Flowing champagne and the distinct scent of horses complemented the warm ambience of Hermès Festival des Métiers at the Hollandsche Manege, the oldest riding school in Holland. The setting for this leg of Hermès’ travelling exhibition apprises the heritage of the Parisian luxury house, which, at its founding in 1837 by the current artistic director’s great-great-great grandfather, was initially a horse harness workshop.
Festival des Métiers is akin to stepping inside a luxury atelier and interacting with master craftsmen who are engrossed in their tasks: creating leather handbags, wallets, scarves, neckties, equestrian accessories and watches.
“This festival, Festival des Métiers, is not something else. It’s about unique and true Hermès. I think it’s about people. Because the reality behind Hermès is men and women who are working everyday making all the objects that we sell,“ said Pierre-Alexis Dumas, artistic director at Hermès.
Each Hermès product requires the input of a number of craftsmen, each consummate in their skill. The scarves, for example, have different craftsmen for each step, responsible for weaving the silk, preparing the ink, printing and sewing.
The first Hermès scarf was made in 1937 by Dumas' grandfather, and was the result of two years of work, from design to inception. The craftsmanship alone took around six months.
Today, Hermès designs 20 new scarves each year, 10 for spring and summer and 10 for autumn and winter. This year's prints are inspired by nature.
“They will start [printing] from the dark colors to the light colors, and from the small images to the big images. So every step is thought through very carefully. They have different layers paint which also cause the different depths in the image,” said Kamel Hamadou, who oversees silk printing for Hermès.
Hermès artisans can come from multiple generations of family members, like Marianne whose mother worked for the company and helped steer her toward handcrafting leather. After 25 years with the company, Marianne is still refining her skills and learning new techniques. She has mastered the Kelly bag, one of Hermès’ most popular styles.
The parts of the production process Marianne is responsible for take around 13 hours, though some of the styles of handbag are more complicated and take longer. Fixing the handle on the bag is the most difficult step and can take four hours.
Sometimes she is required to make a different model. In such cases, a doyen of craftsmanship will disseminate the instructions and processes to two others until all the Hermès craftsmen have mastered it.
“Hermès is of course heritage, about knowledge, but it’s also more importantly about transmission,” Dumas said, “Because when one generation of craftsmen is lost, all the knowledge is lost.”
Hermès Festival des Métiers is a traveling exhibition open to the public with free admission. Hermès first exhibition was held in Seattle in 2011, and it has since traveled to all important markets for the brand. It is in Amsterdam at the Hollandsche Manege from 11am till 7pm each day until April 10.