"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."
It’s been just over four months since attorney Barry Domingue committed suicide the morning before he was to stand trial for a second day in the federal Curious Goods case, leaving his fellow attorney/co-defendant Daniel Stanford with a temporary mistrial and awaiting his day in court.
Candidates for Louisiana's Nov. 4 election must officially sign up for the ballot this week.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's effort to derail Louisiana's use of the Common Core education standards was halted Tuesday by a state judge who said the governor's actions were harmful to parents, teachers and students.
New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram isn't letting a humbling start to his pro career lower his opinion of what he can still accomplish in the NFL.
Phoenix flooding stuns residents; Gaza truce talks collapse, NFL vets defy age label and more national and international news for Wednesday, August 20, 2014.
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Visualize Lafayette’s next great thing from 3,000 feet.
A Baton Rouge judge issued a temporary restraining order Monday against enforcing a law that prohibits anyone 70 or older from running for justice of the peace or constable.
Gov. Bobby Jindal believes the last-minute passage of a pension hike for his state police superintendent, Col. Mike Edmonson, was improperly handled, according to the governor's office.
As the courts hash out the attempts to preserve and shelve Common Core in Louisiana, a group of six state lawmakers are planning an Aug. 22 trip to Oklahoma to meet with their counterparts and strategize for the 2015 regular session.
While hopes are high for turnout this fall, a new report from the Center for the Study of the American Electorate suggests that Louisiana's midterm face-offs may amount to nothing special in terms of votes cast.
The attorney hired by the Lafayette Parish School Board for a special investigation of Superintendent Pat Cooper has submitted his final report, though it may be another week before the findings are made public.
The Tea Party of Louisiana is calling Sen. David Vitter a “turncoat” for his newfound embrace of Common Core educational standards.
An annual report evaluating Gov. Bobby Jindal's privatization of Medicaid lacked important financial information and presented rosy performance reviews not corroborated by data, according to a review released Monday.
Lafayette attorney Michelle Meaux-Breaux has announced her plans to seek the Division E seat for judge in the 15th Judicial District.
A card-carrying member of Lafayette’s “tribe,” Milton “Spider” Guidry died over the weekend. IND music writer Nick Pittman remembers the character and the man.
As tensions continue to escalate in Ferguson, Mo., between law enforcement and residents protesting the shooting death of a local teen by police, we’re reminded of the peculiar circumstances surrounding the in-custody death earlier this year of a New Iberia man.
A group of teachers and parents who support Common Core is asking a state judge to invalidate Gov. Bobby Jindal's actions against the multi-state education standards.
Drew Brees walked up to the line of scrimmage early Sunday, taking a snap during the New Orleans Saints' pre-practice walk-through.
A state judge Friday refused a temporary injunction sought against state education officials in an effort to block implementation of the Common Core education standards in Louisiana.
UL was the consensus pick in a coaches' preseason poll to win the league, and experience has a lot to do with that.
The price tag has nearly doubled for Gov. Bobby Jindal's hiring of an outside consulting firm to recommend new ways to balance the state budget.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu is under scrutiny for billing private chartered planes to her Senate office when she used the flights to attend campaign fundraisers.
Many people found not guilty by reason of insanity are being held in Louisiana jails, where they cannot get the treatment they need, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.
In a just-released audio recording, City Prosecutor Gary Haynes claims Mike Harson had direct dealings with the alleged mastermind behind the bribery scheme in the DA’s office.