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Leather Roulis handbags in the window of the Hermes International luxury clothing boutique on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore in central Paris. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Paris: Sales at Birkin bag maker Hermes rose 23 per cent in the first quarter, above market expectations, as wealthy shoppers in China and Europe splurged on luxury fashion and accessories despite higher prices and global market turmoil.

Shares were up 1 per cent in morning trading.

Hermes finance chief Eric du Halgouet told journalists store traffic in the United States, where rival LVMH earlier this week flagged softer demand for fashion, leather goods and jewellery, continued to rise.

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“What we’re seeing in the United States is globally an increase in (store) traffic, the trends we’ve seen in April remain favorable, with, again, very dynamic traffic,” he said.

“We obviously remain vigilant as far as macro trends are concerned but we have not seen a slowdown so far.” Bernstein analyst Luca Solca said strong US growth for the group, which posted a 1 per cent increase in sales in the Americas region compared to 8 per cent US growth for LVMH, was particularly noteworthy.

“It confirms Hermes’s superior ability to plough through adverse demand trends, leveraging its high brand desirability and waiting lists for iconic products,” he said.

“Higher end exposure to richer consumers is probably also helping.” One of the steadiest performers in the luxury goods industry, Hermes has a reputation of weathering downturns better than rivals, thanks to its classic styles that appeal to older and wealthier shoppers who are more immune to economic crises.

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A craftsman works on an horse saddle at the saddlery leather workshops at the Hermes leather goods workshop opened in early 2023, in Louviers, near Rouen, northwestern France, on April 6, 2023. - Hermes inaugurated on April 7, 2023, its twenty-first leather goods factory in Louviers (Eure), which has the distinction of being the only one in the region to also manufacture horse saddles, while the group's global demand for leather goods continues to grow. Leather Goods-Saddlery, the group's core business, has achieved a 16% increase in 2022 to reach 4.9 billion euros in sales. Faced with ever-increasing demand, Hermès is increasing its production capacity, averaging one new leather goods product per year for the past ten years. (Photo by Lou BENOIST / AFP) Image Credit: AFP

Careful management of productions and stocks have helped maintain the label’s aura of exclusivity, and its coveted $10,000 plus Birkin handbags tend to generate waiting lists and can sometimes increase in resale value.

As part of its strategy of increasing production at a rate of around 7 per cent per year, Hermes last week opened a new site in Normandy that makes Kelly handbags - a model designed in the 1920s that became associated with actress Grace Kelly in the 1950s.

Hermes has also been investing in the US market, where it generated 18 per cent of its annual sales last year, adding stores in Florida and Texas as well as on Madison Avenue in New York.

Group sales for the three months ending in March came to 3.38 billion euros ($3.74 billion). The increase of 23 per cent, at constant exchange rates, beat a Visible Alpha consensus for 15 per cent growth.

In China, where Hermes was less affected than competitors by lockdowns that dented sales for many at the end of last year, revenue grew by 23 per cent in the quarter. The Asia region excluding Japan generates nearly half of annual sales at the group.