"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."
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday, April 18, 2014:
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Time and time again, the Lafayette Parish School Board shows an overwhelming tendency toward idiocy, but Wednesday night’s contentious discussion over Northside High School’s teen mother program tops the list of dumb discussions.
“The accomplishment of this goal within the next ten years is not only critical for the region to effectively compete with other regions for residents and businesses, but also to provide an amenity for everyone in Acadiana to enjoy.”
Education Superintendent John White says a continued push to try to keep Louisiana from using tests associated with the Common Core education standards are creating "a state of chaos" for public school teachers.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to use $210 million in surplus and one-time money to help balance next year's budget received the backing Thursday of the State Bond Commission, support that was needed for the maneuver to work.
State wildlife and fisheries agents have arrested a 39-year-old man accused of stealing crawfish.
An East Feliciana Parish lawmaker has jettisoned his proposal to make it harder for a condemned prisoner to appeal a death sentence.
Senators advanced a proposal Wednesday that would let the governor remove New Orleans-area levee board members for violating what he considers to be public policy, despite concerns it would introduce political meddling into state flood protection.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday will vote on a resolution that if approved would clear the way for a December ballot proposition asking voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax parishwide to help fund the construction of a new terminal at Lafayette Regional Airport.
Just days before the fourth anniversary of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill, the Coast Guard has moved cleanup of Louisiana's coast to a new phase, allowing BP to end its "active" efforts in the area.
Legislators still must leave their guns at the door of the Louisiana Capitol.
Sen. Fred Mills may have an "R" behind his name, but his actions in the Louisiana Legislature transcend the established boundaries of his party.
The Louisiana House overwhelmingly rejected a repeal of the state's unconstitutional anti-sodomy law Tuesday.
The Louisiana Senate sided with Gov. Bobby Jindal and the oil industry Tuesday, agreeing to void a lawsuit that a south Louisiana flood board filed against more than 90 oil and gas companies for coastal damage.
Acadian rep notifies would-be supporters that an April 25 fundraiser for the embattled U.S. rep won’t go on as planned.
While it isn’t all too unusual for public bodies to have hired security present during meetings, the LPSB’s push to do so is arguably a response to the antics of one board member.
“I’m running. Why would I be raising all this money? Just to have to return it to people?”
With incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu watching from afar, and with a united Democratic Party in her corner, the fight to get the GOP officially behind Congressman Bill Cassidy is gaining just as much momentum as it is hushed controversy.
15th Judicial District Judge Durwood Conque has announced that he will not seek re-election after 27 years on the bench.
The controversial standardized tests are set to be used in third-grade through eighth-grade public school classrooms next year.
The Louisiana Senate has agreed to prohibit unmanned aircraft from flying over chemical plants, water treatment systems, telecommunications networks and other items considered "critical infrastructure" in Louisiana.
It didn’t take long for KATC TV 3 to jump all over the news of a dead body found in Girard Park, but in its rush to produce headlines, the local TV station got sloppy.
An unholy trinity of civil-society upheavalers whose first names are not Conner, Tanner or Logan are facing charges in Eunice.
Now that lawmakers have shot down efforts to cap annual interest rates for payday loans, supporters for stricter regulations of the storefront lenders are rallying behind another strategy.