Hermés: Putting hearts into crafts
LIVIN' & LOVIN' - Tetta Matera () - September 21, 2011 - 12:00am

This year Hermés pays homage to their thousands of artisans who have worked with tireless commitment, passion and expertise to create products that have made the French brand the most coveted and respected luxury brand in the world.

For this year’s annual theme of “Contemporary Artisan since 1837,” Hermés sought the talents of well-known French reporter and documentary maker Frédéric Laffont and stylist-journalist Isabelle Dupuey-Chavanat to produce a 45-minute film aptly titled Hearts and Crafts, celebrating the centuries-old skills of the brand’s craftsmen and women.

Hearts and Crafts brings the viewers to all four corners of France, from Paris to Ardennes, from Lyonnais to Lorraine, to showcase the precise, measured techniques applied step-by-step by the devoted men and women who work in the Hermés factories. The film captures the sounds of leather and crystal, the song of silk and metal, the patient dialogue between artisan and skin, the words and on occasion the silence of the workers with candor and obvious pride.

Master saddler: With a colleague looking on, this saddler gives his full concentration to pushing and pulling the leather until it is perfectly shaped into a saddle.

These artisans of all ages, diverse backgrounds and multinational heritages work hand-in-hand, side-by-side in 10 production facilities spread across France. In the leather goods section alone, there are over 2,000 craftsmen and women involved, from the design to the production of bags, luggage, belts, saddles, gloves, diaries, and other leather goods. While products like watches are made in Switzerland and shoes in Italy, everything else is manufactured exclusively in French areas like Pantin, Belley, Lyon, Nontron and Paris, including the historic workshop on Faubourg Saint-Honoré, where custom-made orders are prepared.

It All Started With a Saddle

Unknown to many, Hermés began as a harness and saddlery workshop in Paris in 1837; the owner, Thierry Hermés, retired years later and handed over the reins of the shop to his son, Charles-Emile. He moved the workshop to 24 Faubourg Saint-Honoré (now the flagship store) and made it more prestigious, building up an elite, cosmopolitan clientele in Europe, North Africa, Russia, America and Asia with the assistance of his sons Emile-Maurice and Adolphe.

In 1902, under the name Hermés Fréres, the third-generation Emile-Maurice and Adolphe Hermés took over the business and together entered the 20th century, establishing Hermés’ reputation as a prestigious saddler and diversifying into a new area, adding new customers to its already impressive roster of clients that spanned the globe.

Anchors away: This Hermés Chaines D’ Ancre change tray in porcelain is elegant in its simplicity.

During World War I, Emile-Maurice was sent to America to oversee the procurement of leather for the French cavalry. There he discovered a continent that had made considerable strides in transport and mass production, giving rise to a flourishing luggage industry. He returned to France enthused, bringing home with him the exclusive right to introduce in France the “zip,” or what was known in Europe as “the American fastener.” He used this unique American find in Hermés’ leather goods and fashion items and by the 1920s he extended Hermés’ product line to include saddle-stitched leather bags, luggage, sports, travel and driving accessories and an entire range of sportswear. Soon after Hermés luggage, trunks, clothing and accessories became the harmonious companion of the globetrotting elite and royalty from Europe to the Middle East to Asia.  Before long, the silk scarf, along with jewelry and wristwatches, joined the lineup of high-quality goods at Hermés.

In 1930, the great Hermés classic of timeless simplicity, the Kelly bag named after Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco, was introduced to the market. Robert Dumas, designer of the Kelly bag and son-in-law of Emile-Maurice, replaced him as head of Hermés; in 1947, in tandem with his brother-in-law Jean René Guerrand, they set up Comptoir Nouveau de la Parfumerie, a perfume company that produced H, Doblis and Eau d’ Hermés, among other iconic perfumes for men and women. 

Over the decades, with the astute leadership of a management team that includes members from the Hermés family, the house continued to rule the luxury brand market with many more outstanding products in porcelain, crystal, silverware, men’s ready-to-wear and other leather goods, including the much sought-after Birkin, the ladies’ handbag named after French actress Jane Birkin.

Makin’ the Birkin: Two ladies hard at work handcrafting one of Hermés’ iconic handbags

Today, with the support of a talented and loyal workforce numbering 8,000 or so, Hermés manufactures products in 16 different sectors; its latest brainchild, Hermés Interior Design Activity, is an exciting line of furniture and home accessories.

Hermés has over 300 exclusive stores and more than 20 retail outlets all over the world and in 2010, Hermés opened its first all-men’s boutique in New York City; plans to expand are still underway. 

Heart and Handcrafted

When we consider buying products, we look at their visual appeal, functionality, brand and price but often overlook the process by which products are made, not realizing that a lot of heart and soul goes into the creation of these products, especially those that command a very high price.

In Hearts and Crafts we saw how Hermés products are made; we were introduced to the craftsmen and women who bring these fabulous objects to life.  Casually and unscripted, they spoke of their jobs with genuine enthusiasm, pride and passion; one young female illustrator compared her job to love. She said that when she sits down at her worktable and begins her task, she gives it her all, a full-time and serious commitment, day in and day out. Another artisan described his job and the products that he creates as similar to music; it brings him joy and has lyrics that speak to him. A jewelry maker with a hearing disability considers metal as alive, something he can bend, shape, twist and polish to extraordinary beauty. One saddler finds leather difficult, stubborn yet beautiful once tamed into shape by his hands.

To dye for: These two men are hard at work preparing what will eventually become an exquisite silk scarf.

These craftsmen and women invest their hearts and the nimble, delicate and consummate skill of their hands to create incomparably high-quality products. They work using only the top 10 percent of quality raw materials, aided by traditional and modern tools. The ready smiles, experience-etched foreheads, furrowed brows, callused fingers, bespectacled eyes and deliberate hands are all a testament to the excellence and authenticity of their craftsmanship, the foundation on which the house of Hermés is built.

So next time you find yourself near an Hermés store, go in and take a close look at the precise manualsaddle-stitching of the bags, the detailed design and flawless confluence of colors on the silk scarves and ties, the perfectly polished finish of the jewelry and tableware, the carefully chosen and expertly stretched leather. Then think of the number of hours and people it took to put together each and every one of these products. Only then will you truly understand why Hermés is unparalleled in quality and luxury.

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In the Philippines, Hermés is located in Greenbelt 4, Ayala Center, Makati. 

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