The secret life of a Hermès scarf
What do Detroit and Hermès have in common?
This is not a trick question. For one thing, both have French roots: The Motor City was founded by French settler Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac in 1701, and Hermès, well, the Gallic bona fides of Hermès, which dates back to 1837, is well established.
The two also share an automobile connection. In the early 1900s, a Detroit company lent Hermès one of its flagship innovations of the time: the zipper. Émile-Maurice Hermès, grandson of Hermès founder Thierry Hermès, travels through the United States in 1916, where he accidentally meets Henry Ford, who invites him to visit several Ford car factories, where he discovers a zipper on the roof of a car. Émile-Maurice returned to France with a two-year European patent on the metal casing to be used for suitcases, bags and jackets. Seven years later, Hermès launched its first handbag, the car bag (car bag), later renamed the Bolide (French for “racing car”) with a zipper to hold items in place.
Given these quirks of history, it’s no surprise that a year ago Hermès opened a boutique at the Somerset Collection in Troy, Michigan and the brand held its ongoing exhibition Hermès in the making last weekhighlighting in real time the work and the technique behind its emblematic know-how.
“It’s one of the most historically significant American cities,” said Diane Mahady, executive vice president of sales and merchandising for Hermès USA. “We think there’s tremendous local revitalization going on, and we’re very excited to be a part of that and to engage with the local community.”
Hermès isn’t the only luxury brand courting Detroit, and developers like Dan Gilbert and Nate Forbes have worked in recent years to restore the city to its place as a center of innovation, much like it was at the turn of the last century.
Hermès is doing its part by partnering with organizations like the Detroit Achievement Academy, a free public charter school for K-8. “When you talk to someone who works at Hermès, the only thing they say is ‘craft, craft, craft,'” said Kyle Smitley, Founder and Executive Director. “And you’re like, ‘Oh wait a second, that’s all we ever say too.’ This is a whole dimension of student success for us. At school, kids — familiar with terms like “upcycling,” “sustainability,” and “reuse” — are making laminated bird guards and butterflies out of discarded Hermès silks.
At Hermès in the making, which ended on Wednesday and was free to the public, visitors were able to discover up close and personal how saddles, gloves, scarves, bags, jewellery, watches and porcelain are made by Hermès craftsmen. An artisan normally responsible for screen printing scarves in Lyon, France, took 30 minutes and more than a dozen screens to complete an intricate design featuring three giraffes against a mixture of flora. In another corner, a leather craftsman was in the first hour of the three-hour process needed to fashion a handbag handle. And in case you were wondering how long it takes to make a Birkin by hand, it’s 15-20 hours, depending on the material and the size of the bag.
“We are very deliberate when we go to a market,” Mahady said. “In a market that is new to us, we like to educate the community about what we stand for.”
What it stands for, in large part, is consistency, the kind of quality that virtually guarantees that today’s Kelly will enjoy a long life, passed down from generation to generation and becoming along the way the family heirloom of tomorrow. That’s what he took away from one of the conferences held at the College for Creative Studies, where Edouard Ambelouis, a Hermès leather craftsman based in New York, shared stories about repairing 100-year-old handbags. .
“They are all difficult because the bag belongs to someone, the bag has a story, it has sentimental value,” Ambelouis recalled. “So for us it’s the same thing.”
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