After Charles-Émile Hermès’s retirement, sons Adolphe and Émile-Maurice took leadership and renamed the company Hermès Frères. Shortly after, Émile-Maurice began furnishing the czar of Russia with saddles. By 1914, up to 80 saddle craftsmen were employed. Subsequently, Émile-Maurice was granted the exclusive rights to use the zipper for leather goods and clothing, becoming the first to introduce the device in France. In 1918, Hermès introduced the first leather golf jacket with a zipper, made for Edward, Prince of Wales. Because of its exclusive rights arrangement the zipper became known in France as the fermeture Hermès (Hermès fastener).
Throughout the 1920s when he was the sole head of the firm, Émile-Maurice added accessories and clothing collections. He also groomed his three sons-in-law (Robert Dumas, Jean-René Guerrand, and Francis Puech) as business partners. In 1922, the first leather handbags were introduced after Émile-Maurice’s wife complained of not being able to find one to her liking. Émile-Maurice created the handbag collection himself.
In 1924, Hermès established a presence in the United States and opened two shops outside of Paris. In 1929, the first women’s couture apparel collection was previewed in Paris. During the 1930s, Hermès introduced some of its most recognized original goods such as the leather “Sac à dépêches” in 1935 (later renamed the “Kelly bag” after Grace Kelly) and the Hermès carrés (square scarves) in 1937.
The scarves became integrated into French culture. In 1938, the “Chaîne d’ancre” bracelet and the riding jacket and outfit joined the classic collection. By this point, the company’s designers began to draw inspirations from paintings, books, and objets d’art. The 1930s also witnessed Hermès’s entry into the United States market by offering products in a Neiman Marcus department store in New York; however, it later withdrew. In 1949, the same year as the launch of the Hermès silk tie, the first perfume, “Eau d’Hermès”, was produced.
From the mid-1930s, Hermès employed Swiss watchmaker Universal Genève as the brand’s first and exclusive designer of timepieces, producing a line of men’s wrist chronographs (manufactured in 18K gold or stainless steel) and women’s Art Déco cuff watches in 18K gold, steel, or platinum. Both models contained dials signed either “Hermès” or “Hermès Universal Genève”, while the watch movements were signed “Universal Genève S.A.”. The Hermès/Universal partnership lasted until the 1950s.
Émile-Maurice summarized the Hermès philosophy during his leadership as “leather, sport, and a tradition of refined elegance.”