Blogging can be a lonely endeavor. More often than not it’s me and my computer in a quiet house all alone. In a lazy moment, it is sometimes easier to stay home than it is to make the effort to leave the house.
But when your city is hosting one of the last American Hermes Festivals des Metiers, you go. YOU LEAVE THE HOUSE FOR HERMES.
For one glorious week Hermes brought their artisans and craftsmen to give an upclose, personal and highly interactive experience to those who know the legendary design house – and those who want to know it. You could talk (with the help of an interpreter) to a woman who hand painted their exquisite porcelain dishes, a master gem setter working on encrusting a Collier de Chien cuff stud, a woman gold leafing the edge of the popular St. Louis crystal goblets, a gentlemen leather worker hand stitching a Kelly bag, a woman who stitches their twin sets set with silk screened panels together or the greatest of them all – a master silk screener in charge of making their celebrated silk scarves.
Meet Henri and Kamen.
Henri is a master silk screener and has been with Hermes for forty-four years. He began apprenticing when he was fourteen. I’m not sure what Henri’s skin care regimen is, but I’m pretty sure I need to find out. Before Hermes allows you to be a silk screener, you must study for five to six years. If you want to print on cashmere, it’s seven to eight years.
You will never see “Made in China” on an Hermes product. Everything is handcrafted. Their commitment to luxury and quality and perfection goes back sixteen generations and is unwavering to this day. It is 175 years of legacy, of obligation, of passion.
To produce a scarf it is two years of work. This is after they have harvested 300 specialized silk cocoons, woven their threads together in the Lyonnaise way and produced the blank, white silk on which the designs will be printed.
The design starts in Paris, from a piece of artwork they may have purchased – and a story. Spring 2013 will bring the theme of “Time”. Art has been purchased from designers all across the world, including a fourteen year-old African boy (who has since designed four scarves) and the only American designer, a postman from Waco, TX. The most recent and most complicated image coming out this spring is that of a Native American woman. It took 2000 hours to choose the 46 colors that will create this piece.
The design phase in Paris will last six months. For each color on a scarf there is a silk screen created for the areas that color applies to. So, for the Native American scarf, there will be 46 screens created – hand designed as well.
Each season there are ten new designs. For each of those designs there are fifteen different colorations (or color combinations) created, but only ten of those will ever see the shelves of the boutiques. There are five women in Paris who are in charge of the colorations for the dyes that will make up these designs. They will hand-mix the colors that were chosen taking into account the way a color looks bunched up when the scarf is tied as well as when it is stretched out like when someone displays a piece as art. On their guidance alone the colors will be mixed precisely.
Not surprisingly, Hermes does not follow Pantone colors. They have their own, proprietary set of colors and since its inception have created and used 75,000 different colors.
But, back to Henri.
Here is how a scarf begins. After the silk is secured to the table, Henri will, screen by screen, start adding the color to the scarf. The outline and darkest colors go first.
If Henri notices an error either in the silk weaving or the print at any point, he has responsibility to not allow that scarf to get to market. He will note at the bottom of the silk the defect and it will be destroyed at a later part of this process. There are no “seconds” for Hermes. It is perfect or it is dead to them. Beyond the printers and other production workers, there are 42 other women who are in charge of quality control for each scarf.
All production is done in Lyon, France in two small (by American standards) workshops (not factories, mais oui) and that part of the process takes 18 more months. This includes the hand stitching of the edges as well as the hand washing of the final print with ground water (never tap) and a proprietary olive oil soap made in Provence. A final control check will be done back in Paris when the scarves are shipped back for distribution to their boutiques around the globe.
To listen to Kamen explain this and to watch Henri demonstrate was to be reminded what true craftsmanship and luxury really are. These scarves retail for roughly $400 – no matter if there are 14 colors or 46. Hermes does not price based on that. The process is the process and the commitment to perfect beauty is the same no matter the design. These are heirlooms, not trends.
They believe their pieces should speak to you. You should never own an Hermes just for the name.
You should never own anything just for the name.
There is very little in this world that has survived “fast” and “cheap” and “easy”. Some family recipes, some writing, a fine pen, the occasional photograph – and it’s a shame. But finding these islands of yore – where luxury is still meaningful and quality and tradition matter – THIS is what you collect. THIS is what you save for and spend for and teach people about.
THIS is the legacy of Hermes.