Kermit Oliver was the first and only American citizen to design for the French company Hermès. Oliver changed the brand for the better with his American take on classic fashion designs. Read more about Oliver’s story and discover what he brought to the table in this week’s blog.
Kermit Oliver (born 1943) is the only American to ever design for the exceedingly famous French company Hermès. Oliver, born to rancher parents, resides in Waco, Texas. His story is one of great interest to many, as Oliver led a seemingly normal life. He went to school for art in Houston, at Texas Southern University, where he met his wife. Oliver practiced art in addition to his full time profession as an employee of the U.S. Postal Service. In fact, for the majority of his life, he worked as a full time mail sorter for the Postal Service as a steady way to provide for his family.
While he primarily made his living as a postman, his artwork always stood out. In 1970, Oliver’s talent was recognized and rewarded by a gallery in Houston. Oliver’s one-man show was displayed in the same year, and he became the first black artist to ever be represented by a major gallery in the city of Houston. It was then that Oliver met Shelby Marcus, the wife to Lawrence Marcus who founded the successful department store Neimen Marcus.
“There once was a postman who designed scarves for Hermès.”
The Marcus’s were instrumental in Oliver’s success with Hermès. Lawrence Marcus, with his connections to Hermès, introduced Oliver to the company. Marcus had been tasked by Hermès to find an artist who would exemplify Southwestern art in Hermès designs. Marcus turned to Oliver, whose use of Realism was so bold and accomplished that his designs would stand apart from the rest.
Marcus told Xavier Guerrand-Hermès, the president of the United States operations for Hermès at the time, about Oliver’s work and connection to the Southwestern theme. Guerrand-Hermès visited Texas to meet with Oliver at his home, which featured captivating paintings throughout. Guerrand-Hermès was inspired by Oliver’s designs, and prompted him to produce a work of art focusing on one of three themes; something Southwestern, a piece relating the history of Neiman Marcus, or something relating to Native American history. Oliver took the task and ran with it, producing a vibrant design centered around a Pawnee Indian chief. The scarf featured the Realism of portraiture, coupled with the painterly aspect of Native American designs. The painting was later transformed into Oliver’s first scarf design. It garnered so much attention and success that Oliver was hired again and again by Hermès for further designs. Kermit’s career as an Hermès designer had begun. He did so all while retaining his position as a postman, which he later recounted; “There once was a postman who designed scarves for Hermes.”
Oliver worked extensively for Hermès over the years. He produced a massive amount of 17 total designs over a matter of 32 years. All of his artwork was dynamic and eye catching. Oliver often included Southwestern themes within his designs, and later transformed his artwork to commemorate large events and the relationship between America and France. Oliver worked as Hermès’s only American designer, and provided a great deal of advancing and creative scarves. Nowadays, Oliver’s designs are held in high regard for their originality and unique look at the United States. Oliver’s work from the late ‘70s up through the early 21st century has transformed and grown to enhance the growing and changing nature of the United States as a country.
See more Hermès scarves by Kermit Oliver here.
Sheeler, Jason, Portrait of the Artist as a Postman. Texas Monthly, October 2012. Accessed 10 July, 2019.