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Hermès

The burnt orange box with chocolate lettering is recognized the world over by Hermès' luxe-loving fans—from Kate Moss to Martha Stewart—many of whom are prepared to patiently wait years for a coveted handbag. It's the latest chapter in the long and rich history of the house founded by Thierry Hermès in 1837 as a maker of harnesses for the rich and royal. His son Charles-Émile added saddles to the repertoire and in 1878 moved its headquarters to 24 Rue du Faubourg St.-Honoré, where it stands today.

The family-controlled business, passed down through six generations, hasn't strayed from its ethos of precise, uncompromised luxury even as it has added collections of luggage, its famed printed silk scarves, handbags, perfume, men's and women's ready-to-wear, jewelry, and homewares. Jean-Louis Dumas (a great-great-grandson of Thierry) took the reins in 1978, acquiring like-minded businesses such as John Lobb shoes and Jean Paul Gaultier's couture line. Dumas worked with Jane Birkin to create the handbag that famously bears her name. (It was a version of the house's other famed namesake bag, the Kelly, dubbed so in 1956 after Grace Kelly used it to obscure her baby bump.) Dumas, who retired in 2006, also injected new energy into the company's classic oeuvre by hiring talented young designers like Pierre Hardy for accessories and Belgian avant-gardist Martin Margiela for women's ready-to-wear. Gaultier took over the latter's duties in 2003, applying just enough of his own characteristic humor to Hermès' elegant equestrian heritage and venerable signatures to create a look that, at its best, balances witty irreverence with an outright adoration of luxurious, bourgeois French chic.

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