On the Runway: Hermès Steps Into the Shoe Wars With a Stake in Pierre Hardy

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On the Runway: Hermès Steps Into the Shoe Wars With a Stake in Pierre Hardy

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Vanessa Friedman

Vanessa Friedman

ON THE RUNWAY

The shoe wars are once again about to escalate. Hermès International, the French luxury group, announced on Wednesday that it had taken a minority stake in the shoe brand Pierre Hardy.

This makes Hermès something of a footwear power when shoes are proving to be the It bags of the moment, given that it also owns the British cobbler brand John Lobb. And it heralds a new stage in the growth of Pierre Hardy as the brand attempts to leverage the footwear boom. The last few years have seen an explosion of shoe floors in department stores worldwide and the first shoe initial public offering.

(Hermès also owns the crystal brand Saint-Louis Cristallerie, Puiforcat silversmiths, as well as some of their suppliers of textiles and leather goods, among other companies.)

It is also a recognition of the potential of Pierre Hardy, which was founded by, yup, Pierre Hardy in 1999, and is known for its sculptural, graphic heels and handbags, quirky sneakers (fans include Rihanna — she has the fur ones — Bella Hadid and the rapper Future), and an attempt to keep its bespectacled designer in the family — or “the tribe,” as Axel Dumas, the chief executive of Hermès, said in the official announcement.

After all, Mr. Hardy has been responsible for men’s and women’s shoes at Hermès since 1990, and in 2001 added jewelry to his responsibilities; he was part of the team that created the Apple watch for Hermès last year. Earlier this year, Pierre-Alexis Dumas, the artistic director of Hermès, presented Mr. Hardy, 50, with the Legion d’Honneur in a terraced room atop the company’s headquarters on Faubourg St.-Honoré in Paris.

Still, throughout his time with Hermès, Mr. Hardy has collaborated with other brands. Also in attendance at the Legion d’Honneur ceremony, for example, was the artistic director of Louis Vuitton, Nicolas Ghesquière, with whom Mr. Hardy worked for 12 years creating shoes during Mr. Ghesquiere’s previous stint at Balenciaga. Mr. Hardy also collaborated with the Gap in 2011, and with the makeup brand Nars in 2013.

In the announcement, Hermès characterized the decision as one driven by “strengthening ties” between the company and Mr. Hardy.

“The agreement highlights Hermès’s ambition to contribute to the label’s global growth dynamic,” the statement read, “and confirms the close and prolific relationship that has developed over the years between Hermès and Pierre Hardy.”

It is in line with past strategic moves by the company: In 2003, when Jean Paul Gaultier became the Hermès creative director for women’s wear, Hermès also took a 30 percent stake in his label; Hermès sold it to Puig in 2011, after their collaboration with Mr. Gaultier ended in 2010.

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Speaking by phone from Paris, Mr. Hardy said: “After 15 years, it was time to grow up. The company has changed. The world has changed. And I thought I needed some help to become a stronger presence. Not less exclusive, but more visible.”

Pierre Hardy fully owns three stores worldwide and is sold in 200 doors. As shoes have become the accessory of choice for consumers — being less expensive than, say, a dress or a suit and an easy way to make a sartorial statement — he sensed an opportunity.

Mr. Hardy said he spoke with Axel Dumas for about six months before the investment was finalized. He had not actively been looking for an outside investor, but “had been wishing they might,” he said.

“We have such mutual trust and understanding already,” he said, “and they know the problems and issues you can have when you are trying to produce a sophisticated product and how to solve them.”

As for the role Hermès will play in growing his brand, Mr. Hardy said it would be mostly to “support and advise.”

“It will be kind of like having a father,” he said.

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