A Sto­ry­teller’s Tale

Char­maine Ho trav­els to Lyon, France, to dis­cover the magic that’s wo­ven into Her­mès’ beloved silk scarves

Harper's Bazaar (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

It has been tied around the necks of nu­mer­ous celebri­ties and twirled around count­less Birkin straps. But what springs to my mind when the words “Her­mès Carré” are ut­tered is a charm­ing story told by a taxi driver when I was in Geneva one cold and wet Jan­uary night. He re­called the half-francs his two young chil­dren had squir­relled away just to buy their mother an Her­mès silk scarf for her birthday. “Were their sav­ings enough for the scarf?” I asked, try­ing to imag­ine the num­ber of half-francs it would take to meet the scarf ’s price tag. “Of course not!” came the re­ply. “I had to pay for 95 per­cent of it. But the joy on her face when she opened the present was worth the money.”

Ear­lier this June, I find my­self think­ing about the story once again as we make our way from the air­port to Her­mès’ silk work­shop, lo­cated a 20-minute car ride away from Lyon, the silk cap­i­tal of France. How­ever, it isn’t un­til I’ve en­tered the hal­lowed halls of Hold­ing Tex­tiles Her­mès (HTH; the place where much of the magic takes place) that I re­alise the role that it has to play in the leg­end that sur­rounds the Her­mès Carré. We are, af­ter all, talk­ing about a square piece of fab­ric that has man­aged to dis­tin­guish it­self as an ob­ject of ut­most lux­ury and de­sire, in a mar­ket filled with a sea of silk scarves. How else could it have at­tained the rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing a beloved sar­to­rial trea­sure— one that re­port­edly sees world­wide sales ev­ery 20 sec­onds— ex­cept through sto­ries like these?

Sto­ry­telling is a big part of what makes an Her­mès scarf so spe­cial; it’s wo­ven into its very fab­ric, re­in­forced with vi­brant,

flat-screen printed de­signs. And with about 10 new creations be­ing launched each sea­son—each telling a tale that’s as unique as the per­son­al­i­ties that breathed life into them; and sub­jects that range from the ab­stract to zool­ogy, fan­tas­ti­cal to re­al­ist—that’s an an­thol­ogy of about 2,000 sto­ries that have been told since the Carré was first in­tro­duced in 1937.

As I soon find out from Kamel Ha­madou (who has worked with Her mès for the past 31 years and has set aside his com­mu­ni­ca­tions cap to play HTH guide for the day), even the mak­ing of its silk is a tale of love and ro­mance: The cou­pling of each pair of Bom­byx Mori silk moths re­sults in 300 eggs and, con­se­quently, co­coons. From each co­coon comes a sin­gle, un­bro­ken 1,500m-long silk strand. Mul­ti­ply that by 300 and you have 450,000m of silk—which is just the amount needed for a 90cm Carré.Thus, you could say that each scarf was cre­ated out of love from a pair of silk moths on one fate­ful night in Brazil, where Her­mès gets its silk. “It’s a nice story, yes?” Ha­madou asks with laugh. I ad­mit that it is, but not any more won­der­ful than the story of col­lab­o­ra­tion that aer­ates each scarf.

Her­mès re­lies on a global team of ap­prox­i­mately 50 in­de­pen­dent, free­lance de­sign­ers (in­clud­ing, fa­mously, Ker­mit Oliver, a 76-year-old post­man from Waco,Texas) to dream up its prints. Once a de­sign has been cho­sen for pro­duc­tion, it gets scanned into a com­puter where an artist out­lines the de­sign on a screen.This is then sent to the colour depart­ment, where 15 dif­fer­ent colour­ways are con­jured up (out of which, eight to 10 will make it to the stores), us­ing colours that it has spe­cially mixed or ones taken from its li­brary.At each step of the way are peo­ple who have im­parted their artis­tic vi­sion and ex­per­tise to the fi­nal re­sult, weav­ing a lit­tle bit of their tal­ent into the scarf ’s four cor­ners. Yet, for all the won­der­ful nar­ra­tives that the silk evokes, it is the un­par­al­leled and tan­gi­ble qual­ity im­me­di­ately felt that truly sets the Her­mès Carré apart. From the re­as­sur­ing weight of its silk (only the high­est grade of silk, 6A, is used for its strength and thick­ness), to the six-month en­grav­ing process that sees ev­ery dot and dash of its de­sign be­ing metic­u­lously trans­posed from pa­per to silk, to its hand-rolled French hems of 15mm (no more, no less) and 90-de­gree cor­ners, ev­ery step is car­ried out with the ut­most care and de­vo­tion, re­sult­ing in a labour of love that takes two years in the mak­ing. Now that’s an un­for­get­table tale that lasts a life­time. ■

Clock­wise from top: Af­ter it has been steamed for colour fast­ness and wash, a pro­tec­tive layer is placed on the scarves for soft­ness and shine. Colour pig­ments are mixed with veg­etable gum at HTH’s Ate­liers A.S. A screen print­ing frame bear­ing Her­mès’ logo. Pani La Shar Pawnee 90cm scarf in silk twill. Uni­formly-sized silk­worm co­coons en­sure the same length of thread. Man­u­fac­ture de Boucle­ries Dé­tail 90cm scarf in silk twill. Her­mès has a li­brary of colours that it’s cre­ated for the scarves

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