Customers swarmed the two-story store soon after it opened at 10 am, after a ribbon cutting, with many gleefully scoping out the new shoe salon and large handbag area. The store had not had a shipment to customers since mid-September because of the move, so a number of them were picking up custom-ordered items and, upon glimpsing them for the first time, many burst into applause.
Designed by RDAI, the Parisian architectural agency under the artistic direction of Denis Montel who is responsible for all Hermès stores worldwide, the 8,880-square-foot Houston boutique is marked with an outdoor canopy to provide shade, with embedded ceiling fans for those hot summer days.
An abundance of windows allows natural light to flood into the store, with such signature design motifs as the brushed stainless steel Ex-Libris emblem engraved into the terrazzo and botticino marble floor at the entrance and Greek key motifs and glass globes in the high ceilings.
Inside the two-story store, all 16 product categories, including luggage, diaries and small leather goods, equestrian apparel and accessories, men’s and women’s ready-to-wear, fine jewelry, watches, jewelry, perfume, tableware and home furnishings, are on display.
"The whole store is very architectural. If you look in the watch and jewelry salon, it almost has a cathedral type effect," said Robert Chavez, president and C.E.O of Hermès U.S. "All of the elements are very special and unique. Plus the exterior gives us the opportunity to express the brand the way we want to express it. We've been waiting for 15 years to do it."
A sleek staircase of continental oak wood, with an inlaid railing, leads to the second floor, which features a large women's ready-to-wear area, along with a shoe salon, handbag salon, and an expanded home furnishings area, featuring a wide array of Hermès furniture, light fixtures, fabrics and wallpaper.
During a store tour, Chavez pointed out a wall of square tiles that can be custom-made for customers in a variety of leather and fabric choices. "We've never been able to show home (furnishings) because we didn't have space," he said.
Unique Houston touches
There are a few uniquely Houston touches. In the equestrian area, a saddle made of leather and blue crocodile was created especially for the Houston store. It retails for $105,000.
A beautiful silk scarf was designed by Kermit Oliver exclusively for the Houston store. Titled "Faune et Flore du Texas," it features a large turkey, cranes, Longhorns and wild animals, including mustangs, pumas and coyotes, along with mountains, plains, deserts and rivers representing the history and folklore of Texas. The unique scarf retails for $300.
In the downstairs windows, South Dakota-based sculptor John Lopez created a life-size family of buffalo using bronze casts, scrap metal, found objects, and recycled leather from the Hermès ateliers in Paris.
Chavez recalled that it has taken the brand 15 years to get the exact store it wants in Houston.
"We have a significant business here already and we just have never had the proper home. We stayed at The Pavilion (on Post Oak Boulevard) until the bitter end and when the Pavilion was torn down we moved just right across the street into a temporary location. But we really felt it was worth waiting for the right place and the right time and the right moment.
"And we feel that this River Oaks District is really the place for us and as you can see now, we're excited that we held out."
Having waited 15 years for the right space, the brand decide it wouldn't hurt to wait a couple of extra weeks to open the store. They held a big party, featuring a Parisian street fair, at River Oaks District in mid-October, but delayed the store opening until Friday.
"We just weren't ready and we didn't want to rush it," Chavez explained. "We didn't want the first impression to be one of patches here, patches there. We figured let's have the opening party and we'll open a week later. Here we are. I don't think anyone is going to be disappointed."