Her­mès x Ap­ple

Esquire (Singapore) - - Contents -

What makes the part­ner­ship be­tween Her­mès and Ap­ple such a unique col­lab­o­ra­tion? Nor­man Tan trav­els to the Yakushima for­est in the south of Ja­pan to find out.

The sound of trick­ling wa­ter to my left, the rhyth­mic crash­ing of waves to my right, a fresh ocean breeze ca­ress­ing my face and morn­ing sun­shine warm­ing my cheeks. I’m seated on a cir­cu­lar rat­tan mat on a cob­bled stone beach—where a fresh­wa­ter river meets the sea—on the south­ern Ja­panese is­land of Yakushima and, although I’m told by our med­i­ta­tion in­struc­tor to “fo­cus on my breath”, my mind keeps throw­ing up the same ques­tion: what on Earth am I do­ing here?

Her­mès and Ap­ple have in­vited a select group of 14 in­ter­na­tional jour­nal­ists to join Pierre-Alexis Du­mas (ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent and artis­tic di­rec­tor for Her­mès) and Jony Ive (chief de­sign of­fi­cer for Ap­ple) for a se­cret re­treat in Yakushima to cel­e­brate the re­cent launch of the Her­mès Ap­ple Watch Se­ries 4. It’s taken me 11 hours and three flights—each plane get­ting suc­ces­sively smaller—to get to this re­mote is­land from Sin­ga­pore; but some guests have trav­elled for con­sid­er­ably longer, jour­ney­ing for more than 24 hours from as far as Paris and New York.

“Be pre­sent”, I’m told. I draw my at­ten­tion back to the beach. Eyes closed, I feel the sand sieve through my fingers. The knowl­edge that my phone is to­tally out of range feels lib­er­at­ing. This, I think to my­self, is lux­ury. Her­mès hates the word, pre­fer­ring to la­bel it­self as a craft house rather than a pur­veyor of ‘lux­ury’, but right now as I fill my lungs with the damp scent of the ad­ja­cent for­est, white-knuck­ling my­self through the so­cial me­dia ban (how very counter-cul­ture), there re­ally is no bet­ter de­scrip­tor. “Just breathe”, comes the mantra. There’s an app for that.

“Why Ja­pan?” pro­poses Du­mas later that day af­ter lunch. “Be­cause it is the mid-point be­tween Paris and Cu­per­tino, the two homes of Her­mès and Ap­ple. Ja­pan is also a coun­try that blends moder­nity with his­tory, craft with in­no­va­tion and, as such, is the ideal place to cel­e­brate the part­ner­ship be­tween our two maisons to cre­ate the Her­mès Ap­ple Watch Se­ries 4.”

When Her­mès and Ap­ple first teamed up in 2015 to launch their first Ap­ple Watch, the world put down their iPhones, set aside their Birkens and took no­tice. These are two houses fa­mous for not col­lab­o­rat­ing with any­one else, and here they are work­ing to­gether. As Du­mas puts it: “Ap­ple doesn’t need Her­mès and Her­mès does not need Ap­ple, so it makes the union more unique, be­cause it’s all about mak­ing some­thing beau­ti­ful.”

On first glance, the Her­mès and Ap­ple tie-up does seem rather odd: what does a sad­dle-maker founded in 1837 have in com­mon with a tech com­pany es­tab­lished in 1976, al­most 140 years later? “I think it is rather won­der­ful that we make very dif­fer­ent prod­ucts, but they come from a sim­i­lar set of stan­dards and pre­oc­cu­pa­tions,” shares Ive. “When you look at Her­mès prod­ucts and ours, what they tes­tify to is an ex­tra­or­di­nary de­gree of care, what they de­scribe is the sin­cere pur­suit of ex­cel­lence.”

Du­mas con­curs. “Like Ap­ple we are ob­sessed with de­tail. We are equally con­certed on this idea of care: care in de­sign­ing the ob­ject in the ut­most de­tail, but also for the per­son who’s go­ing to use it. I think that is where we meet.”

Dis­tilled to its core, both com­pa­nies ex­ist to make peo­ple’s lives bet­ter. While Ap­ple does this by mas­ter­ing tech­nol­ogy—an ex­ten­sion of Steve Jobs’ orig­i­nal mis­sion state­ment for the com­pany ‘to make a con­trib­ute to the world by mak­ing tools for the mind that ad­vance hu­mankind’—Her­mès achieves this through the hands of its crafts­men; de­liv­er­ing prod­ucts that are at once, both func­tional and aes­thet­i­cally stun­ning.

“My fa­ther [the es­teemed Jean-Louis Du­mas who is cred­ited for turn­ing Her­mès into a global pow­er­house dur­ing his ten­ure

as chair­man and artis­tic di­rec­tor] al­ways said: ‘Her­mès strives to cre­ate items for com­fort and el­e­gance in your ev­ery­day life’,” shares Du­mas. “And I could add, ‘how can we give a con­tem­po­rary ex­pres­sion to an age-old tra­di­tion?’ My job at Her­mès is to see how, with what we know and what we master, we can make the or­di­nary ex­tra­or­di­nary.”

It’s a quar­ter past two on my Her­mès Ap­ple Watch and we’re hik­ing through the Yakushima for­est to meet the thou­sand-year-old cedar trees that the is­land is renowned for. With the ex­clu­sive new Her­mès user in­ter­face for Se­ries 4, a colour-blocked de­sign that sees the screen change colour with the move­ment of the minute hand, I sim­ply have to glance down at my watch to gauge the time without los­ing track of where to place my next step. Un­de­ni­ably, the time­piece is gor­geous—it comes with new tri-colour leather straps (all sad­dle-stitched, of course) to match the new dial faces. The tech­nol­ogy of Ap­ple cou­pled with the craft of Her­mès, is there a more cov­etable com­bi­na­tion?

Be­cause I’m ob­sessed with clos­ing my Ac­tiv­ity rings, I have turned on my work­out app and se­lected Out­door Walk when I started the hike. Yup, there’s an app for ev­ery­thing; al­beit, this is not the usual ‘out­door walk’ that I’m ac­cus­tomed to in my neigh­bour­hood park back home in Sin­ga­pore.

Just over half-an-hour into our walk and the des­ti­na­tion is in view. An­gel­ica Che­ung, ed­i­tor-in-chief of Vogue China, is mak­ing her way down to a river bed wear­ing white Her­mès sneak­ers; to her right, Kevin Ma, founder of Hype­beast, is tak­ing snap­shots of the sun­light break­ing through the canopy in his black Nike x A-Cold-Wall* train­ers (how did he get them pre-re­lease date?), and on a river boul­der to my right, a cel­list and singer are get­ting ready to per­form. Mu­sic in the mid­dle of the for­est? Ac­com­pa­nied by freshly brewed hot tea and lemon fi­nanciers? Talk about mak­ing the or­di­nary ex­tra­or­di­nary.

“Will this track be avail­able for down­load on iTunes af­ter the hike?” I joke to Du­mas. He lets out a smile. “The mo­ment is unique be­cause we de­cide to make it unique,” he re­sponds. “It’s so im­por­tant to feel strong emo­tions. I al­ways take my staff to a re­treat to feel strong emo­tions be­cause, as hu­mans, we need to feel sen­sa­tions. That’s how we can cre­ate. That’s how we can dream.”

As the strings re­ver­ber­ate down the river, bounc­ing off the green walls cre­ated by a gaunt­let of tow­er­ing an­cient trees, an easy calm set­tles on the eclec­tic en­sem­ble. Teacups cra­dled in hand, we rise and fall with the vis­ceral wails of the vo­cal­ist; birds cry back in re­sponse, leaves rus­tle as if sig­nalling their ap­pre­ci­a­tion and the words of Ja­panese poet Mimi Hachikai come to mind: Ears sprout on my body for the first time And I be­gin to hear the words of the for­est It was talk­ing Very slowly About life. The whole ex­pe­ri­ence is spe­cial. A pulse to the senses. I check my heart rate. A peace­ful 68bpm. There’s an app for that too.

Din­ner is held at a restau­rant by the sea. The ladies have re­placed their hik­ing gear with evening dresses, the men their jeans with suits, and Her­mès has flown in a Ja­panese chef—who now re­sides and works in Bil­bao, Spain—just for the oc­ca­sion. We’re din­ing on Her­mès Ral­lye table­ware, cut­ting up our 10-year-old Tx­uleta steaks with sil­ver Her­mès At­te­lage cut­lery, and lis­ten­ing to a flautist charm us with his sweet har­mony.

Ive is seated to my left and, in front of him, in­dus­trial de­signer Marc New­son—the man re­spon­si­ble for bring­ing to­gether Du­mas and Ive—is shar­ing a laugh with Masa­fumi Suzuki, ed­i­tor-in-chief of GQ Ja­pan. Ive may have just flown in this morn­ing, but he is not show­ing any signs of jet lag.

“I love be­ing some­where out of choice rather than obli­ga­tion,” he says. “Fly­ing all the way to Yakushima sounds weird, but that’s the def­i­ni­tion of ‘vi­sion’ isn’t it? Like our part­ner­ship with Her­mès, this col­lab­o­ra­tion is out of choice and not obli­ga­tion. One of the things that both Pierre-Alexis and I keep com­ing back to is hu­man­ity; this is what fu­els our pas­sion to cre­ate. There is a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion that things made in small vol­umes is greater in qual­ity than things made in large vol­umes. But vol­ume has noth­ing to do with it. It’s all about care. It’s all about hu­man touch.”

On the ta­ble be­hind me, Lisa Arm­strong, the ven­er­a­ble fash­ion di­rec­tor of The Daily Tele­graph, is wear­ing an Her­mès Ap­ple Watch Se­ries 4 strapped to her wrist with a dou­ble tour bracelet—the iconic leather strap fa­mously cre­ated by Martin Margiela when he de­signed for the house in the 1990s. To stop the leather from slid­ing un­der the Ap­ple Watch, and thereby al­low the sen­sors on the case­back to re­main in con­tact with the skin (in or­der to read the wearer’s bio­met­ric data), Her­mès had to work with its crafts­men to de­velop ex­tra ten­sion in the dou­ble tour strap. The so­lu­tion? Adding strate­gic thick­ness to parts of the leather—a tech­nique used by the mai­son to make the han­dles of its bags since the foun­da­tion of Her­mès.

“I like this idea that the unit of mea­sure for Her­mès, and maybe for Ap­ple as well, is a de­tail so small that the hu­man eye can­not per­ceive it, but some­how the hu­man sen­si­bil­ity can ap­pre­ci­ate it,” ex­plains Du­mas. The func­tion, and there­fore the prac­ti­cal beauty, lies in the de­tails. “I think that very of­ten it is hard to ar­tic­u­late why we like some­thing,” says Ive, “we sense be­yond what we can see; we sense the value and care.”

To ac­com­pany our dessert of honey, egg­plant and lo­cal cit­rus fruits—a con­coc­tion that sounds pre­pos­ter­ous on pa­per, but proved a de­light on the lips—the flautist has re­turned, and this time is ac­com­pa­nied by an­other per­former play­ing Ja­panese taiko drums. In­di­vid­u­ally, these in­stru­ments are a joy, but to­gether their har­monies are in­tox­i­cat­ing. Like our dessert, it is sur­pris­ing. Like our hike, it is soul-search­ing. And like the part­ner­ship be­tween Du­mas and Ive, it is thought­ful. There isn’t an app for this, but there is a tool. A tool that is not only a time­piece, but a tool that has shaped, and will con­tinue to de­fine, the way we live.

Above: Her­mès Ap­ple Watch Se­ries 4 with the new tri-colour dou­ble-tour leather band (left) and med­i­ta­tion mats by a fresh­wa­ter stream in Yakushima (right).Fac­ing page: cel­list and opera singer per­form­ing on a river bed in the midst of thou­sand-year-old cedars in the Yakushima for­est.

Right: hot herbal tea served dur­ing our hike through the Yakushima for­est (top) and the 44mm Her­mès Ap­ple Watch Se­ries 4 with the new colour-blocked leather straps to match the new Her­mès watch face (bot­tom).

A Ja­panese flautist to ac­com­pany an in­ti­mate din­ner with Pierre-Alexis Du­mas, artis­tic di­rec­tor for Her­mès, and Jony Ive, chief de­sign of­fi­cer for Ap­ple.

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