Say “Hermès,” and images fill the mind’s eye. Pure luxury, timeless appeal and respect for the traditions and people who allow for its success make this design house unlike all others. This impeccable approach is celebrated in the Festival des Métiers, which pitches its tent in Houston on Post Oak Boulevard Wednesday through Sunday, October 10 through 14 — one of only three stops in the United States, on the heels of New York and San Francisco. The Festival explores what quality and sophistication mean in the contemporary world — with virtues that impact far more than mere consumption. Such an achievement is only possible, Jean-Louis Dumas-Hermès once noted, when there is “time for the craftsman to create [and] time for the customer to appreciate.” Which is what the festival seeks to bring out of the ateliers and celebrate with its customers: the staggering amount of time that goes into producing an Hermès object.
Understanding that there is no better way to illuminate this than in the flesh, the house has flown eight artisans from France to showcase their skills in this traveling exhibition curated by noted Italian interior designer Paola Navone. Each craftsman demonstrates and explains the processes behind some of the house’s hallmark items. Watching the crafting of a Kelly handbag, the engraving and printing of the brand’s famous scarves, the steps required to create fine timepieces and jewelry, and the time-honored skills resulting in the brand’s renowned service and stemware, one gains a newfound appreciation of the processes, the people and the products.
Take, for example, the beloved Kelly bag. Fifteen to 20 hours are lavished upon each one, employing Hermès’ famous piqué sellier technique, or saddle stitch, by which one waxed strand is simultaneously sewn in opposing directions 680 times, creating a bond between 36 pieces of leather that will never come asunder. The result is a creation as timeless and eternal as the skills and materials that construct it. After such a demonstration, the sometimes multiple-year waiting list becomes perfectly pardonable.
The narrative of a scarf — or Carré, as they’ve been called in-house since their creation in 1937 by Émile Hermès — is much the same. The trained hands that work in the company’s Lyon factories dedicated solely to scarves work from an engraved die from the Paris ateliers. The design of each 90-centimeter scarf can take anywhere between 400 to 600 hours to complete. Once dissected into individual printing screens, corresponding to every color that appears in the scheme, its pattern is used to impress the motif upon 36 by 36 inches of fine silk. The finishing touch is the rolled hem, by which the edges are rolled to the right then sewn in place by hand. The multiple-step process involved in making both the Eperons d’Or and Géométrie Crétoise patterns will be brought to light during the Festival.
The Hermès’ Bijouterie under Pierre Hardy has become equally as complex. The roots of Hermès jewelry began with Thierry Hermès incorporating a miniature horse bit into comparatively simple designs. Today, Hardy continues this tradition by building upon well-known motifs. In keeping with Hardy’s vision for the brand’s jewelry, artisans will be producing the iconic Collier de Chien during the festival. Premised upon a dog’s hunting collar, it’s reconceived in metal and covered entirely in pavé diamonds, which craftsman will set by hand before your eyes.
To appreciate the conceptualization and realization of an Hermès object, one must understand the evolution of this saddle maker into the final word on the art of living.
When Thierry Hermès opened his shop on Paris’ Grand Boulevards in 1837, he had one simple desire: to create the finest carriage harnesses, bridles and saddles possible for the horses of the nobility. And he did just that. So highly desired were his creations that coronations were sometimes delayed until orders could be fulfilled. When the founder’s son, Charles-Émile, assumed responsibility for the brand in 1880, he moved the shop to what is now known the world over as the crossroads of cultivation: 24 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.
With the help of Charles-Émile’s sons, Émile-Maurice and Adolphe, the family name was carried into the 20th century. And as times changed, so did the label’s creations. Sensitive to the new way of life arising from improved methods of transportation, they devised a simple bag in 1900 termed the Haut à Courroies, which allowed equestrians to transport saddles in a manner befitting their noble purpose. Four years later, they adopted a novel invention that Émile-Maurice found in North America while buying leather for the French Cavalry: the “American Fastener,” now known as the zipper. This simple yet invaluable invention allowed bags to become lighter, unstructured and more organic.
Émile-Maurice never lost sight of the fact that such technical innovations, however, were valuable only to the extent that they heightened human craftsmanship. Creations such as the Sac à Dépêches briefcase and the Kelly handbag continued to incorporate the house’s famous saddle stitching, seamlessly melding both the longevity and strength of equestrian tack with the timeless beauty of refined design.
Robert Dumas-Hermès, son-in-law to Émile-Maurice, assumed the mantle shortly thereafter. He impacted the brand in major ways, and it was Robert who, along with brother-in-law Jean-René Guerrand, conceived of the now-iconic orange box and the logo depicting a duke with his horse and carriage. In 1978, Jean-Louis Dumas succeeded his father and promptly infused a youthful exuberance into the family business by focusing on leather, silks and ready-to-wear; he also created watch-making, enamel and china subsidiaries. Dumas further positioned the brand for dazzling growth by acquiring famed English shoemaker John Lobb and Parisian silversmith Puiforcat, premised on a desire for “perfection and consistency.” Today, with his son Pierre-Alexis Dumas serving as creative director and Patrick Thomas as CEO, the brand continues this deep commitment to time and its virtues. This is what the Festival des Métiers seeks to illuminate: the act of countless artisans dedicating themselves so fully to their work that these products, upon completion, resonate with the magic of artistic creation. Such dedication has — and always will be — at the heart of the legacy of the house of Hermès.
Festival des Métiers
When: Wednesday – Sunday, October 10 – 14, 11 am – 6 pm; open to the public.
Where: The Hermès boutique and adjacent tented pavilion at 1800 Post Oak Boulevard.
Information: 713.623.2177; hermes.com/festival-usa
Perched atop Paris, the equestrian statue known as “l’afficier” heralds Hermès’ mission.
Nimble and skilled digits perform the famous piqué sellier, or saddle stitch.
The Chaîne d’ancre sac-bijou in white gold with 11,303 diamonds (86.24 carats); two years in the making, only three were made; $1,735,000
The horse remains at the heart of the brand.
The company’s methods are as seamless as the fine porcelain it produces.
Time is showered upon the engraving of each scarf pattern.
This ad proves that, for Hermès, it’s always been about the journey, not the destination.
Iconic Kelly bags.
The classic Collier de Chien reimagined by Hermès bijouterie creative director Pierre Hardy, in rose gold with pavé diamonds