On Sunday afternoon, Jean Louis Dumas-Hermes flew into Hong Kong from Paris. As soon as he arrived, he heard about the then imminent onslaught of Typhoon Babs, meaning that the Monday night event he had flown in for would no doubt be cancelled. So three hours after touching down at Chek Lap Kok, Mr Dumas-Hermes caught another flight straight back to Paris. In the end, Babs backed down, the party went on and Mr Dumas-Hermes will have to be briefed on what he missed by those who braved on. Indeed, Monday's function was significant enough for a trip to be planned in the first place. For the first time, the Hermes fashion house was going to select three design students - one each in the fields of photography, fashion and graphics - from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University to fly to Paris and be immersed in the world of high-gloss fashion for a week. The winners, Wenda Chan, Wu Lai-fan and Elsie Tam respectively, will meet Hermes craftsmen and visit the company's art museum. The trio were selected by judges including art gallery owner Alice Tung King, fashion designer Barney Cheng and graphics designer Freeman Lau, based on a brief from Hermes that the awardees be 'innovative and creative'. 'It is our way to encourage students,' said Mr Dumas-Hermes two weeks ago in Paris. 'We remind ourselves that when these young people were born, there was already a strong Hermes presence in Hong Kong. It is also our way to show that Hong Kong is not just a place we benefit from. We are encouraged by the fidelity of Hong Kong people, and we must nurture that fidelity.' The project was the latest in a register of quirky ideas set in motion by the imaginative Chief Executive. Every year, he bestows a theme upon a new collection, which in the past have included the road, the sun, and the music. For this year, he opted for the tree, which perhaps explains why he described the students participating in the Polytechnic project as young saplings and why little potted plants were given away to guests at Monday's award ceremony. There is a quaint sense of the poetic in the implementation of Mr Dumas-Hermes' theories: as part of the Year of the Tree, the company took on the task of re-foresting plots of land in Japan. That in turn led to the idea for the Hong Kong project, or, as Mr Dumas-Hermes puts it, to nurture young talent as if they were saplings. And while the project has all the hallmarks of a clever PR exercise, Mr Dumas-Hermes is touchingly sincere about it, and the students who will benefit. 'I see it as an exchange of apprenticeships,' he said. 'Even here at Hermes, we must learn to always drink from the clear water of newcomers. If we forget that we are all apprentices, we are dead.' At that point, Mr Dumas-Hermes pulled out some papers listing the translated musings of the 15 finalists of the project. Some said they did not understand why Hermes would be interested in them and others confessed to feeling isolated in little Hong Kong. 'Have you seen our posters at the Eastern Harbour Tunnel in Hong Kong?' asked Mr Dumas-Hermes, peering over his trademark half-moon spectacles. They are in orange (a signature Hermes colour), showing the sun rising. The caption reads: Hermes is at home in Hong Kong. Some 25 years after Hermes first set up in Hong Kong, and despite the present retail slump, the brand is enjoying a renaissance and a new vibrancy in spirit. Since Mr Dumas-Hermes announced the appointment of avant-garde Belgian designer Martin Margiela (who just showed his second ready-to-wear collection for the house) last year, Hermes has become hipper than hip. That was quite an achievement, although an entirely inadvertent one, given that Hermes has been making the same handbag for 80 years (there is a six-month waiting list for it) and the foundation of the ready-to-wear division of the company is built on neutrals, classics and conservatism. 'Anything that is fashionable will be out of fashion,' said Mr Dumas-Hermes. 'But creativity? Now that is eternal. 'Margiela is creative, yes, but in that very Hermes way where everything is whisper-quiet and frighteningly expensive. For both the collections he's shown for Hermes so far, he sent out his ultra-luxurious but low-key pieces on non-models: mature women with happy faces and heaps of character. 'Ultimately, it was Margiela's aim for the women to wear the clothes and not the other way round as often happens.' Mr Dumas-Hermes concedes that taking on a designer of Margiela's maverick sensibilities was slightly controversial and somewhat risky. But in the end, he said, the owner and the designer arrived at an agreement about the design direction of the company. 'We spoke the same language. He basically understood the pillars of our style,' said Mr Dumas-Hermes. 'I knew then that if it was going to be very different, we would gain some new customers and lose others. What Martin has done with the collections is so simple, so honest, so true to the point.' Both his collections have been resoundingly well received, with most fashion critics and customers raving about the understated luxury of the clothes. 'My joy has been that Martin and Hermes are in harmony. I think it must be very painful when a designer works for a company and both feel divorced. This is just the reverse. It is a shared joy.'