Hermès is a company of Parisian perfection. It is one of the oldest family-owned-and-controlled companies in France, and its name alone prompts sighs of desire. It is a company that has been built on the strength of a stitch that can only be done by hand, the saddle stitch, piqué sellier, a single thread of mouline linen, which is first coated in beeswax to give the thread strength, bears a needle at each end and is crossed over itself between two pieces of leather. Done properly, it will never come loose.
To hear how things are made is one thing, but it’s quite another to see the process. Enter Festival des Métiers, Hermès’ travelling installation of craftspeople bringing the various disciplines of Hermès products to life—from leather goods to timepieces, from neckties to saddles, from porcelain painting to, of course, those highly collectible silk scarves. With Festival des Métiers you can see, up close, how everything is made. No bells. No whistles. No attempts to sell you anything.
Over the course of five days, a selection of the awls, the mallets, the scissors, the needles, the knives, and the stones that populate the workbenches at the Hermès ateliers in France are in Toronto, and in an opportunity to meet and speak with the artisans, Festival des Métiers provides a fascinating insight into the traditions and values of Hermès. This is a company that speaks with its hands, and as the craftspeople reveal the mastery of their métiers, visitors will comprehend that it is with more than skill or know-how that each Hermès artisan applies an art of making.
The most visually stimulating part of the exhibition (and where crowds of people swarm) is the silk-screening station set up to replicate the workshop in Lyon. Here, Kamel Hamadou, communications manager for Hermès silk, explains the two-year process of creating the iconic silk scarf, emphasizing the key ingredient of all Hermès products: “Passion of the people that work for Hermès,” many of whom are often long-serving.
From the Hermès studio in Paris come designs proposed by artists and then interpreted by the engraver in a “decomposition” process. The engraver breaks down the colours into as many screens as there are different shades, on average 27 screens (there is a maximum of 46 colours), for each Hermès silk scarf. Every colour in a scarf design is traced meticulously using tools such as the quill, pencil, or electric pen filling out and outlining each area. It is an incredible feat of draftsmanship to watch, and roughly 800 hours of precise decomposition is needed to obtain the screens for one design.
Watching the process of colouration as, one by one, the screens are applied for each corresponding colour is breathtaking and, evidently, a well-practised routine in the hands of the colourist. As each frame is completed, the design begins to emerge. Robert Dumas introduced the first Hermès silk scarf in 1937—Jeu des Omnibus et Dames Blanches—and the tradition has carried on with future generations. Ten new designs are created for both the spring and fall collections every year with a total of 2,000 different designs created to date.
Hermès has called Festival des Métiers a “rendez-vous with Hermès craftsmen,” but it is much more than that. This animated exhibition brings the human element to the consumer’s consciousness. After all, Hermès is not so much a design identity as it is a culture.
View “Into the Wind“, our video featuring the iconic Hermès scarf.