"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."
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is joining South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on her campaign bus tour.
A New Iberia man has been sentenced to life in prison for killing a 4-year-old girl and scalding her 3-year-old brother.
A district judge decided Wednesday against sanctioning attorney/school board candidate Dawn Morris for her behind-the-scenes role in a lawsuit against Mark Cockerham.
Secretary of State Tom Schedler says Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration may have improperly destroyed records in the state employee health insurance program, in the middle of a heavily-criticized rewrite of benefit plans.
San Fran wins the World Series; Sistine Chapel improvements; Kurds moving toward Syria and more national and international news for Thursday, October 30, 2014.
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
Paper cites the former ADA's "experience as a prosecutor, his demonstrated integrity, and his ideas for reshaping the [DA's] office" in urging voters to support Keith Stutes Nov. 4.
Louisiana officials have sent a letter to the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene un-inviting members of the group who have recently been to ebola-affected West African countries from attending the group’s annual conference in New Orleans next week.
Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints have to find a way to win on the road if they plan to take over first place in the NFC South.
"It is obvious that Louisiana economic performance has not outperformed the South or the United States as a whole and, in fact, has substantially underperformed..."
A state district judge said he will rule Friday on a preliminary injunction to keep some charter schools from receiving $60 million through Louisiana's public school financing formula.
Saints fans were to gather, make merry, eat/drink compliments of a new Downtown group and watch the Saints beat Carolina and claim 1st place in the NFC South. But...
New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram doesn't see his dramatic spike in production as any sort of validation.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu is facing off one last time with her two main Republican challengers before next week's election.
He’s pulling for Knezek and Hidalgo on his end of the parish but issued endorsements in three other districts as well.
Off a narrow gravel road running between a handful of mostly abandoned lots near a Mississippi River levee, down past sprawling oak trees and thick weeds, a lectern framed by banana trees has been set up in front of three short rows of folding chairs.
Hillary Rodham Clinton is heading to New Orleans this weekend to stir up voter support for Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.
Saints coach Sean Payton has spent much of his team's erratic season trying to build his players up.
The Daily Advertiser has weighed in on this year's LPSB elections with nine endorsements.
The Daily Advertiser uncovers at least two disciplinary actions against veteran sheriff’s deputy Kip Judice for driving a department vehicle after drinking alcohol.
The LPSB has named Melinda Mangham as the interim replacement for the District 7 seat recently vacated by Mark Cockerham.
Gifford Briggs, vice president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, insisted that a settlement is not on the table and a consent decree in exchange for a new processing fee is highly unlikely.
Secretary of State Tom Schedler says he expects about half of Louisiana's 2.9 million registered voters to cast ballots for the Nov. 4 election.
While the Division of Administration, Treasurer John Kennedy and the legislative auditor spar over the validity of a $178.5 million surplus, and how it was calculated, some officials expect it to be up for grabs sooner or later.