The perfection of Hermès

Mastering the value of time
© CdT/Gabriele Putzu
Michaela Ghersi
20.06.2022 06:00

A flawless reality. A cryptic element. Great luxury. Such is time for all of us, but time is given additional consideration at Hermès: it is a precious friend. The young artisans who begin the long journey of apprenticeship (sometimes more than three years) work in their métiers continuously making and remaking the same deed until they master the trade and attain the level of excellence required by the Maison. Those who start training in the maroquinerie (leather goods) department, practice every day (for more than 1,000 days) on bags which will never actually go on sale. The iconic «Kelly» and the sought-after «Birkin» (international objects of desire) will only be delivered to the 306 stores spread over 45 countries around the world when the artisan’s mastery has been perfected. An apprenticeship is, of course, a costly affair for the company, as you can well imagine, and we return to the notion that time is a luxury. But it is also a guarantee: every Hermès product is made to last, to be passed on and even repaired where needed. Expert «restorers» take care of what may alter over the years - a faded color, for example, or a saddle stitch that requires reworking. More than a hundred thousand items are received by the ateliers located in major cities, a proof of an after-sales service that once again speaks of excellence. Since its establishment in 1837, six generations of artisans have followed suit, preserving and handing down their savoir-faire as Olivier Fournier, vice president of the group and chairman of the Fondation d’entreprise Hermès, likes to define this talent. We caught up with him at a recent Hermès in the Making exhibition that was held in Turin at the end of May and that will continue on to Michigan, Singapore and Texas.

«Since 1837, the Maison has brought craftsmanship to life uncompromisingly», explains Monsieur Fournier, «realising the dreams of our creators: thanks to their experience and genius, artisans become the interpreters of the desires behind each object». The uniqueness of this heritage lies in the fact that it is not isolated in dusty archives, but instead is a nucleus of lively and ever-evolving skills, demonstrating that the pursuit of perfection is rewarding. Over the past three decades, the French company has expanded throughout the country, by opening several production sites and workshops in areas that have a long tradition of precise savoir-faire. Such as silk printing in the Lyon area, where the silk industry is a leader. The celebrated carré are among the best creative expressions: 75 thousand colors from which to choose the most ideal shades - from 25 to 48, depending on the designs - that will end up on delightful scarves. It should be considered that the arrival of Hermès in certain parts of France has transformed local ecosystems: in some towns, schools that had been closed for years have reopened; in others, small local stores have resumed operations, along with new transportation networks. In addition, the company’s focus on environmental compliance leads to new sites with ambitious programs. This is the case in Louviers, a French municipality of 18,000 inhabitants, halfway between Paris and Le Havre. Here the twenty-second leather goods atelier of the group, designed to produce more energy than it consumes, will open at the end of the year. Not in his wildest dreams, 185 years ago, could Thierry Hermès have imagined such a development. With the first harness and bridle store, his name was inextricably linked to the world of horses. The saddlerie is still a flagship chez la Maison today. At the exhibition in Turin, we met Hélène Rolland, who with her careful hands creates saddles of infinite beauty in accordance with the technical requirements of all equestrian disciplines. «Each saddle is studied based on the rider’s physique and the horse’s structure, by measuring everything to the millimeter», she tells us with the smile of someone who brings passion to her work. «The parts to be produced and then assembled are more than forty: seat, panels, flaps are upholstered, shaped and finally sewn with saddle stitch». A formidable stitch, very ancient, a true hallmark that is formed by crossing two needles with the two ends of the same thread, ensuring resistance to extreme stresses and the passage of time. We return once again to the word of the beginning: time. That time that never seems to touch the graciousness of Hermès.