“Will I put myself on the plane to Paris, if there is an opportunity to visit the Hermès Museum?”
I have spent over two decades in my career learning about and experiencing brands. I have sat in for countless broadcast and print media interviews with brand CEOs and Creative Directors, worked alongside photographers and editors backstage and for collection re-sees, and trained at several different ateliers during my fashion tenure. And yet, the rush and adrenaline never get old. Each time the lights dim before the show starts. The awe I feel listening to the Creative Directors speak of their inspirations for their creations. The respect I have for the artisans and craftsmen as they go about their craft when I visit the workshops and ateliers.
So yes, I would love to visit the much talked about secret Hermès Museum, and the office of Mr Emile Hermès, who had in 48 years, navigated the legacy brand through roads less travelled to define the path for generations to come.
I should qualify that my non-sponsored, personal visit to the museum was in the capacity of a client who appreciates the brand the way I know it and everything it stands for. I muse, in this post, about my impressions and the experience.
My planned itinerary for the two days in Paris:
Day 1: Arrive in Paris in the morning. Do anything, or nothing, until dinner with friends at Arpège.
Day 2: Have an easy morning, perhaps a nice walk at the Tuileries Garden until it was time to visit the Museum at 11am. Afternoon schedule to be free and easy again, until dinner time.
Day 3: Depart Paris.
How my two days eventually panned out:
As planned, with a lovely finish at Arpège.
I arrived at 23 Rue Boissy d’Anglas, 20 minutes ahead of my visit appointment, as advised.
The very first workshop established by Emile’s grand father, Thierry Hermès, was in the ninth arrondissement. In 1880, Emile’s father Charles moved the atelier to 24 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore (in the eighth arrondissement) where it stands to this day.
Hermès expanded its Faubourg Saint-Honore premises in 1978 and a direct adjoining access to Emile’s office (and Museum) on the third floor of the Hermès store (at 24 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore) was created.
After a warm welcome and reception by my guide of the day, we made our way up to the third floor.
The door opened to a small room of antiquities (saddles, bridles, boots, stirrups, whips, swords, miniature bags), carefully displayed in ornate glass cabinets. By the side of one of the glass cabinets, stood a mannequin in a vintage lady’s riding habit, an ensemble of a tailored jacket, shirt, and full skirt constructed for ease of mobility and riding.
“This is not a museum of Hermès creations… This is a museum of the Hermès family’s collection. Items that have inspired the family through time and travels.”
“The horse remains of key importance to the House, and Hermès designers come to visit for inspiration time to time.”
We then made our way through a corridor, into Emile’s expansive office, home to his extensive collections.
Beautiful art pieces adorned the walls of his office, but I was particularly drawn by a exquisite art creation, an 18th century paper roll artwork of a two-horse drawn carriage.
With the end of the Napoleonic empire, Emile acquired more special pieces that referenced the French patrimony: grooming chests Napoleone bestowed on army generals, picnic chests with heating warmers, chests made with concealed locking mechanisms to serve as safes. Click here or the image to see more of this grooming chest.
And there was this special caleche for children – designed to be harnessed to a goat instead of a pony – for rides in the parks and gardens.
Another treasure, is the horse tricycle of the son of the emperor Napoleon III. Emile’s love for horses was clear, and his message to his descendants distinct. The horse, is the brand’s first customer.
Emile’s collections do not just tell the stories of time, culture, and his aspirations. They formed the basis of the inspirations of the many icons that we have come to love from the House, for example:
- The horse is the genesis of the House. The many equestrian books and travel paraphernalia collected and treasured by Emile have been re-imagined as horse motifs on silks, home and jewellery.
- Emile started his collection with his first walking stick that he bought with his pocket money when he was 12. He discovered, in his first cane, a lady’s parasol concealed within… isn’t that such a romantic proposition? Years on, his unique and fascinating cane collection comprised walking sticks for every occasion, with secret compartments for vanity grooming kits, perfume bottles, even a candle for night strolls.
- Emile did not resist evolution, and adapted to the transition from horse carriages to automobiles. He created the first bolide bag in 1923 for a friend who was passionate about automobiles. Because the French referred to fast cars as “bolides” then, the bag in context was christened as such.
- A studded dog collar from 1949 inspired designer Jean-Paul Gaultier to create the standout cuff bracelet, Collier De Chien.
- A nondescript artwork: Le Duc Attelé, groom à l’attente, by Alfred de Dreux (1810-1860) which hangs above the fireplace adjacent to Emile’s desk, speaks volumes. Emile loved this drawing so much that he chose it as a bookplate (a book label, also known as ex-libris in latin, is a decorative label pasted on the inside front cover of a book for purpose of ownership identification) in 1923. Emile’s bookplate had the simplified form of the duc – a small city carriage – and groom, over his initials EMH. Each side also featured a caduceus (the symbol of Greek god Hermes and his Roman counterpart Mercury), symbolizing peace and commerce. Emile’s book plate inspired artist Hugo Grygkar to design the popular Ex-Libris silk in 1946.
In 1945, the Company officially initiated the formal registration and application of the Hermès brand mark, a combination of the symbolic profile of the groom and two horses, and the brand name.
The visit to the Museum culminated in a walk in the Hermès rooftop garden. Our guide shared that a visit to the exclusive garden is not always possible, as Axel Dumas (current CEO of Hermès) overlooks the garden, and no visitors are permitted during the times that he is in office or in meetings in his office.
I would love to see the apple trees in season sometime – there were no apples during the time of my visit.
“You will have to come back,” offered my guide.
and so I shall.
Author’s note: I have since revisited the rooftop garden last summer, and here are some of my treasured snaps of the apple (and pear) trees in season.
I would like to thank everyone who made my visit to the Museum a memorable one. Respectfully, I had not taken any pictures during my first visit, and as such would like to extend image credits to: Hermès, La Montre Hermès, Shini Park, Rich Stapleton, Martin Faltejsek, Munster, Thibault Breton & Guy Lucas de Peslouan, Quentin Bertoux, and Travel Life magazine, with appreciation.