In a world where corporatisation of fashion and luxury is happening at a faster rate than changes in style trends, there is one entity that continues to make a radical statement by refusing change: Hermès.
Even after 185 years of creating enduring objects—in the shape of clothes, luggage, bags, trunks, porcelain, glassware—the French luxury brand has managed to fend off hostile takeover bids to remain an independent, family-owned company that keeps a majority of its production in France. And it continues to keep the spotlight on its biggest strength: the craftsperson.
To celebrate its legacy and highlight the skills of the artists behind the iconic saddlebags, the Birkin or the scarf, Hermès has brought its travelling show, Hermès Heritage In Motion, to Mumbai, after showcasing in China, Vietnam, Singapore and South Korea. The 10-day show, which will open to public on 11 November at Mumbai’s IF.BE Gallery, features 77 objects, including clothes, footwear, glassware, archival material, posters, games and flasks, that document the brand’s history and its impact on the present and future design vocabulary. In the process, it reminds the viewer the joy of slowing down and indulging in comfortable travel.
The In Motion exhibition is “in some ways the perfect evocation of Hermès’ journey, which began in the 19th century with saddlery and harness-making, echoing the ‘roaming mood’ celebrated by (poet) Charles Baudelaire in 1857,” according to Bruno Gaudichon, the curator of the exhibition. Gaudichon worked closely with Marie-Amélie Tharaud, the director of the Hermès Conservatory of Creations, and her team to give shape to the show that’s divided into five rooms: The World Of Hermès, Émile Hermès’ Travels, Movement Is Elegance, Construction Games and The Immobile Journey.
Echoing Gaudichon’s words, Tharaud, who was present during the show preview on 10 November in Mumbai, told Mint, “This show is about mobility, since travel has always been part of what Hermès is, and also about the journey and where we have reached today.”
She explains: “When Thierry Hermès started the brand in 1837 in Paris, it was all about horses and horseriders. After World War I, there came a change. Automation slowly started becoming part of people’s lives and the brand realised it had to evolve. And in the 1920s, we had jewellery, clothes and watches. From then till today, we are on the same path, we have evolved but haven’t changed… changed in the sense that we are still very much about comfort, functionality, simplicity.”
That’s the beauty of an Hermès. In a room full of luxury brands screaming logos, an Hermès bag, jacket, shoe or a glass will always be the quiet one, silently making a statement with its feather-light sanding, subtle orange colour tone, a sharp blazer shape or a smart rack to store glassware during travel.
Take the “Inversables”, a 1934 rack that includes eight spill-proof glasses, for instance. Part of the Mumbai showcase, the rack—made of chromium-plated brass and cut crystal—includes two columns of glasses mounted on mobile rings that can be taken on board a yacht or an ocean liner without ever fearing the swell of the waves. “It is made in such a way that it won’t allow your drink to spill even if your boat or yacht is moving too much because of a storm,” informs Tharaud. It’s among her favourite items on display.
On the other side is the frame of “Le Flâneur d’Hermès bicycle” (2015), in carbon and saddlebag in Clémence bullcalf. There’s also the “Jeu des omnibus et dames blanches” scarf, the first scarf designed by the house in 1937 in silk twill. The stunning, indulgent accessory evokes the image of 1820s public transport when people moved around Paris in horse-drawn vehicles.
Among the pieces that reflect the philosophy of Hermès is the Bolide bag. It was “created at the same time as the motor car and is one of the first travel bags that Émile Hermès (the grandson of Thierry Hermes) fitted with a zip fastening, which was easy to use and expressed the motorist’s desire for speed,” states its descriptor.
The show, as Tharaud said, is a way to remind the viewer that “there’s enough in the past to take inspiration from and create a better present and future.” We simply need to stop and look.
Hermès Heritage In Motion is on till 20 November 2022 at Mumbai’s IF.BE Gallery (11am-7pm) in Ballard Estate.