The Rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré is to many American tourists the most beguiling boulevard in Paris, displaying in an elegant stretch of window from the Place Vend√¥me to the Madeleine a multitude of reasons for exchanging a traveler's check for an item of French-made luxury. And the most irresistible shop on the Faubourg Saint Honoré is one of the world's finest sporting goods stores—the house of Herm√®s. Behind its glossy fa√ßade—it has the most admired window displays in Europe—it remains at heart what it started out to be 123 years ago, the world's best saddlery. To it come Calumet Farm, Aly Khan and Winston Guest to order their saddles, tack and silks, just as the gentlemen of the Second Empire came to its founder, Thierry Herm√®s. Now, as then, every article, with the exception of the beautiful Lyons silk scarves (at $12 the store's least expensive item), is made from start to finish on the premises by 120 artisans who are versatile enough to finish entirely any piece they begin, from the carving of a wooden saddle form to the cutting and sewing of the leather and the engraving of all the mountings.
When, at the turn of the century, the clatter of automobiles began to echo in the Faubourg Saint Honoré more loudly than the beat of horses' hoofs, the Fr√®res Herm√®s faced the only serious crisis of their history—one that ultimately proved a blessing. As its clientele became a horseless carriage trade, sales of saddles plummeted, but it was then that the sons of Thierry, Adolphe and Emile (the business is now run by a fourth-generation Herm√®s) began to diversify their stock. Today Herm√®s luggage is world-famous, as are its gloves, its su√®de coats, its pipes, its gun cases, golf bags and shooting sticks—all distinguished examples of the saddle maker's art. And Herm√®s shops are spread around the world—in Cannes and Deauville, Biarritz and Tangier, in the major capitals of western Europe and, in America, at Lord & Taylor, Marshall Field and Neiman-Marcus.
Parisian shoppers have been ordering leather goods from Herm√®s since 1837. Here are daughters of Comte Pierre de Chasteigner, Isabelle (left) and Marie.
Corner window at Herm√®s is most spectacular in Paris. Around locomotive made of rosebuds are leather goods including a handbag (right) designed especially for Princess Grace.
Silk scarves beautiful enough to frame and leather gloves are bestselling items. Scarves, hand-printed in Lyons, are only merchandise stocked not entirely produced on the premises.
Custom-made saddles, and luggage and handbags crafted by artisan saddlemakers, continue the tradition of elegant leatherwork established by Founder Thierry Herm√®s in 1837.
Bits and stirrups which were used by Napoleon's marshals, a cartridge box that belonged to the Empress Eugénie (bottom shelf) are part of a magnificent collection of antique saddlery collected by generations of the family Herm√®s and displayed in a museum on the store's fourth floor. Pi√®ce de résistance is tiny embroidered saddle used by son of Napoleon III.