Guillaume de Seynes is now the Executive Vice President of Hermès, but he was just a child in short pants when his grandfather, Emile Hermès, took him along for his first trip to the French leather workshop where some of the family business’s signature goods are still made. “I was maybe eight and my brother six,” de Seynes recalls. “So we were dressed in little English school suits in grey flannel, and I remember all these guys we were introduced to, and it was a little frightening, but I understood, you have to know the workshops.”
In Vancouver for the local opening of international travelling exhibition Hermès at Work, de Seynes has never forgotten his formative introduction to the world of fine craftsmanship. Now, he hopes those who attend the free, five-day exhibition will have a similarly profound experience. Taking place in the Coal Harbour neighbourhood’s Jack Poole Plaza, the 5,000-square-foot event is comprised of nine stations from a watchmaker solving a precise puzzle of gears and screws, to a saddler, leatherworker, silk-printer, gem-setter, and more. “Each of the craftspeople during the whole event has a translator with him or her, so that means that people who want to ask questions—some spend hours—can ask whatever they want,” explains de Seynes. “And they will have not the official answer from Hermès but the direct answer from the craftsman,” he adds.
Created in 2011 to promote contemporary fine craftsmanship, Hermès at Work aims to demystify the brand’s luxury goods and allow visitors to establish a personal connection with the oft-intimidating fashion industry. “Attending the event is a fascinating experience for anybody,” says de Seynes. “For young people, maybe they can realize these jobs are beautiful activities to partake in. For Hermès customers and those who don’t know Hermès, or who can’t afford anything at Hermès, I think it’s fascinating because it shows the humanity behind the product—which I believe can touch everybody.”
Indeed, it’s certainly different to see a silk Hermès scarf laid out, partially filled in by an engraver using a stylus to add up to 40 precisely-chosen colours, then it is to catch a glimpse of one such scarf tied irreverently around an elegant neck, or hanging in a store window. One is reminded that behind every fine object is an apprenticeship, a process, a tireless dedication—a human being.
Hermès at Work, Jack Poole Plaza, 1055 Canada Place, Vancouver, September 21 to 25.