The Hermès boutique at Pacific Place has reopened with an exhibition that illuminates the history of the Parisian house. Curator Bruno Gaudichon told Chris Hanrahan how items borrowed from a cabinet of curiosities and the house’s archives testify to a creative adventure.
Hermès has opened its newly renovated store at Pacific Place. The 178 sqm space, featuring rattan and cherry wood, has been created by RDAI, a Parisian architectural agency under the artistic direction of Denis Montel. Until April 22, the mall will host an exhibition, “Hermès Héritage – Rouges Hermès”, celebrating the Parisian luxury house’s attachment to the colour red and its spectrum of shades.
This initiative is part of a cycle of Hermès Héritage touring exhibitions. These aim to explore the history of the house, founded in 1837 by Thierry Hermès.
Iconic themes, colours and patterns follow a thread woven by generations of designers and craftspeople, from its origins as a harness maker to the present day with contemporary designs.
Discussing the concept of the cycle, Pierre-Alexis Dumas, Artistic Director of Hermès, has said: “It is a conviction that is profoundly anchored in Hermès culture: there is no amnesia in design. The memory of our achievements does not weigh us down. It nourishes, educates and inspires us.”
Following on from “Harnessing the Roots”, the cycle continues with “Rouges Hermès”, re ecting the house’s employment of 20 shades of red in its designs. The house’s attachment to this colour varies from vermilion to magenta and from bright red to soft red.
Ever since Émile Hermès, the house’s third-generation President, developed, with the help of artisan tanners, a process to dye box calf leather, red has been used to colour a whole range of designs at the house. The exhibition demonstrates this by featuring not only leather goods, but also clothing and home accessories. The show is rounded of with an extraordinary contemporary jewellery cabinet. Its mobile, folding mahogany structure in rouge H conceals a wealth of intricate details.
Bruno Gaudichon of La Piscine, a museum of art and industry in Roubaix in northern France, is Curator of “Rouges Hermès”. He and set designer Laurence Fontaine worked together on creating the exhibition. They chose a framework that was exible, yet rigorous. They borrowed many pieces from the Émile Hermès Collection, a remarkable cabinet of curiosities collected by family members over the years that is to be found on the oors above the famous Hermès store in the rue du Faubourg Saint- Honoré in Paris.
As for Hermès products, Gaudichon and Fontaine were given access to the house’s archives – hidden away in a top-secret location in Pantin, a northeastern suburb of Paris – and the full range of recent designs. The exhibition is organised into ve zones: “The original crimson”; “The invention of a deep red”; “Over the shoulder, the arm, or in the hand”; “Custom takes up reds”; and “To grace the everyday”.
The zones are loosely connected by a chronological thread that allows visitors to discover the emergence of new variants of red at Hermès over time. These ultimately form a subtle and delicate palette throughout the exhibition, which illuminates the history of the house. It’s a history marked by colour.
Among the stand-out items in the exhibition, the jewellery cabinet revives a Renaissance tradition of furniture with its secret compartments. It resembles a functional sculpture with hiding places for treasures and marvels. The central mirror folds away to reveal an enigmatic bust in an alcove illuminated by LEDs. This ingenious and truly elegant piece of furniture can hold a large jewellery collection in its clever combination of drawers and pouches. Its mahogany structure forms an elegant and very contemporary frame that is dressed with ecru canvas and a Clémence bullcalf sheathing, in rouge H, naturally.
One of the exceptional pieces collected by Émile Hermès, the ceremonial military saddle was exhibited at the 1867 Universal Exposition in Paris. The red of this elegant and re ned design was in keeping with offcial protocols imposed since the 18th century. This masterpiece by the Parisian company Lasne was crafted for a general. It presents the characteristics of an English-style saddle and combines crimson velvet with red Morocco leather.
Inspired by the Chaîne d’ancre chain link, the Cape Cod watch was created in 1991 by Henri d’Origny and presents the precise embedding of a square within a rectangle. It combines several of Hermès’ emblematic métiers, notably leatherwork and watchmaking precision. Its elegant appearance is now enhanced with a lacquered face in subtle dégradés of red and brown, evoking the nuances characteristic of Hermès reds.
The Kellerman bag was designed by Hermès in 1936 when the Kellerman park was created on the site of former fortifications in Paris. The military reference applies perfectly to the graphic rigour of the simple lines, enhanced by the warm depth of Hermès reds. This bag, emblematic of the geometric architecture of the 1930s, was one of the new models presented by Hermès at the 1937 Universal Exposition of Arts and Techniques in Paris.
The Évelyne bag, which appeared in 1978, was named after its designer, Évelyne Martel, who was in charge of the Equestrian Department at Hermès at the time. This version was a technical bag used to carry grooming equipment for horses. It therefore has no inside pockets or lining, and the perforated H design in the leather was to allow the contents to dry and air. Adopted by customers who used it as a handbag, this bag is emblematic of the natural movement from original usage to fashionable reinterpretation that is a hallmark of the Hermès spirit. The simple shape, particularly when exhibiting the depth of Hermès reds, magnificently showcases the beauty of the leather used.
Gaudichon, who first met Pierre-Alexis Dumas when he visited La Piscine in 2015, said the Évelyne was his favourite piece in the exhibition, as much because of its usefulness as its looks, during an exclusive interview with Prestige.
Along with Fontaine and Eric Festy, Hermès’s Regional Director for the Middle East and South Asia, Gaudichon flew to Jakarta for the store opening. It was Gaudichon’s first visit to Indonesia and a very short one – just two nights. But he took the opportunity to explore Kota Tua Jakarta and its Dutch colonial buildings the day before the store opening took place.
Gaudichon said the first time he ever set foot in the Faubourg Saint- Honoré store was in 1975. “I went there with a friend, and I remember the impressive window display and how glamorous and overwhelming the number of items on sale in the place was,” he recalled. “Of course, I had no idea then that I would ever work with Hermès. I was still a student.”
Asked about the purpose of the exhibition, Gaudichon replied: “The aim is to communicate the emblematic nature of Rouge Hermès for the house, while fully expressing the ambiguity of this reference colour. To be more accurate, the exhibition pertains rather to Rouges Hermès (Hermès reds). The heritage aspect is essential. But it’s also important to emphasise that Hermès lives close to its roots on a daily basis, and that this unique approach o ers an almost programmatic consistency that in no way expresses a viewpoint influenced by nostalgia.
“The guiding principle for this exhibition is to assert the great diversity of this identity-defining colour, of which there are many more variants than might first appear. The exhibit sequence must narrate its origins by recounting how Hermès invented the colouring process for box calfskin, which until that point was worked in the natural colours of leather, in brown or black. It must also express the diversity of the 20 or so shades that have the attributes of Rouge Hermès.”
Revolving around heritage, the exhibition’s introductory section is based on loans from the Émile Hermès Collection. A central focus is the spectacular general’s saddle by Bidal and Piat, dating from the Empire period. “This piece conveys the symbolic dimension of red, which has long been related to the expression of power,” noted Gaudichon.
A look back at history refers to the art of bookbinding, in which red has traditionally played an essential part, producing some interesting juxtapositions in the exhibition staging. “This second sequence evokes the relationship between Émile Hermès and his friend Combes, whose tannery on the Île Saint-Denis near Paris gave rise to the technical partnership behind the invention of Rouge Hermès in the 1920s and 1930s,” said Gaudichon.
Items borrowed from the Émile Hermès Collection and the house’s archives – a colour chart for leathers and textiles, scientific works such as L’Art du Teinturier (the Art of the Dyer), historic photographs, catalogues, etc.) – testify to this creative adventure. “This superb material, much of which has never before been on public display, emphasises that this shade of red is unquestionably a Hermès creation, with a story behind it,” said Gaudichon. “We can then quite easily define a range of uses for Rouge Hermès by ‘family’: leather goods, clothing and accessories, the home.”
In the room devoted to bags is a display of a wide variety of leathers. Gaudichon’s idea was to stress the cross-cutting nature of the colour red through the house’s various collections, including the Conservatoire, contemporary products and an object borrowed from one of Leila Menchari’s window displays for Hermès.
As the conversation drew to an end, attention returned to that fascinating jewellery cabinet, which concludes the sequence devoted to products for the home. “The true message of the exhibition must be that rouge H is everywhere at Hermès,” said Gaudichon. “The cabinet is a statement piece that illustrates a perfect match between this shade and the rigorous lines of the design.”