A shortage of product packaging during World War II led to the birth of the famous orange colored brand of Hermès


In 1942, the city of Paris was plagued by shortages. While World War II would be over for the French within a few years, wartime shortages were not abating. Indeed, for several years, the French government, faced with growing deficiencies and the inability to transport goods seamlessly between the different cities of the country (in part because of “the pitiful state of the ports, the roads railways, roads and bridges”), had observed a legally established system of rationing, which provided for aggressive control of everything from bread and raw materials to gasoline and paper products.

This meant that “there is no milk at all for ordinary people”, a Guardian journalist wrote at the time. “The sugar ration is about four ounces per week,” as with meat, this ration “worked out to about three ounces per week for each member of the family.” Since bones were included in this weight, the amount of food provided was less than a few ounces. For businesses, transport services were largely limited and widespread shortfalls translated into a lack of supply.

For one company, Hermès, a then 105-year-old family-owned leather goods and clothing maker, one of the immediate impacts of the continuing shortage was its inability to acquire the usual packaging for its products. Neither the creamy beige and gold cardboard boxes nor the rich marigold hues with a bronze undertone along the corners that she had traditionally used to package her high-end offerings were accessible. The boxes that had “defined the elegance of Hermès” for decades were no longer within his reach.

According to the brand’s story, the only packaging available – and offered as far as Hermès by its supplier – was a bright orange, “the color no one wanted”. Having the ability to adopt a bright new hue for its boxes or go packaging-free for its equestrian-centric leather goods and growing handbags and ready-to-wear businesses, which have been integrated for the first time in the house’s offerings in the 1920s, Hermès chose the former, and “the orange Hermès box was born”.

The result is the birth of a brand-identifying color that is “iconic by accident.” This is how Hermès describes the orange hue for which its brand – and its packaging – has become known, given that “generations of boxes have passed since” it was first forced to adopt the tint. As Dana Thomas wrote decades later in her book, Deluxe, the color became the brand’s signature “almost overnight.”

The fact that the specific color orange – when used in relation to certain goods and services – is ‘symbolic’ of a single brand, as Hermès puts it, is significant both from a brand perspective and from a legal view. Because of Hermès’ consistent and largely exclusive use of “warm citrus color” on the packaging of luxury handbags, clothing, homewares, etc., the color itself – that which, according to the brand, is “not listed with Pantone” (i.e. not part of the company’s standardized color categorization system) – serves as a source indicator. In other words, when consumers see a shopping box or bag in that specific color, even without a brand name on it, they probably know it’s from Hermès and there’s probably some coveted leather goods there. inside.

Besides being a valuable asset from a consumer perception perspective, this level of recognition in the minds of consumers means that the particular hue acts as a trademark in the same way as a brand name or logo. . (A trademark is generally defined as any word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination thereof, which identifies and distinguishes the source of one party’s goods from those of others, and following the Supreme Court’s decision from 1997 in Qualitex Co. c. Jacobson Products Co..this listing may very well include colors).

Because of its specific and enduring use of hue and consumers’ ability to tie that color to a single brand as a result (to some extent, at least), Hermès has accrued trademark rights to the color and registrations of corresponding brands all over the world. In the United States, for example, the brand maintains registrations claiming exclusive rights to the color orange in relation to its horse and carriage name and logo, as well as for the packaging of its various fragrances.

Meanwhile, in its native France, as well as in Italy, Hermès has registrations for the color, alone, for use on “product packaging” in relation to clothing, leather goods, cosmetics and fragrances. , and retail services, among others. .

In the European Union, Hermès has not fared so well in terms of registrations for the color itself, with the European Union Intellectual Property Office (“EUIPO”) refusing to register the mark. in 2005 on the grounds that Hermès had not “demonstrated that the mark had acquired a distinctive character in the mind of the public at the date of the application. According to EUIPO, this was partly due to the fact that “the color orange cannot be considered an exceptionally unique and uncommon hue but as part of the basic colors [that are] used in advertising and on the packaging of a wide range of consumer goods.

More than that, the 27-member bloc’s trademarks body claimed that “consumers generally do not tend to identify the origin of products from a color per se”, and that without establishing the required level of secondary significance, such a registration “gives its holder an unjustified monopoly over its competitors in the market“.

Hermès’ lawyer appealed the EUIPO decision, but was unsuccessful after failing to provide a “written statement setting out the grounds for the appeal”, according to the July 2005 decision of a panel of 3 members of the First Board of Appeal of EUIPO dismissing the appeal.

It would be interesting to see if, after fifteen years of significant sales, publicity and media attention from third parties, if the EUIPO would reach the same determination in terms of acquired distinctiveness. Given the growing reliance of brands on duplicating color-specific marks (and registrations of those marks – from established names Christian Louboutin and Tiffany & Co. to newcomers like Glossier) and in light of the fact that Hermès n has filed no scarcity of applications across the world for brands ranging from its name and the names of various product styles to its packaging elements, we may not have to wait too long to find out. .

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