Home Luxury brand How a South San Antonio Kid Came to Run Hermès – Texas Monthly

How a South San Antonio Kid Came to Run Hermès – Texas Monthly

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The president and CEO of Hermès Americas wants a chorizo ​​and egg taco but is worried about spilling some on his silk tie. It’s a Friday morning in late April, and Robert Chavez has just walked from his downtown Austin hotel to the luxury brand’s new store on South Congress Avenue, past the window display of Veracruz All Natural tacos.

“I actually slowed down and thought, ‘No, you can’t buy a chorizo ​​and egg taco and eat it while walking across the bridge,'” he laughs. you’ll get fat everywhere!’ ”

Chavez, 67, showed great restraint as he passed one of the best breakfast tacos in Austin — and as a native of San Antonio, he certainly knows what makes a good taco for breakfast. But tonight is Hermès’ grand opening night, an invite-only affair with a cocktail reception and formal seated dinner for two hundred offsite guests (on the local-themed menu: golden beet salad, red snapper Gulf and Texas olive oil). Chavez wears a bespoke Hermès suit for the occasion, lined with one of the brand’s signature silk scarf prints and accented with the aforementioned tie. Today is not the day to risk a spoonful of salsa or a fillet of chorizo.

Chavez arrived in Austin days earlier from New York, where he has resided since graduating from Princeton University in 1977; he now lives there with his husband. He’s been coming to Austin since his older brother attended the University of Texas in the ’70s, when Congress South was a seedy bunch known for empty buildings, low rents and drug dealing. After a revival that started in the 90s, it has become known to most local retailers and restaurants, but in recent years it has attracted the likes of Lululemon, Reformation, Soho House and a California cafe that sells $15 smoothies. Like so many Texpats, Chavez says he’s been flabbergasted by the city’s recent growth. “I haven’t been here for three years, since COVID, and when I started driving and saw the skyline, I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is crazy’ “, he says.

It was partly because of this change, however, that Hermès chose Austin for the company’s third Texas store. After finding success in Houston and Dallas – and noticing Central Texas shoppers flocking to these boutiques – the iconic French fashion house has focused on a prime corner of the trendy SoCo neighborhood to snag its Birkin bags. . “We think it’s a great way for us to build awareness and showcase the brand and everything we stand for: quality, craftsmanship, stories,” Chavez says. “We think it will resonate very well with the people here.”

It resonated, although reactions to the store’s arrival were mixed. A luxury brand that sells $69 lipsticks and $950 scarves in a town struggling with an affordability crisis has seen some locals point to its arrival as the death of “old Austin” (yet another time). But naysayers couldn’t temper the general excitement, and shoppers spent the first week waiting hours to peek into the store, bringing in snacks and camping chairs and creating a line that rivals with that of Franklin Barbecue.

After more than forty years in the fashion industry, Chavez knows what resonates with consumers. He has led the North and South American entities of Hermès – Hermès USA and Hermès Latin America – for the past two decades, including the retail roller coaster in 2020. During Chavez’s tenure, Hermès added twenty stores in the United States and achieved sales for the Americas of approximately $1.5. billion in 2021, according to the company.

As a kid on the south side of San Antonio, running a global fashion brand wasn’t on Chavez’s short to-do list when he was growing up. In the midst of three boys, Chavez dreamed of being a third-grade teacher. While at Luther Burbank High School, where he would graduate valedictorian, a guidance counselor named John Buhay urged him to consider applying to Ivy League schools. A few months later, Chavez returned home with a letter on the table welcoming him to the Princeton class of 1977. He was so shocked that he ran – the family didn’t have a car – the fifteen minutes back to school to show the letter to Buhay. . Unlike Chavez, Buhay was not surprised.

Less than a year earlier, his father had died, and with his older brother in Austin, Chavez was unsure if he wanted to leave his mother and younger brother in South Texas. “I said to [my mother], ‘I can’t go, I can’t leave you,’” he recalled. “She said, ‘That’s what your father would want; This is what I want. It’s your future. ”

The two-day bus trip to the ivy-covered campus of Princeton in New Jersey was Chavez’s first hike outside of the Lone Star State. He saw the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and was impressed by the bustle of Philadelphia. As he settled into Princeton, his view of the world continued to expand, although he describes the transition as “difficult” for a poor child coming from a public school on the south side of San Antonio.

After graduating from Princeton (Buhay attended the ceremony, along with Chavez’s family), the 22-year-old moved to New York, a city he had fallen in love with during college weekends . He got a job at Bloomingdale’s, thinking he would spend a year or two learning retail before going to college. Instead, he says, he “absolutely fell in love” with the retail business and a man in the upholstery department named Vince Sabio, who would eventually become her husband.

“Bloomingdale’s moved you because they wanted you to experience different departments, and it was a great training ground then,” he says. “I didn’t realize I was learning the brand, brand building, consistency, training.”

His salary of $9,500 a year didn’t make life in New York easy, even in the late 70s and early 80s. Between paydays, he would save money on subway tokens by commuting the forty blocks to get to work. “All those things that you learn even as a child, they stay with you,” he says. “Princeton changed me in some ways, but it didn’t change me in my heart.”

Stints at Macy’s and as chairman of Etienne Aigner followed before Hermès knocked on the door in 2000. Chavez flew to Paris and received the offer letter during a meeting at the New York’s Lowell Hotel a few days later. His mother, he said, was skeptical.

“My mom was very proud of me, but she was old school,” Chavez says. “When I left Aigner to join Hermès, she said to me: ‘Why are you changing jobs again?’ [My parents] never changed jobs. I was like, ‘Ma, it’s Hermes!’ ”

Chavez credits his instincts for helping him guide the 185-year-old fashion house over the past 22 years. But he is also a keen observer. He notices details such as the parking lot out back along South Congress Avenue and a passerby stopping at the window to observe the rows of brightly colored sneakers and chic flip flops. At one point, he even notices that one of the classic Hermès scarves is inside out and walks over to a display rack to quickly change it. For years, he says he observed Texas growth from afar and took notes on companies headquartered in the state.

Investing in three Texas cities makes business sense, but it also offers Chavez a connection to his past, his family, at a time when he could eat chorizo ​​and egg tacos with abandon, the fat be damned.

“I love coming home,” he says. “It’s still home, no matter how many years it’s been.”