Bellevue's victory over Seattle as the locale for a new Hermès store — its only West Coast site north of San Francisco — is no surprise to Hugh Mann, who sold the French fashion house on downtown Seattle some 30 years ago.

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Bellevue’s victory over Seattle as the locale for a new Hermès store — its only West Coast site north of San Francisco — is no surprise to Hugh Mann, who sold the French fashion house on downtown Seattle some 30 years ago.

Mann, then vice president of visual presentations at the legendary old Frederick & Nelson department store, recalls visiting Hermès on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris, where he finalized a deal allowing the department-store chain to dedicate space inside its Seattle flagship store to selling Hermès scarves, handbags and other accessories.

Hermès “turned up their nose at the thought of being in a department store,” says Mann, who is retired from the retailing business and lives in Yarrow Point. “That’s understandable, because department stores then and now are schlock houses. But we courted them over a long period of time, and part of my job was to convince them that we were not a traditional department store.”

Mann says Frederick & Nelson spent $750 a square foot, or roughly $375,000, on the Hermès department, creating an L-shaped “store-within-a-store” featuring curved-glass display cases and cherry-wood moldings. Sales exceeded expectations, says Mann, recalling that in one 10-day period the department sold six handbags for nearly $900 each.

Fast-forward to 2008: Frederick & Nelson closed in 1992, its downtown store replaced by Nordstrom’s flagship.

A significant chunk of the area’s wealth is concentrated on the Eastside, thanks in large measure to Microsoft. And Hermès plans to open at the Bravern project in downtown Bellevue next year, joining Neiman Marcus, Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo and Bottega Veneta.

Living on the Eastside, “I see a lot of people who are beautifully and expensively dressed, people who can afford absolutely everything,” Mann says.

Thirty years ago, he conceded, Hermès would not have considered Bellevue, “but it was a different ballgame then.”

— Amy Martinez

Seattle still first stop

for China delegations

Chinese President Hu Jintao blazed a comfortable trail through Seattle that other officials now like to follow: a warm welcome in the Northwest, followed by tense trade talks somewhere else.

Last week, Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan and a government delegation stopped by Seattle to build some guanxi (relationships). They met with recent Olympic and former Washington Gov. Gary Locke, as well as Microsoft and Boeing representatives, and held court over breakfast with a select group of local business leaders.

Wang was on his way to California for the annual meeting of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade. It usually takes place in Washington, D.C., or Beijing, but this year was hosted by the Richard Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, Calif., to honor Nixon’s role in opening China to the world 30 years ago.

At the California session, according to news reports, things were less comfortable. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez brought up China’s agricultural trade barriers and shortcomings in its protection of intellectual property rights, while Wang pressed for fewer restrictions on the export of U.S. high-tech products with both military and commercial uses to China.

— Kristi Heim

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seattletimes.com or 206-464-8541