French luxury goods brand Hermès Group saw sales rise to EUR813.2m (US$1.28bn) in the first half of 2008, an increase of 17.9% at constant exchange rates, thanks to high leather bag sales.

Growth at current exchange rates was 12.8%.

During the first half, the firm's sales increased 11% in France, benefiting from the expanded 24 Faubourg Saint-Honoré store opened in October 2007. Sales increased 13% in the other European countries.

In the Americas, sales momentum remained vibrant, with an increase of 24% in the first half. Its new store on Wall Street in New York opened in June 2007, and was described as "a real success".

In Asia, outside Japan sales grew 22%, fuelled primarily by significant development in China. Its distribution network was enlarged with the addition of a new branch in New Delhi but Japanese business was less buoyant, with sales moving up only 2% during the first half there.

Hermès' Silks & Textiles registered a solid 17% increase, driven by the success encountered by the new women's silk collections, the company said, as leather Goods and Saddlery sales grew 17% - propelled by sales of leather bags. Sales for its Ready to Wear & Fashion Accessories division advanced by 14%.

During the second half, Hermès said it will continue to invest in expanding its distribution network and plans to open or renovate 15 branches. The group will open one new store in the United States, in San Diego, and it has several projects in Asia, including in China, Hong Kong and Macao.