A LA PLAGE
THE BEACH IS AN AUSTRALIAN STATE OF MIND, AND HERMÈS CELEBRATES IT THE WAY ONLY A PARISIAN FASHION HOUSE COULD.
There are parties, and then there are parties. The sort that have people talking for years to come. That consider everything from the largest setting to the tiniest detail. And when French luxury house Hermès hosts a fête, it’s a fait accompli that it’s one of the latter variety. And so it was that on a balmy Sydney evening in February, Hermès Australia managing director Karin Upton Baker personally welcomed each of the 630 guests to one of its legendary Hermès on the Beach parties, this year dubbed On A Summer Day.
Only this year it wasn’t actually on a beach. It was inside the industrial concrete bunker that is inner-city Carriageworks, transformed for the occasion courtesy of 350 tonnes of Sydney’s finest sand.
First, guests wound through passageways lined in Hermès prints before dropping their shoes off at a shoe concierge. If anyone struggled with the “Barefoot” dresscode, the minute shoes were discarded everyone was on an equal playing field whether in an evening gown or boardshorts. Soon the lucky invitees had sand between their toes – even before they could be offered a glass of Louis Roederer champagne – and with 120 wait staff to hand, no one would go thirsty or hungry during the hours ahead.
For Upton Baker, a good party begins with a great guest list. “The second thing is the location,” she tells WISH. “Carriageworks was an interesting choice for us, because it’s a space that everybody knows. So in that sense it was challenging to bring everyone there, but also create something they didn’t expect to be there.”
Mission accomplished. Along with the sand, there were enormous inflatable seahorses bobbing above the crowd, and seven beachobatics performers showing off their physical prowess while guests watched in awe over their piña coladas and Negronis, reminding themselves to go back to that yoga class. They even put in a halfpipe for nine professional skateboarders to show off daredevil feats, the concrete illuminated by constantly changing Hermès print projections.
“The Hermès way of doing these large-scale events is really about surprise and not being predictable,”
Upton Baker says. “That really drives all the creative energy forward for us.”
And while the house has events all over the world – purely for experiential purposes rather than spruiking the latest product – Upton-Baker says there is nothing like this party in the world.
“It was really our way of bringing the culture of Australia – things that are iconic and meaningful to Australians and anyone who lives in Australia – to some of the key attributes and messages of Hermès,” Upton Baker says.
“Which, after all, is a venerable Parisian maison, and sometimes our life here might seem quite different to life in Paris or the cultural embedding of a brand like Hermès to someone who’s French. It’s a way of showing how Hermès and its culture adapts and fits with cultures all over the world, in all places where it is present.
“In Australia, there’s this cult of the beach, and for me the thing that’s prevalent through every beach party is that sense of utter joy and freedom. You go to a party quite dressed up, take your shoes off and get 350 tonnes of Cronulla white between your toes.”
This approach certainly pays off – as does the investment involved; in terms of time alone, it took eight days to set up and four days to bump out. Fifty hours of video content was produced to recreate beach scenes of sunrise and sunset on enormous curved screens, which went on to highlight famous beach scenes from cinema history – Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in that passionate clinch writ large in From Here to Eternity, Brooke Shields in Blue Lagoon, Ursula Andress in that bikini from Bond film Dr No.
Quite aside from the joy experienced by those attending, the event had a social media reach of seven million people. “It’s about that experience,” says UptonBaker. “So when you think back or have that Proustian moment of something past, you think about the experience you had with Hermès. It might be special or crazy, but it’s certainly not forgettable.”
And to prove they thought of everything that night, just imagine the nostalgia-inducing moment when, towards the end of the party, a tinkly “Greensleeves” sounded and a Mr Whippy van lit up and went into action. After all, what beach trip is complete without a choc-dipped soft-serve?
Skateboarders’ halfpipe, inflatable seahorses, projected sunrises, a Mr Whippy van and ‘beachobatics’ at Sydney’s Carriageworks