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The Hermès Wanderland exhibition; Saatchi Gallery

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The two garde-robe wardrobes – belonging to a man and a woman – the objects taunt eachother.

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Stroll with the person (or dog, or a flying plastic bag) in the animation to hear their inner thoughts played out…

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A typically Parisian sky, reflected in a puddle by a typically Parisian park bench

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The Cafe of Lost Objects, home to little objects left behind by the city’s flâneurs.

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Leave your ties at the doorway…

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A bag that’s handcuffed to the coat-rack

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‘Bull in a China Shop’, or an elephant, in French.

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Postpone your breakfast plans by one hour and make sure to catch the last of the Hermès Wanderland exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in London tomorrow*. If you’ve stuck around the past few weeks and discovered the curious art of flânerie with me, you will also want to experience this. Eleven rooms, each with a reference to urban wandering, collecting and peeping – it’s a grand manifestation of the Hermès’ profound belief in flânerie. Just like their window displays and playfulness in branding. And if any objects seem a bit familiar, it is because they are precisely the ones you’ve seen in part 2 of my little Hermès adventure series – straight from the cosy Collection Emile Hermes, blessed by Menehould de Bazelaire, Director of the patrimony of culture at Hermès, of course.

See? The eggs can wait.

*There is still time to visit the Hermès Wanderland exhibition; 9th April to 2nd May (closes at 1pm last day); Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York’s HQ, King’s Road, London, SW3 4RY. Free entrance.

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Forever a Flaneur: Part 2

A flâneur is a collector by nature, she is an urban hunter-gatherer, borderline creepy connoisseur of the streets. If you’ve only just discovered that you are indeed what they call, a flâneur, you know very well that there is a drawer somewhere in your home full of ticket stubs and ‘pretty soap packaging’, not to mention the high chance that one of your dining room chairs might even be from the street. Heck, your entire belongings could be a collection stemmed on flanerie. Funny thing is, a flâneur is also a skilful voyeur, a peeping Tom (or Jane), and love a good, uninterrupted session of snooping. So, put two flâneurs together, and the energy created from the mutual snooping of each other’s knick-knack drawers/homes could quite possibly power a Hadron Collider and the world would never need oil. That’s my theory.

All kidding aside, the treat at the end of a day of flânerie in Paris was this – an invitation to a den of treasures atop the Hermès 24 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré store, the abode of the ultimate flâneur – bustling with artefacts, curiosities and objects in relation to horses, carriages and the phenomenon of movement and mobility: ‘Collection Émile Hermès’ as known internally. The collection is not open to the public, if invited though, there are no rules, labels or panels to read, no out-of-place museum apparatus and perky guides with ponytails. Our only chaperon was Menehould de Bazelaire, Director of the patrimony of culture at Hermès, a guardian whose sparkly eyes lit up as she unfolded the story behind each artefact we were drawn to.

Menehould de Bazelaire with a panorama parchment painting of London thames

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Emile Hermes’ office

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Accordion view of the Champs Elysees promenade

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A rather special side-periscope for enhanced peeping, with hidden perfume compartment

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An ancient walking stick with a hidden compartment for a pencil, golden thread-embroidered saddles from Afghanistan, an ancient book with browning pages, full to the brim with illustrated men holding pressed leaves… De Bazelaire encouraged us to touch, to see, feel and smell the objects – “these objects tell stories; they provoke and stimulate imaginations, dream, envy, and a desire to create.” A collection, started from one antique walking stick that Émile Hermès had purchased with pocket money at age 12, which had grown into over 15,000 objects, is now an internal source of inspiration for all designers from the Hermès metiers to feed on.

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The very painting (19th century, of Duc carriage & horses) where the Hermès logo was derived from!

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Japanese depiction of a ‘moving horse’. Before the invention of photography, the gallop of a horse was a thing of mystery.

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A parasol lined entirely of pheasant feather

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We ended the day at the final undisclosed location, the Jardin sur le toit (‘garden on the roof’), a serene parallel to the bustling street below, a perfect setting to gather our wandering thoughts and collections from the day’s flânerie, and to muse over them over a fruit tart and a rather heavenly pu-erh tea prepared by the Hermès in-house chef.

Experience your own flânerie at Hermès Wanderland exhibition; 9th April to 2nd May; Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York’s HQ, King’s Road, London, SW3 4RY. Open 10am-6pm daily. Free entrance.

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flaneur
Stroller, lounger, saunterer, or loafer; the man of leisure, the idler, the urban explorer, the connoisseur of the street.

“Flattery? Flannel…? Sorry, I don’t think I know this word”, I blubbered, pausing Pauline mid-sentence as she began to explain the inseparable nature of Hermès and the art of flânerie over one eggy breakfast at Berners Tavern. What a funny word. Turns out it’s one of those untranslatable foreign words that mean a multitude of things in English yet is so satisfyingly encompassing when you finally understand exactly what it is. A complex word, like love, or sort of like when girls say ‘fine’ to their boyfriends during a quarrel.

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I’d like to think that I’ve had my own versions of that word before learning of it. Maybe that time when I was 12 and obsessed with aimlessly rollerblading around the neighbourhood alone, imaginings different lives in the houses I passed by – that was called ‘mum I’m going out with friends’ (usually met by ‘what friends? you don’t have any friends’). In uni I befriended Ellen, a fellow flâneur – and it’d take one of us to simply cock a head towards a back street and that was code for ‘we’re not going home anytime soon’. We ambled, wandered and strolled the streets of London, unconsciously categorising quirks and novelties of the city as we happened on them.

Fast forward to now, in the city that birthed the very word – Paris. It was much the same but a different enjoyment, learning the art of being a flâneur with the true master in its art, Hermès. We, along with Susie Bubble, set out from Palais Royal and meandered through time-worn galleries and under ornate, covered passageways from the 18th century; from 1st Arrondissement to the 9th, losing all sense of time and rejoicing in the lack of an objective. Or at least until our stomachs started a to-do list and put itself at the very top, which we promptly ticked off at Caffe Stern, an engraving-shop-turned-Venetian-restaurant (by David Lanher and designed by Philippe Starck).

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While I do attest to the fact that digital ‘wandering’ so totally can be a thing, and unearthing a good cat video as rewarding as finding a peculiar object off the street, true flanerie is defined by disconnecting oneself from the usual pace, and occupying with time, child-like curiosity and a discerning eye – all-in-all a luxury to be earned, even saved-up for. These values define Hermès, and therefore a perfect fit for the theme of the year and annual exhibition*. As we joined up with the bustle of the real world at the end of Passage Verdeau, a rather special treat awaited… stay tuned for part 2!

*Hermès Wanderland exhibition; 9th April to 2nd May; Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York’s HQ, King’s Road, London, SW3 4RY. Open 10am-6pm daily. Free entrance.

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Coat – Dagmar. Bag – Monsieur Gavriel. Trousers – Zara. Shoes – Acne ‘Jensen’

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Hermès Petit h atelier, Paris

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The ‘Ali Baba cave’, full of bits and bobs that were rejected, discontinued or defected.

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Even the tiniest of fault in a Hermès bag would be rejected and sent to Petit h for re-purposing

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Stools with re-purposed scarves and croc leather

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Silk-covered mobile

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Leather pleating detailing on a vase, which is now adapted at other ateliers at Hermès

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The store on Rue de Sèvres

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Studio-shot photos courtesy of Hermès

The little sister that wanders the garden to collect acorns and bright-coloured leaves, and sits at the foot of her mother’s sewing table and picks up scraps – buttons, fabrics, ribbons- to store them all in a special place… that’s Hermès Petit h for you. She makes dolls out of discarded socks and fills them with scrap yarn, carves out the pages of an old book to make a secret box… some of her knick-knacks even have names and stories. Championed by Pascale Mussard, great-great-great-granddaugher of the saddle-maker Thierry Hermès, Petit h was a solution to the materials that were discarded, discontinued, or refused by Grand H – Hermès, which, by policy, would normally be destroyed or burnt without exception, belt buckles to Birkins. Open in 2010, it has since been a treasure cove of flawed materials from all the ateliers, and a laboratory where these materials breathed new life as absolutely unique, one-off pieces. A team of six multi-disciplinary artisans act as treasure-hunters, most well seasoned in the Hermès tradition of impeccable craftsmanship but also a few younger apprentices that Mussard believes can instil fresher takes on design.

Speaking with Pascale Mussard in the Petit h atelier, it’s astonishing, because she is that ‘little sister’. Her face animates as she tells us about her love for collecting and takes us through her life story of growing up in post-war France, being frugal but also creative with the things you have. She recalls fondly how she and her mother would imagine up new recipes using leftovers, or make play costumes with leather scrounged from the ateliers. Even during her years at Hermès she had set aside rooms and rooms to collect paraphernalia: fabrics, leathers… which would eventually evolve into the official archive of Hermes. I’ve never met anyone as passionate, I think. Ultimately, her joy of saving, taking care, and re-inventing/up-cycling would give way for treasures via Petit h. It’s been over a year since I visited the Hermès Atelier Sacs and saw a Constance bag creep into my very grown-up wish-list, but I have a feeling Petit h will be a delight to my inner child for years to come.

Petit h is setting up camp in the Bond Street store starting 20th November through till the 7th December, and let’s just say, as far as Hermès pricing goes, this may be the ideal time to start your collection. The space is being designed in collaboration with Studio Toogood, which also lends a good excuse just to pop by for a good oogle.

Hermes Atelier Sacs

Rue de Sevres

Thank you TCS for the organization and the lovely people at Hermès for the warm welcome & tour. 

In school I had a friend who could draw a straight line without the help of a ruler – we called her a witch back then – mind, this was few years before the revelation of Harry Potter wherein witches carry ruler-like things called wands that might’ve made the name unsuitable. She also knew how to fold origami swans with a blade-sharp edge and tear pages out of her notebook without ripping out that bit at the end. We were always in awe – especially me (derpina) with a wad of ‘swan’ that looked like it was chewed on – because none of it was brain surgery and everyone technically knew how to fold a sailing boat by the 5th grade. Being in the Hermès Atelier Sacs reminded me of her, and I do realise this connection is somewhat far-fetched but as we entered the ateliers I was fully expecting to be told off for photographing certain things that might be classified as ‘brand secrets’. But get this, we were free to roam around –  they even explained the details in the techniques and process of creating a Birkin (average 48hours production time!) although I must confess, in most part I was sneaking around in the far corner where the Constance bags were being made and heard only about half the tour (so professional).

That got me thinking, and this is where my witch friend comes in – by now everyone in the leather industry knows how to technically make a bag, but Hermès clearly proves that it takes the talented, adept hands of artisans and a brand ethos that embraces quality to make a great bag. Granted, a bag that costs a lot of months in a London flat and throw in a few kebabs while we’re calculating, but now I’m convinced it really is worth it. The ‘secret’ of Hermès, is not in a mystery beeswax or a particular stitching machine, but the magic of attention and care by skilled hands, not to mention the history of the brand’s relationship with leather. It’s undeniably a perfect strategy on Hermès‘ part to highlight – not hide – this craftmanship aspect and invite certain people to experience what might be considered as secret lair to other brands that like to keep everything under lock and key. Who knows, perhaps in the future I’ll be able to fill a few thousand piggy-banks and grow a patience-bone for the waiting list, then finally get a bag that might be handed down generations until a great-great-great-great-granddaughter accidentally leaves it in a space shuttle on her way to Mars.

Celebrating their 175th year and the brand’s unique relationship with leather, Hermes will be opening a public exhibition on the 8th May (~27th May) at 6 Burlington Gardens where some of the artisans will be present making bags. I’m so in, are you?