors of the brand’s watches. Bryan Yambao, who initially came to fame as the blogger Bryanboy and now consults for a number of luxury brands, has pillows, blankets, ponchos, and handbags (including five Birkins) and is also an enthusiast of the house’s porcelain. He is not alone: Young men are reportedly Hermès’s fastest-growing customer demographic for that métier. “They’re unwavering,” Yambao says of the brand’s range. “They don’t compromise.” Though the Hermès ethos can occasionally clash with the millennial lifestyle: Yambao recently put his teacup in the microwave to reheat his coffee and it nearly exploded. “There’s real gold in there!” he said. “Hermès doesn’t fuck around!”
Many fashion brands, given such a lauded back catalog, would be eager to plunder it for future collections. But Hermès rarely reintroduces its objects. That has made it both the ultimate archival brand and the house that resists looking back, in constant pursuit of innovation. “I don’t need to look at the archives,” Nichanian says. She made the archive.
The distinct, frenzied desire cultivated by Hermès has also set the tone for the rest of the fashion world. Yambao believes the house invented the culture of hype that now dominates consumerism—“more than Supreme, more than [Dior designer] Kim Jones,” he says. “They’re great at creating these really limited things in a small way to create demand, and they sell it to the right people,” he says, adding that you usually need a relationship with the staff to make a significant purchase. “We live in a world where, when you cannot get something, the more you want it,” he says. “It’s this built-up desire—and they’re masters at it. They pioneered it.” But rather than feeding the mindless cycle of hype, there remains a sense that you have to access Hermès, and its treasures cannot be unlocked with cash alone. While nearly every brand has introduced products for almost every level of consumer, from sweatshirts to wallets to logo-emblazoned outerwear, Hermès still stands, singularly, for aspiration.
“My work is doing beautiful clothes, because we are the most beautiful house in the world,” says Nichanian, with a somewhat beatific smile on her face. “And in the end, if it’s luxury, I don’t know. And I don’t care.”
Rachel Tashjian is a GQ staff writer.
A version of this story originally appeared in the May 2021 issue with the title “How Hermès Invented Hype.”