The Australian - Wish Magazine - - MOTORING - STORY DAVID MEAGHER

Imag­ine for a mo­ment board­ing an Air­bus A319 air­craft. Not the usual sin­gle- aisle pas­sen­ger aero­plane with 100-plus seats and com­monly used by Amer­i­can Air­lines, Delta and EasyJet among oth­ers, but a lux­ury ver­sion of it. And not your typ­i­cal lux­ury air­craft, either. Think in­stead of an en­tire 34m-long A319 with an in­te­rior de­signed to your ex­act­ing spec­i­fi­ca­tions and man­u­fac­tured by the French lux­ury house Her­mès. That’s right, Her­mès. Your per­sonal jet now has just 17 sin­gle seats, two three­seater so­fas and one four-seater sofa – all up­hol­stered in the finest Her­mès fab­rics and leathers. In fact ev­ery part of the plane’s in­te­rior has been given the Her­mès touch. And, in fact, it’s not a fan­tasy – at least, not for one Her­mès cus­tomer it’s not.

The Air­bus A319 is one of sev­eral cus­tom pri­vate air­craft Her­mès has worked on. As well as an­other Air­bus the com­pany has also made the all-white leather in­te­rior of a Fal­con 7X jet, and lined a Euro­copter 135 he­li­copter floor to ceil­ing in the com­pany’s Toile H fab­ric with calf leather seat­ing. Her­mès has up­hol­stered the in­te­ri­ors of cars in­clud­ing a vin­tage As­ton Martin DB4, a Citroën 2CV, an Avions Voisin, a vin­tage Bu­gatti once owned by Et­tore Bu­gatti as well as a 2016 Pa­gani Huayra and, at the more “af­ford­able” end, a suite of Smart Fortwo cars. Her­mès has also pro­duced or cus­tomised boats, bikes and baby bot­tle warm­ers (true story). If you can imag­ine it, Her­mès can do it. A foos­ball ta­ble by Her­mès? It’s al­ready been done.

Her­mès is per­haps best known to­day for its ready-towear col­lec­tions and leather goods, but it has been in the be­spoke busi­ness since its very be­gin­nings. The com­pany, which was founded in 1837, made its name cre­at­ing cus­tom har­nesses and sad­dles for its horselov­ing cus­tomers. Sad­dlery, along with spe­cial or­ders of prod­ucts within the nor­mal Her­mès uni­verse, are still made in a work­shop above the brand’s flag­ship store on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris, the city’s premier lux­ury fash­ion district. How­ever, in a non­de­script build­ing in Pantin, a not-so-chic north­east­ern sub­urb of the French cap­i­tal, a small team cre­ates what are best de­scribed as Her­mès fan­tasies brought to life. This lit­tle-known divi­sion of Her­mès is called Hori­zons, pre­sum­ably be­cause the scope of de­sign here is vir­tu­ally lim­it­less.

Her­mès Hori­zons is headed by François Doré, an en­gi­neer by train­ing, who says it’s his job to do the im­pos­si­ble for clients. “I al­ways say that when a cus­tomer comes to do a project with us, of course, he is com­ing to buy a prod­uct at the end of the day, but I think he is also com­ing to have an ex­pe­ri­ence and, re­ally, to buy a dream.” It goes with­out say­ing that the pro­jects pro­duced by the Her­mès Hori­zons divi­sion are for clients with very deep pock­ets – af­ter all, an Air­bus A319 costs about $US90 mil­lion ($120m) be­fore Her­mès even gets to work on it. (This is why we can’t show you these in­te­ri­ors: the own­ers, un­der­stand­ably, closely guard their pri­vacy and im­ages are not avail­able for pub­li­ca­tion.) But even peo­ple with a seem­ingly end­less sup­ply of funds have to work to a bud­get.

“Don’t be­lieve that it’s like an open cheque­book – that’s never the case,” says Doré. “We are talk­ing about dreams but we are also talk­ing about busi­ness.” He says the process is not un­like build­ing a house. When the de­sign is agreed upon by the client the scope of work is then costed. When the cost is set­tled the sub­ject of money is rarely men­tioned again. “Then we switch to the dream,” says Doré. “When we do a project the re­la­tion­ship and the trust with the cus­tomer is so strong that they re­ally let us pro­pose things and ideas and we are not al­ways hav­ing a dis­cus­sion about price.”

For the Air­bus project, how­ever, the scope of work would be enough to send any ac­coun­tant into a tail­spin. The cus­tomer was based in Tai­wan. The air­craft was based in the US. The new seats were de­signed in Paris and man­u­fac­tured in an­other part of the US. When the seats were built they were sent to Toulouse in France to be checked by Air­bus, then to the Hori­zons work­shop in Paris to be up­hol­stered, then back to Toulouse to be tested and val­i­dated. Then they were sent back to the US to be fit­ted to the air­craft. When the seats were fi­nally in­stalled in the air­craft, Doré and his team trav­elled to the US to do the fin­ish­ing ad­just­ments on board the A319 in per­son.

Doré says a big project like an air­craft in­te­rior re­fur­bish­ment takes about one year. Her­mès Hori­zons, which was cre­ated just over a decade ago, pro­duces be­tween five and 10 of these large-scale pro­jects a year. Cus­tomers come from all over the world in­clud­ing Aus­tralia. There are just 10 crafts­peo­ple with a range of skills and spe­cial­i­ties solely ded­i­cated to the Hori­zons divi­sion (the to­tal team in­clud­ing man­age­ment and de­sign­ers is 25), which means ca­pac­ity for big-ticket pro­jects such as planes, cars and boats is lim­ited, al­though other Her­mès ate­liers can be used when nec­es­sary. That doesn’t mean the Hori­zons divi­sion can’t be nim­ble when it needs to be.

In 2014, ac­cord­ing to Doré, five days be­fore Queen El­iz­a­beth II was due to ar­rive in France for a state visit, then French pres­i­dent François Hol­lande con­tacted Her­mès to come up with a gift for the Queen. “He asked us to imag­ine some­thing for the Queen in a short pe­riod of time,” says Doré. “So we made a small box in leather and in it we gath­ered all the pic­tures of the of­fi­cial visits to France by the Queen. There have been six of­fi­cial visits and we had three framed photographs from each visit in the box.” De­spite the quick turn­around, the box for the Queen is un­doubt­edly one of the eas­ier chal­lenges the Hori­zon team has faced. Doré, how­ever, says there is re­ally noth­ing he and his team can’t or won’t do – within cer­tain en­gi­neer­ing lim­its, of course.

“We don’t have a list of things that we don’t do,” he says. “When we re­ceive a project we try to eval­u­ate whether we can do it. If some­body asks me to de­sign the ex­te­rior of a plane, or cre­ate some­thing like a plane from scratch, then no, of course I can’t do it. With ev­ery re­quest we first an­a­lyse whether we can do it or not and un­til now nearly all the re­quests we have been able to find a way to do.” If that means work­ing with a man­u­fac­turer outside Her­mès to achieve it then Doré isn’t afraid to do that. When it came to the de­sign of the Pa­gani Huayra, for ex­am­ple, Doré and his team worked di­rectly with Pa­gani on the changes to the orig­i­nal de­sign of the car be­fore it went into pro­duc­tion.

“When we are talk­ing about new cars with airbags etcetera, we al­ways work di­rectly with the man­u­fac­turer be­cause we never take any risk with safety,” Doré says. “In this case it’s bet­ter to be in­volved dur­ing the

con­struc­tion of the car it­self. For the Pa­gani we worked on the ex­te­rior colour of the car as well as the in­te­rior. This is a very sporty car and we tried to put some calm and sim­plic­ity in­side. So for in­stance we re­worked the shape of the seats in or­der to be less sporty, to have some­thing a bit more classic.”

For classic cars the ap­proach is sim­pler as Her­mès is es­sen­tially just re-up­hol­ster­ing the in­te­rior. But even then there are some very unique Her­mès touches. For the As­ton Martin DB4, the seats were up­hol­stered in tan calf­skin with English green New Zealand wool­car­pet, and the Hori­zons de­sign team spent a lot of time choos­ing just the right shade. “But then we add some small but nice de­tails to the car,” says Doré. “We added a small pocket on the left side of the trunk, we cov­ered all the el­e­ments we found in the trunk – the tools, the fire ex­tin­guisher, for ex­am­ple, in leather.”

When it came to the vin­tage Bu­gatti, the new owner of the car wanted to recre­ate a large trunk for the back which was vis­i­ble in early photographs but the car no longer had. It was es­tab­lished that it had ini­tially been made by Her­mès, so the owner con­tacted the com­pany to see if it could be made again. Doré man­aged to find the orig­i­nal quote for the trunk but no de­sign sketches. Work­ing from photographs of the orig­i­nal trunk his team recre­ated it and, when WISH vis­ited the work­shop in Pantin, the trunk was there wait­ing for its owner to come and col­lect it. “It’s still here be­cause the car hasn’t fin­ished be­ing re­stored yet,” Doré says. “But this trunk is a very good ex­am­ple of the re­la­tion­ship we have with the cus­tomers. The owner of this car is a re­ally cool guy and each time he came to visit us for a work­ing ses­sion he would spend the full day with the crafts­men to see how they work, whereas a nor­mal work­ing ses­sion is one or two hours. The project is a pas­sion for him.’

When a cus­tomer wants a cus­tom or­der of a Her­mès bag – in a par­tic­u­lar colour, size or leather – they typ­i­cally make that re­quest through a sales­per­son in a Her­mès bou­tique, then the or­der is pro­duced in the work­shop above the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré store. There are about 400-500 of these spe­cial or­ders pro­duced by Her­mès each year. Or­ders for large-scale Her­mès pro­jects can hap­pen via a per­sonal re­fer­ral, or be­cause some­one saw some­thing on so­cial media – but also in sur­pris­ingly con­ven­tional ways. Ac­cord­ing to Doré the com­pany has had a re­quest for an aero­plane seat by a cus­tomer who ap­proached a sales­per­son in store about it and a re­quest for a car in­te­rior in the same way.

“Ev­ery project has a dif­fer­ent story,” says Doré. Some­times it is envy. Oc­ca­sion­ally Her­mès is com­mis­sioned to de­sign some­thing be­cause a client has seen some­one else with it. “We re­cently made a small boat for a client and we made not only the in­te­rior of the boat, but the boat it­self,” he says. “In fact we made two – a sail­ing one and a mo­tor one and they were both made here in Pantin. It’s not a speed boat, it’s a slow­mo­tion boat and the idea be­hind it from the client was that it should be a boat where you can en­joy a nice day on the wa­ter with your fam­ily.” The un­usual de­sign in­cludes a bow where the sides of the boat fold down to form an open deck to swim off. An­other cus­tomer saw the de­sign and liked it so much he com­mis­sioned a vari­a­tion with a deck that opens at the back in­stead.

If your bud­get doesn’t stretch to the whole boat, Her­mès can just do the in­te­rior, or just the steer­ing wheel. Doré and his team have pro­duced en­tire house in­te­ri­ors as well as smaller items such as a pic­nic set. There’s been a mo­tor­bike seat and hel­met, a hammock, a kite made from Her­mès silk, an even a rick­shaw – that was for the Four Sea­sons ho­tel in Ky­oto and was cre­ated from scratch. “We pro­posed a new vi­sion of the rick­shaw, a more mod­ern ver­sion of it,’ says Doré. “We made ev­ery­thing, we worked with part­ners to build the struc­ture and then it came here to do all the leather work. We feel very lucky be­cause we love what we do and we get to do a lot of crazy things. I never thought I would be asked to de­sign a rick­shaw. And with ev­ery project we al­ways bring the Her­mès val­ues of cre­ativ­ity, ex­cep­tional ma­te­ri­als and crafts­man­ship to what we do.”

As for his own dream project, Doré is un­equiv­o­cal. “To be hon­est, one of my dreams when I started was to one day do an Air­bus and we just made it. I was very ex­cited when we fin­ished it be­cause the owner in­vited me to do the first flight with him. So now I have to find a new dream.” W

“We get to do a lot of crazy things. I never thought I would be asked to de­sign a rick­shaw.”

Man­ag­ing di­rec­tor François Doré sits in a 1935 Avions Voisin C28 Aerosport with its orig­i­nal in­te­ri­ors recre­ated by Her­mès Hori­zons.

Clock­wise: a boat, rick­shaw, Pa­gani Huayra and Euro­copter worked on by Her­mès Hori­zons

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