Robert Chavez ’77, President and CEO of Hermés of Paris, spoke Wednesday, October 26 at a seminar hosted by Business Today, a student-focused business organization. Hermés of Paris is the US subsidiary of Hermés International, a French luxury design house.
At the event, Chavez spoke about the importance of authenticity – from his belief in the value of pursuing subjects of genuine interest, to his experience leading an international, strong designer brand that handcrafts every product.
“Do what you love,” Chavez advised the student participants. “Reading, discovering, learning a language, these are the beginnings, the first springboards.”
While Chavez is a towering figure in fashion today, he said his career path hasn’t necessarily been a linear one. While at Princeton, Chavez earned a degree in Romance Studies and Literature—a major that, while seemingly unrelated to his life’s work, still stands by Chavez 45 years later.
“People were always like, ‘What are you going to do with this?'” Chavez said in an interview with The Daily Princetonian after the event. “But now I work here for a French company. I go back to the fact that Princeton really opened my eyes to the world.”
After graduating, Chavez worked in various departments at Bloomingdales and Macy’s, eventually ending up in his current position at Hermés in 2000.
Business Today originally invited Chavez to speak at their Design Nation conference in April 2021, but he was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict. Instead, Chavez agreed to a moderated Q&A held at the McCosh 50 Wednesday night.
Elizabeth Poku ’24, Business Today’s seminar team deputy leader, organized and moderated the event. In an interview with The Prince, Poku pointed out the importance of hearing about company values from executives like Chavez, especially in the fashion industry.
“I love hearing from people in the industry how they can express what the brand means,” said Poku.
Poku also hoped that Chavez’s perspective as someone who was once a low-income college student would resonate with those with a similar background at Princeton.
“We have a growing first-generation population that needs to see people like her succeed,” she said. “It’s like the old saying, you can’t be what you can’t see.”
Chavez grew up in San Antonio, Texas, the middle child of two Latino immigrants. He first left Texas when he went to school in New Jersey.
“There was a time when I felt like I didn’t belong here at Princeton,” Chavez said. “I went home for the winter break and just thought I’m not coming back. I don’t fit into this rich campus and these people.”
Chavez also addressed how his socio-economic background impacted his experience at Hermés.
“Selling luxury products was the same as selling other products,” he said at the event. “It was just about not feeling inadequate. One day I realized that this poor kid from San Antonio, Mexico had something to offer.”
According to Chavez, this “offering something” was his unique leadership style, which focuses on community building.
“One of the first things I did was bring people together and almost force them to communicate,” he said. “Everyone worked in their own silos. If you are not sure you can trust a person, you will not build an organization; it will never work.”
He suggested students find ways to connect on campus in a similar way.
“I’m going to sound like an old man now, but you guys need to talk to each other. There are emotions when you talk to each other,” Chavez said. “Put the phone down. You have to understand how people are feeling and what they are going through.”
As the last question of the event, Chavez was asked to describe his personal fashion style.
He answered in one word: “Simplicity”.
A Hermés store will open in Palmer Square in 2023.
Rebecca Cunningham is a news and podcast writer for The Prince. Please send correction requests to email@example.com.