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"Hermès in the Making," photo by William Jess Laird.
"Hermès in the Making," photo by William Jess Laird.
"Hermès in the Making," photo by William Jess Laird.
"Hermès in the Making," photo by William Jess Laird.
"Hermès in the Making," photo by William Jess Laird.
"Hermès in the Making," photo by William Jess Laird.
"Hermès in the Making," photo by William Jess Laird.
"Hermès in the Making," photo by William Jess Laird.
"Hermès in the Making," photo by William Jess Laird.
Sustainability

Hermes in the Making Touches Down in Detroit

By Katy Donoghue

June 21, 2022

Last week in Troy, Michigan, just outside of Detroit, Hermès offered visitors a chance to meet the artisans behind its sustainable craftsmanship. From Friday, June 10 to Wednesday, June 15, the public could witness and take part in activities, demonstrations, films, and workshops that offered a taste of the know-how and savoir-faire that characterizes the French luxury house.

Whitewall was there for the opening preview, along with local collectors, patrons, students, and more. Entitled, “Hermès in the Making,” the exhibition was colorful and inviting, leading us in with graphic splashes of red, purple, and the signature Hermès orange. At stations scattered throughout the space were real-live Hermès artisans, showcasing their skills and knowledge in silkscreen printing of the famous carré, saddle making, porcelain painting, gem setting, watchmaking, glove making, and leather work and repair.

Open Gallery

"Hermès in the Making," photo by William Jess Laird.

Each station and activation exemplified both the craft behind an Hermès object, and the qualities that make it sustainable. An Hermès scarf, saddle, glove, platter, or watch is kept not only because of its beauty and quality of material—often locally and respectfully sourced, as shown by an interactive map of France in one corner—but because of the know-how with which it is made. That know-how continues to be passed on from one artisan to the next within the maison—keeping alive a generational knowledge that allows Hermès to create heirlooms that are held on to, treasured, and repaired. The saddle makers of today, for instance, are equipped with the talent and history of the saddle makers that came before them. Sustainability comes in many forms, including the preservation of savoir-faire

Actual, actively working artisans were flown in from Hermès’s ateliers to showcase their talents. The saddle maker—adept in the craft on which the house was founded—showed us the signature saddle stitch, as well as how each saddle is marked with its own unique number. Close to 50,000 have been made since the founding of the maison, each carefully recorded in a ledger that has been kept by hand since the 19th century. From winged showpieces to everyday use, the saddle maker shared with us how he enjoys working closely with each client to create the perfect seat that works for its rider.

Open Gallery

"Hermès in the Making," photo by William Jess Laird.

Other examples of leather craft were showcased, like in a leather embroidery workshop; the 22-step art of glove-making which has made the Hermès Ganterie of Saint-Junien in the Limousine region a certified “Entreprise du Patrimoine vivant”; and the creation of an iconic Kelly bag, comprised of 40 pieces, all handcrafted in France. In fact, we learned that all Hermès bags are made in France, an endeavor that has seen growth in leather goods workshops (at least one per year since 2010), each employing anywhere from 250 to 280 artisans.

Fine detailing was personified through the on-site master watchmaker, assembling bridges, barrels, and balances; stone and grain setting by jewelers using binocular magnification in a near-microscopic process; live painting of porcelain plates and platters in vibrant color and image; as well as repair specialists on hand to keep Hermès heirlooms as robust as new, while still carrying the marks of a well-loved piece. We discovered that over 100,000 objects are brought in each year for repair and restoration by experts across dozens of workshops, both in France and internationally (to better serve the client). 

Open Gallery

"Hermès in the Making," photo by William Jess Laird.

While in Troy, we were lucky enough to catch a live demonstration of the making of the classic Hermès silk carré. Made of silk spun from over 300 to 500 silkworm cocoons, woven with over 450km of thread, each 100 cm by 100 cm scarf is silkscreened by hand. We watched a seasoned artisan create two scarves designed by Alice Shirley, entitled “The Three Graces,” depicting three giraffes surrounded by lush greenery. Once drawn, a design is then deconstructed and manually traced onto transparent film. Digital tools (also exhibited on location) are then used to help create each color, dictating the production of each print frame (one per layer of color). Most scarves have 25-30 colors, though some include up to 48 shades.

Layer by layer we watched as the scarf came to life, seeing it marked, as it always is in the atelier, with three hidden gems of information: the name of the artist, the name of the design, and, of course, “Hermès of Paris.” For that hour or so, we were transported to the artisan’s workshop, enraptured by the imagination of the artist, the tactility of the handmade, and the magic of making something that not only makes time stand still, but is so beautiful and well-made, it stands the test of time. 

Open Gallery

"Hermès in the Making," photo by William Jess Laird.

Open Gallery

"Hermès in the Making," photo by William Jess Laird.

Open Gallery

"Hermès in the Making," photo by William Jess Laird.

Open Gallery

"Hermès in the Making," photo by William Jess Laird.

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