How the Dumas family, heirs to the $49.2 billion Hermes fortune, turned a leather store into a luxury empire and became one of the wealthiest families in the world

Axel DumasAxel Dumas, chairman of HermesERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images

Thierry Hermès, an orphan, was skilled with leather - so skilled, in fact, that his main clients in the 19th century were royal families.

Six generations later, the Hermès family - and brand - is now known for its exclusive Parisian fashion house and a $49.2 billion fortune.

Read more: Meet Amancio Ortega, the fiercely private Zara founder who's worth $62 billion and owns properties in Madrid, London, and New York City

At the head of Hermès, today are two cousins: Pierre-Alexis and Axel Dumas. Both are co-chairmen of the brand, Axel the CEO and Pierre-Alexis its creative director, whose father, Jean-Louis, revolutionized Hermès from just selling perfectly crafted saddles to an international luxury retailer.

In the fashion industry, Hermès is the ultimate status symbol: Its signature Birkin bag takes over 25 hours to make, costs up to six figures, and can be seen on the arms of celebrities and princesses.

Take a look at the history of Hermès, and the family - which is now one of the richest in the world - that turned it into a fashion powerhouse.

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Thierry Hermès, who was highly skilled with leather, opened a shop in Paris in 1837.

Thierry Hermès, who was highly skilled with leather, opened a shop in Paris in 1837.

Source: Vanity Fair

Hermès, at the time, specialized in saddles, taking precise measurements for horses and riders. Hand-stitched saddles took months to make. Perfection was expected every single time, as many Hermès clients were European royalty, like Napoléon III.

Hermès, at the time, specialized in saddles, taking precise measurements for horses and riders. Hand-stitched saddles took months to make. Perfection was expected every single time, as many Hermès clients were European royalty, like Napoléon III.

Source: Vanity Fair

Thierry's son, Émile-Charles, moved the Hermès flagship store in Paris to 24 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré when he succeeded his father. It still stands there today. By the 20th century, Hermès had royals from all over the world on its client list.

Thierry's son, Émile-Charles, moved the Hermès flagship store in Paris to 24 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré when he succeeded his father. It still stands there today. By the 20th century, Hermès had royals from all over the world on its client list.

Émile-Charles' sons, Adolphe and Émile-Maurice, succeeded him shortly after, ushering in the third generation of Hermès.

Source: Vanity Fair

In 1937, 100 years after Thierry Hermès opened his Paris shop, Hermès added square, silk scarves to its repertoire. Today, a signature Hermès scarf can cost upwards of $1,200.

In 1937, 100 years after Thierry Hermès opened his Paris shop, Hermès added square, silk scarves to its repertoire. Today, a signature Hermès scarf can cost upwards of $1,200.

Source: Vanity Fair

The fourth generation of Hermès was synonymous with the Dumas family. Robert Dumas took the head executive and artistic role in 1951 after the death of grandfather Émile-Maurice.

The fourth generation of Hermès was synonymous with the Dumas family. Robert Dumas took the head executive and artistic role in 1951 after the death of grandfather Émile-Maurice.

By this point, Hermès was a household name, and was often described as a luxury brand. Hermès was also known for its historic wait times and extraordinary price tags. But under Robert Dumas, sales were starting to slow, and ateliers had less and less to make.

Source: Vanity Fair

It was Dumas who introduced belts and bags to the brand. He kept these new accessories in line with the brand's tradition, though: Scarves, belts, and bags were all decorated with bridles, bits, and saddles.

It was Dumas who introduced belts and bags to the brand. He kept these new accessories in line with the brand's tradition, though: Scarves, belts, and bags were all decorated with bridles, bits, and saddles.

Source: Vanity Fair

After Robert Dumas died in 1978, his son, Jean-Louis, took the leadership role, a position he would keep for nearly three decades, transforming the company's financials from extreme lows to over $1 billion.

After Robert Dumas died in 1978, his son, Jean-Louis, took the leadership role, a position he would keep for nearly three decades, transforming the company's financials from extreme lows to over $1 billion.

Under the helm of Dumas, in a 7-year period in the 80s, Hermès saw sales grow from $82 million to $446.4 million.

Source: Women's Wear Daily, The New York Times

Not only did Jean-Louis Dumas diversify Hermès to include clothing and jewelry, but he also steered the company into opening global operations and stores in a handful of countries. Today, there are over 300 stores in the world.

Not only did Jean-Louis Dumas diversify Hermès to include clothing and jewelry, but he also steered the company into opening global operations and stores in a handful of countries. Today, there are over 300 stores in the world.

He even took the company public in 1993, though nearly 75% of the company still remains in the hands of the Dumas family.

Jean-Louis oversaw the opening of Hermès flagships like those in Tokyo, Athens, and Seoul.

Source:The New York Times, Women's Wear Daily

In 1984, Jean-Louis met actress and singer Jane Birkin on a plane. He inquired about her distressed handbag, and asked if she would like to design a bag with Hermès. What came out of this chance encounter would go on to define Hermès for life.

In 1984, Jean-Louis met actress and singer Jane Birkin on a plane. He inquired about her distressed handbag, and asked if she would like to design a bag with Hermès. What came out of this chance encounter would go on to define Hermès for life.

Source: The New York Times

The Birkin bag, by Hermès, would ultimately become the most transcendent fashion status symbol of all time.

The Birkin bag, by Hermès, would ultimately become the most transcendent fashion status symbol of all time.

The bag is often carried by celebrities like Kim Kardashian West, Miranda Kerr, and Kate Moss.

Source: BBC

Like all accessories Hermès, a Birkin bag does not leave the workshop until utterly perfect. It has been reported that Hermès burns imperfect Birkins. It can take up to 25 hours to produce just one Birkin bag.

Like all accessories Hermès, a Birkin bag does not leave the workshop until utterly perfect. It has been reported that Hermès burns imperfect Birkins. It can take up to 25 hours to produce just one Birkin bag.

Source: HuffPost

An extremely rare Himalayan Nilo crocodile Birkin bag sold for $185,000 in 2014, becoming the second-most expensive bag to sell at auction. (The first? Also a Birkin.) The handbag has 242 diamonds with a total of 9.84 carats with white gold.

An extremely rare Himalayan Nilo crocodile Birkin bag sold for $185,000 in 2014, becoming the second-most expensive bag to sell at auction. (The first? Also a Birkin.) The handbag has 242 diamonds with a total of 9.84 carats with white gold.

Source: Women's Wear Daily

Alongside the overwhelming success with the Birkin, Jean-Paul Dumas also saw enormous success when he appointed bad-boy couturier Jean Paul Gaultier as Hermès creative director in 2003. Gaultier stayed in the position until 2010.

Alongside the overwhelming success with the Birkin, Jean-Paul Dumas also saw enormous success when he appointed bad-boy couturier Jean Paul Gaultier as Hermès creative director in 2003. Gaultier stayed in the position until 2010.

Source: The New York Times

Jean-Louis's wife Rena designed over 150 stores for Hermès. Rena had a significant influence on the way customers remember the brand — many stores have been described as post-modern, with clean, open spaces.

Jean-Louis's wife Rena designed over 150 stores for Hermès. Rena had a significant influence on the way customers remember the brand — many stores have been described as post-modern, with clean, open spaces.

Source: Vanity Fair

In 2005, Jean-Louis announced he would be retiring after nearly 30 years as the company's chairman and CEO. By 2006, Jean-Louis had overseen Hermès sales to nearly $2 billion.

In 2005, Jean-Louis announced he would be retiring after nearly 30 years as the company's chairman and CEO. By 2006, Jean-Louis had overseen Hermès sales to nearly $2 billion.

Source: Vanity Fair

In 2010, Jean-Louis Dumas died at the age of 72. A statement released by the company did not specify the cause of death, but it was known Dumas had Parkinson’s disease.

In 2010, Jean-Louis Dumas died at the age of 72. A statement released by the company did not specify the cause of death, but it was known Dumas had Parkinson’s disease.

At the time of his death, Birkin bags and all other Hermès goods were still being produced just steps away from its Paris-based flagship.

Source: The New York Times

In typical, and historic, Hermès fashion, Jean-Louis handed off the reins of the luxury house to his son, Pierre-Alexis Dumas, 52, who was named artistic director in 2002.

In typical, and historic, Hermès fashion, Jean-Louis handed off the reins of the luxury house to his son, Pierre-Alexis Dumas, 52, who was named artistic director in 2002.

"I knew my father was worried that people would accuse him of favoritism regarding his son," said Dumas in an interview with Harpers Bazaar in 2013. "I also knew that secretly he wanted me to work with him. People were hypnotized by my father; he was very charismatic. To be the son of Jean-Louis was very intimidating."

Source: Women's Wear Daily, Harper's Bazaar

Axel Dumas, nephew of Jean-Louis, joined Hermès in 2003 and was appointed CEO in 2014. He is one of a dozen heirs of Thierry Hermès with a controlling stake in the company.

Axel Dumas, nephew of Jean-Louis, joined Hermès in 2003 and was appointed CEO in 2014. He is one of a dozen heirs of Thierry Hermès with a controlling stake in the company.

Source: W Magazine

"Axel is financial and very charismatic, more like my father, with a strong commercial vision," said Pierre-Alexis of his cousin's role at Hermès in 2013.

"Axel is financial and very charismatic, more like my father, with a strong commercial vision," said Pierre-Alexis of his cousin's role at Hermès in 2013.

Source: Harper's Bazaar

The role of each Dumas cousin is different. "My job is to keep the strong creativity of Hermès alive. To nourish the rigor and the vision," Pierre-Alexis said in an interview, "to make these values vibrate."

The role of each Dumas cousin is different. "My job is to keep the strong creativity of Hermès alive. To nourish the rigor and the vision," Pierre-Alexis said in an interview, "to make these values vibrate."

Pierre-Alexis, whose father is Jean-Louis, said, "My father never told me he wanted me to be creative director. I had to fight for it and prove by the results of my work that I was worth it."

To this day, Dumas is said to sign off on every single Hermès product before it leaves the workshop.

Source: Business of Fashion

Pierre-Alexis spoke with The Wall Street Journal in 2010 to announce the partnership between Hermès and The Bugatti Veyron 16.4. At $2.1 million, it was one of the most expensive cars in the world.

Pierre-Alexis spoke with The Wall Street Journal in 2010 to announce the partnership between Hermès and The Bugatti Veyron 16.4. At $2.1 million, it was one of the most expensive cars in the world.

In 2010, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Bugatti Veyron Fbg par Hermès would include an interior completely decorated by the skilled leather artisans of Hermès. Leather was to envelop nearly every inch of the interior — from dashboard to seats.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Hermès also teamed up with Eurocopter to design a nearly $8 million helicopter. In 2011, Pierre-Alexis Dumas said the brand had already sold two, with six on the waitlist.

Hermès also teamed up with Eurocopter to design a nearly $8 million helicopter. In 2011, Pierre-Alexis Dumas said the brand had already sold two, with six on the waitlist.

"My role is to harmonize," said Pierre-Alexis in 2013. "To set the tone and to assure that the totality of creations is in the spirit of the house of Hermès; to be the guarantee of a certain level of elegance."

Source: The Wall Street Journal, Harper's Bazaar

"Our business is about creating desire," said Axel Dumas in 2014 interview with Forbes. "It can be fickle because desire is fickle, but we try to have creativity to suspend the momentum."

"Our business is about creating desire," said Axel Dumas in 2014 interview with Forbes. "It can be fickle because desire is fickle, but we try to have creativity to suspend the momentum."

Source: Forbes

But creating desire is just half of the equation. When Axel Dumas took charge of Hermès, he also increased the production of its handbags. In 2014, Hermès sales grew to over $4 billion, a notable feat Dumas credits to its increasing output of leather goods.

But creating desire is just half of the equation. When Axel Dumas took charge of Hermès, he also increased the production of its handbags. In 2014, Hermès sales grew to over $4 billion, a notable feat Dumas credits to its increasing output of leather goods.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

According to W Magazine, cousins Axel and Pierre-Alexis both share "an obsession with continually renewing and refreshing Hermès, no matter how august its history."

According to W Magazine, cousins Axel and Pierre-Alexis both share "an obsession with continually renewing and refreshing Hermès, no matter how august its history."

Source: W Magazine

In 2018, Bloomberg estimated the Dumas family has access to a $49.2 billion fortune. The publication named the family one of the richest in the world.

In 2018, Bloomberg estimated the Dumas family has access to a $49.2 billion fortune. The publication named the family one of the richest in the world.

Source: Bloomberg

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