On the floors above the Her­mès flag­ship store on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré – one of the most ex­pen­sive re­tail strips in the world, based on av­er­age rent per square me­tre – is room after room of thou­sands of ob­jects. They’re not goods for sale. This is a mu­seum, but it’s no or­di­nary lux­ury brand mu­seum, ei­ther. Firstly, it is not, strictly speak­ing, open to the pub­lic. It’s also not a mu­seum about Her­mès or an ar­chive of its prod­ucts span­ning its nearly 200 years of his­tory. Rather, this is a mu­seum for Her­mès and it is un­like any other fash­ion or lux­ury brand mu­seum or ex­hi­bi­tion you’ve ever heard of.

In Florence, Gucci and Sal­va­tore Fer­rag­amo have impressive mu­se­ums that dis­play items from the com­pany’s archives and host tem­po­rary ex­hi­bi­tions in­spired by or re­lated to the brands. In Mi­lan, Gior­gio Ar­mani has built a vast space in a for­mer grain silo to dis­play his ar­chive and host ex­hi­bi­tions. Then there are the art gal­leries owned by lux­ury brands: Prada has Fon­dazione Prada in Mi­lan, de­signed by Rem Kool­haas, and Louis Vuit­ton has its own mu­seum in Paris, de­signed by Frank Gehry, which dis­plays the brand’s vast con­tem­po­rary art col­lec­tions and stage tem­po­rary ex­hi­bi­tions. Her­mès’ mu­seum, on the other hand, is nowhere near as grand or am­bi­tious.

What’s unique about this place – which doesn’t re­ally even have an of­fi­cial name – is that it es­sen­tially dis­plays the col­lec­tion of one in­di­vid­ual who, at first glance, ap­pears to have been an ob­ses­sive col­lec­tor with no clear guid­ing prin­ci­ple. On en­ter­ing the rooms that house the mu­seum the first im­pres­sion is this is just a se­ries of rooms filled to the brim with “stuff”. It’s the per­sonal col­lec­tion of Emile-Mau­rice Her­mès (18711951), grand­son of the com­pany’s founder Thierry, who ul­ti­mately rose to the po­si­tion of com­pany chair­man but started this col­lec­tion at the age of 12.

“He be­came a kind of bu­limic col­lec­tor,” says Ménéhould de Baze­laire du Chatelle, di­rec­tor of cul­tural her­itage at Her­mès, who has over­seen the col­lec­tion for 31 years. There are more than 14,000 pieces in the col­lec­tion and since start­ing with Her­mès in 1986 after a ca­reer as a teacher of an­cient Greek, Latin and French lit­er­a­ture as well as a four-year stint in the draw­ing de­part­ment of the Lou­vre, it has been du Chatelle’s un­der­tak­ing to cat­a­logue and re­search the prove­nance of each piece.

WISH was taken on a rare tour of the mu­seum with du Chatelle late last year. “The first time I came through this door I was truly amazed,” she says as she turns the key. “And I am still amazed every time since then.” The space that the col­lec­tion now oc­cu­pies was once Emile-Mau­rice’s of­fice and his desk re­mains in the same po­si­tion. Ac­cord­ing to du Chatelle this was more or less how he kept his workspace: clut­tered with all man­ner of ob­jects that he de­lighted in show­ing to peo­ple and telling their sto­ries.

“The col­lec­tion is al­most end­less and not ev­ery­thing was doc­u­mented by Emile-Mau­rice Her­mès when he bought them,” says du Chatelle. “But you can see there is an iron thread that runs through the col­lec­tion. Many things are re­lated to the horse be­cause the horse was our first cus­tomer, but it’s not only about the horse it’s about other paths of move­ment and el­e­gance and com­fort.” After al­most three hours spent in the mu­seum with du Chatelle dis­cov­er­ing a ran­dom se­lec­tion of pieces, it be­comes clear that this is a mu­seum where the main fo­cus of col­lec­tion is about qual­ity and crafts­man­ship.

One thing is clear: this col­lec­tion is not fo­cused on what Her­mès made in the past. It’s not a mu­seum for the leather­goods maker to tell its own story. “The col­lec­tion is telling more about the spirit of Her­mès through what Emile-Mau­rice Her­mès and now the sixth gen­er­a­tion of the fam­ily con­tinue to ad­mire, to re­spect and to col­lect. What we col­lect is a source of in­spi­ra­tion for us and a way for us to ques­tion the mys­tery of qual­ity and beauty and that tells us more about what we al­ready made. But at Her­mès we don’t want to re­peat what we al­ready have done, we want to go fur­ther and to go fur­ther we have this springboard from the past, from other civil­i­sa­tions and cul­tures to give us the en­ergy to go fur­ther. This is some­thing con­trary to a brand mu­seum.”

The col­lec­tion, how­ever, does have a small num­ber of Her­mès-pro­duced items which have been in­cluded be­cause of the story they tell about crafts­man­ship and in­no­va­tion. One such item is the very first hand­bag Emile-Mau­rice Her­mès de­signed in 1923 specif­i­cally be­cause it caused a mi­nor sen­sa­tion at the time of its in­tro­duc­tion as it was the first bag to use a zip­per as a clo­sure. Also in the col­lec­tion is one of the first saddles Her­mès pro­duced when the com­pany was head­quar­tered on rue des Ca­pucines. “The sad­dle was ac­quired at auc­tion five years ago be­cause we had noth­ing with the old ad­dress, we didn’t keep any­thing,” says du Chatelle. A draw­ing of a pair of horses pulling a car­riage which dates from around 1830 and hangs be­hind EmileMau­rice Her­mès’ desk was the in­spi­ra­tion for what would even­tu­ally be­come the com­pany’s logo – “although it is more a coat of arms than a logo be­cause it tells the story of the past of Her­mès and the pro­duc­tion of har­nesses for the horse”, says du Chatelle. Given the his­tory of Her­mès there are also a lot of saddles, har­nesses and bri­dles in the col­lec­tion.

As well as items from France and other Euro­pean coun­tries the col­lec­tion contains pieces from In­done­sia, China, In­dia, Africa, South Amer­ica and even Aus­tralia. Emile-Mau­rice Her­mès also amassed a vast col­lec­tion of books, one of which du Chatelle has out ready for our tour: a vol­ume of colour draw­ings made for Napoleon I about the dis­cov­ery of Aus­tralia and New Zealand and contains illustrations of flora, fauna and peo­ple.

Some other items du Chatelle has se­lected for us on the day in­clude a clock housed in a stir­rup. “It’s in­ter­est­ing be­cause it’s a re­minder that the horse was once a mea­sure­ment of time and dis­tance. You would say Paris to Bordeaux, for ex­am­ple, is three days on a horse away,” she says. There’s a small chess and backgam­mon board which dates from the early 18th cen­tury made from ivory and tor­toise­shell. “It’s a re­minder that when you travel it is im­por­tant to pass the time pleas­antly,” du Chatelle re­marks as she con­tem­plates it. A set of opera glasses from the late 18th cen­tury have a unique func­tion – they can ob­serve things side­ways as well as straight ahead. “There is also a com­pass in the case in case you have no­ticed a per­son you want to meet at in­ter­mis­sion so you can find your di­rec­tion to them. In­side there is a place for a small per­fume so you can make your­self smell nice be­fore you meet the per­son. So it’s a lit­tle story in one whim­si­cal object. It’s in­ter­est­ing for Her­mès not to copy but to re­mem­ber that an object can be much more than just an object, it can be three things in one.”

Also in the col­lec­tion are sev­eral néces­saires – trunks con­tain­ing ev­ery­thing one might need to travel in style. “A very strong part of the col­lec­tions fo­cuses on these trav­el­ling néces­saires. Of course weight wasn’t as im­por­tant when trav­el­ling at the time of Napoleon I but it was still a chal­lenge to make this kind of trunk to con­tain the most in the least amount of space,” says du

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