"This is a very, very good thing for Lafayette," says RTL CEO Bernard de Reynies, who will remain as director of the tannery. "HermÃ¨s is the leader in the luxury brands in the world, and they have invested in this company. That means they will stay here for many years."
Currently, Roggwiller employs approximately 40 people; de Reynies estimates that production and employment will double over the next two to three years, as HermÃ¨s management has already invested in upgrading the tanning system.
Roggwiller bought the old L. A. Frey & Sons building off Pinhook Road from Iberia Bank in 1994, creating a U.S. headquarters to join their tanneries in Paris and Italy. The company buys exotic skins from all over the world: crocodile, shark, stingray, lizard, python, frog and ostrich ' all of which they tan and dye for the fashion world. Louisiana is the heart of the U.S. alligator hide industry, but Roggwiller also buys hides from Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida. Approximately 120,000 skins out of the 300,000 processed in an average year in Louisiana will pass through the Lafayette plant.
Louisiana alligators are no longer an endangered species due to a program of returning 14 percent of farm-raised alligators to the wild, but they're still carefully regulated by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Both wild and farm-raised skins, each bearing a state tag issued to alligator hunters, arrive at the tannery coated with rock salt from local processing plants. They are inspected, logged in and bar coded ' every skin has to be accounted for, and each one costs the company a $4.25 state regulation fee.
At that stage, the hides are still raw skins and in danger of rotting. Half of them are shipped, still encased in salt, by air to France for processing. The remainder go through a 12-week tanning, dying and drying process that makes them buttery soft and ready to be shipped to Europe and cut and sewn into handbags, shoes, belts, jackets and wallets.
The tanned hides are valued anywhere from $200-$800 apiece depending on size and quality. "We are looking for the best quality," says de Reynies. "We have always sold 20-25 percent of our skins to HermÃ¨s. HermÃ¨s is looking for the crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me. We need to find customers for the other quality, because all of the skins are not perfect." Seeking perfection seems to be a trend; Gucci and other couturieres have also recently purchased tanneries to assure themselves of the first rate leather demanded by the fashion industry.
Most high-end luxury brands manufacture their goods in Italy and France, where hand-stitching leather is a highly regarded artisan skill. HermÃ¨s in particular has a reputation for craftsmanship that borders on the realm of mystique. "HermÃ¨s is the premier handbag line of the well dressed French woman," says fashion doyenne Sandy Mugnier, who owned a couturier shop in Lafayette, Sandy Austin, from 1981-1989. "If they have one suit hanging in their closet, it would be Chanel. If they have one bag, it would be HermÃ¨s." Mugnier owns a 30-year-old HermÃ¨s bag she says is still in perfect condition. "I would never part with that bag," she says. "Quality endures."
HermÃ¨s is one of the oldest family-owned businesses in France. Founded in 1837 by Thierry HermÃ¨s, the leather shop specialized in horse harnesses for carriages and hand-stitched saddles. The clientÃ¨le was the rich nobility of France as well as European royalty, including emperors and kings. When the motor car began to overtake carriages as a mode of transportation, third generation owner Ã?mile-Maurice HermÃ¨s made the transition to leather clothing designed to be worn in touring cars. The trademark silk scarf was added in 1937. While items like ties and fragrance have been added to the luxury line, the cachÃ© has not changed, and customers willingly wait to purchase a coveted $7,000 Birkin bag.
Two burning questions in the minds of local fashionistas are whether HermÃ¨s will set up an atelier here to stitch alligator hides into purses, and whether HermÃ¨s items will be on sale in Lafayette. HermÃ¨s goods are only sold in company-owned shops or as a small boutique inside a high-end store such as Saks Fifth Avenue. de Reynies thinks not, on both counts. "Lafayette is too small," he says. "HermÃ¨s is very careful in how many shops they open. There isn't a big production. They want to keep the handmade quality high."
"What I would love to see as a little goodwill gesture would be to have a local boutique," says Kiki Frayard, owner of luxury shop Kiki in River Ranch. "Maybe it would be me." While Frayard knows that is quite unlikely, she says it's good branding for the local economy to have such an exclusive name associated with Lafayette. "It's kind of a cool thing that they're here," she says. "They're the number one luxury brand in the world. They are so exacting about their alligator skins ' it's great that they have chosen Louisiana and the tannery here for their leather. You can walk into an HermÃ¨s shop somewhere in the world and see a Birkin bag made from Louisiana skins. That they have come here will make other companies take another look at Lafayette."
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
Women sue over sperm mix-up; Romney on campaign trail; Ebola patient was released from hospital and more national and international news for Thursday, October 02, 2014.
State Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, surprised few in the Hub City Wednesday afternoon when he made (semi) official what most of us have known for months: He is running to replace Joey Durel as city-parish president.
Louisiana's first black Republican state senator since Reconstruction — who was a Republican before he was a Democrat before he was a Republican again — is accusing Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu of using the black community for votes and providing nothing in return.
LSU's governing board has backed new hospital privatization contracts that give hospital managers greater ease to leave the deal and fewer restrictions about must-have services.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu is courting young voters in several appearances across Louisiana this week, talking about her support for legislation that could lower students' college costs.
Stage 4 vet takes on cancer and reminds us all what it really means to get involved.
Is Mary fading as Vitter solidifies his lock on the fourth floor?
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration has renegotiated contracts for six LSU hospital privatization deals, hoping to reach a compromise with federal health officials that will keep Medicaid dollars flowing to the privatized patient services.
Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is defending her record on gun rights, seeking to rebut sharp criticism from the NRA in a state where the right to bear arms is given special constitutional protection.
Citizens, you have less than a week to register to vote in the Nov. 4 election. Remember, if you don’t vote you can’t complain about the outcome. Well, you can but it’s kind of hypocritical.
After being forced out by its former landlords last year, the community garden has a new location and a 10-year lease.
The party says it has hit a milestone, reaching 10,000 registered voters in the state.
Defensive captain Junior Galette is disgusted by the Saints' sluggish start.
The use of $60 million in Louisiana's public school financing formula to pay for nearly three dozen charter schools violates the state constitution, a statewide teachers' union claimed Monday in a lawsuit.
February trial date indicates parties were unable to negotiate a settlement.
There was a time when United Ballot had a political stranglehold so tight on Lafayette’s black community it was nearly unbreakable, but that grip might be loosening.
The race for Lafayette city marshal may not be the most exciting of this year’s local political contests, but it could prove the most historic.
With the DA’s race too close to call and negative media coverage of Mike Harson on the ebb, will challenger Keith Stutes take the gloves off?
Gov. Bobby Jindal has been viewed as a health care policy wonk, and he's tried to build on that image ahead of a likely 2016 presidential campaign, positioning himself as the candidate with substantive ideas.
Jerry Jones watched what he called the best effort he's seen in 25 years as owner of the Dallas Cowboys in the first half, and that was before Tony Romo had the longest scramble of his career and DeMarco Murray finished off yet another 100-yard game.
Two of the most recognizable women in Republican politics, Sarah Palin and Mary Matalin, have been heavily involved in Louisiana’s current election cycle.
Even though the Louisiana Democratic Party has thrown its support behind former Gov. Edwin Edwards’ congressional bid, national Democrats are not expected to follow suit.
“[Mike] is no longer the energetic ADA that his recent ad is trying to portray. I just think Mike needs to get the hell out.” — Kermit Harson, DA Mike Harson’s brother
The New Orleans Saints have listed Jonathan Goodwin as questionable for Sunday night's game in Dallas, raising the prospect that second-year pro Tim Lelito will start at center for the first time.