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The First Family
The First Family
The grande dame of luxury brands began life in 1837 when Thierry Hermès set up shop as a harness maker in Paris. Over the next century his heirs transformed the business into a posh emporium. Leather goods like the Birkin bag and signature silk prints became a kind of heraldry for the global elite: last year, 80% of the company's $2.4 billion in sales came from abroad, with 24% from Japan alone. (Hermès has so far skirted economic worries with strong results for 2008.)

The 171-year-old company remains a family concern, even though Patrick Thomas became the first nonfamily executive chairman in 2004. Descendants still own 40% of the stock and dominate the board, while sixth-generation scions Pierre-Alexis Dumas (left) and Pascale Mussard uphold the maison's heritage as artistic directors.

Photographed at l'École Militaire in Paris

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