Hermès Artistic Director Pierre-Alexis Dumas Understands the Business of Fashion

History and modernity.

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Photo by Marianne Rosenstiehl.

 

For the past 14 years, Pierre-Alexis Dumas has worn the mantle of artistic director at Hermès—he is the scion and a member of the sixth generation of a family business founded in 1837. An avuncular presence, Dumas radiates a thoughtful, calming energy.

Whether innate or the result of a lifetime spent immersed in meticulous artistry, his serenity is no less impressive.

“I’ve seen now in my life Robert Dumas, my grandfather, who was the president,” he says. “And then my father took over. And Hermès is still here. Sometimes, I have this strange feeling that Hermès is a spaceship… We get into the spaceship and then we get off. But it continues. These people that I knew and love are gone. However, working at Hermès, very often I feel that I am in communion with them.”

To his mind, Hermès thrives between the opposing forces of chaos and control. His duty as artistic director is to walk a fine line between the two. “If we are too rational, we are boring. If we are too chaotic, we are incomprehensible,” he explains.

In practical terms, this means offering his designers and artisans complete freedom to create. “Creativity is a process,” he intones. “From the initial idea to the finished product on the shelf, that’s the process.”

This particular framework even extends onto the sales floor in what he outlines as the “creativity of the salesperson”. To illustrate, he quotes a former managing director of Hermès who told Dumas at the start of his career: “ ‘Pierre-Alexis, the last metre between the salesperson and the client will determine the success or not of your product,’ ” he recalls. “ ‘So when you design whatever you design, keep in mind that last metre.’ ”

It’s evident Dumas has expanded on that advice. As he shepherds his family’s legacy with a view to the past, a decidedly modern vision may prove to be his most valuable contribution: a three-pronged expansion of the company archives. A focus of his tenure has been updating and curating acquisitions for the Conservatoire des Créations Hermès, a physical assemblage of the brand’s past creations, located in the Pantin suburb of Paris.

The same holds true for the Émile Hermès Museum. Founded by Dumas’ great-grandfather, the private, appointment-only space is located on rue de Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris’ 8th arrondissement in the maison’s 140-year-old headquarters. It showcases a rarefied collection of all things equestrian, hearkening back to the house’s beginnings as a saddle maker.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, there’s what Dumas calls “The Heritage”, a fully digitized repository of all extant print materials, patterns, and “anything written” during the 182-year history of Hermès. His most recent innovation has been to incorporate cutting-edge AI technology that will optimize the database as it is used.

Dumas encourages creative directors from the company’s individual categories (such as menswear, womenswear, handbags, watches, or housewares—known as métiers in Hermès parlance) to explore the archives, not only for historicity, but for objects never released.

Living in a “necessary paradox” between ingenuity and continuity, Dumas’ personal inspiration stems from two sources. One is an excitement about the new and unknown, nourished by the unexpected delights delivered by his métier teams. The other is primordial: the sunrise over his shoulder as he crosses the Seine to his office. “I need to feel alive. I need to wake up and sharpen my sensitivity. If I capture that morning light, it gives me inspiration for the day.”

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Post Date:

December 5, 2019