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Little hands for a big brand

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Hermes brings its craftsmen and women to Bangkok to demonstrate the making of its silk scarves and other top quality products

Next time you are in a luxury shopping mall, drop into the Hermes store and closely examine one of the scarves for which the brand is famous. As incredible as it might sound, more than two years work will have gone into making that single piece from the sketch to the very last stitch.
    Little wonder then that Hermes’ colourist expert Kamel Homadau opens our interview by saying, “You think Hermes is a luxury house? No. It’s a quality house.
     “Let me show you,” continues Homadau, who is in charge of the secret savoir-faire of the silk printing and the colour pots of Hermes’ famous carre, as the scarf is known.
    The remarkable work of Homadau and his artisan colleagues is on show at the “Festival des Metiers” at Siam Paragon Hall of Fame from today through Monday.
    The festival offers a chance to meet the artisans and watch as they demonstrate seven different Hermes crafts. Working just as they would in the Hermes workshops in France, these craftspeople will be making a wide selection of Hermes objects by hand. Translators are on hand to help anyone who wants to ask questions.
    This engaging public exhibition provides a fascinating insight into the traditions and values of Hermes in the crafting of such fine objects as silk scarves, handbags, saddles, jewellery, watches and neckties.
    The highlight is, of course, the Hermes’ carre, which is made in formats of 90 x 90 cm and 70 x 70 cm.
    “Hermes people respect the time. We respect the time for the moth to shed its larvae, the time it takes for these to become a silkworm, eat mulberry leaves, create a cocoon, and produce the silk thread for us to weave. Our silk is special as it comes from our farm in Brazil, where we monitor every step to get the purest silk. One cocoon produces approximately 1,500 metres. To weave one Hermes scarf we’ll use 300 cocoons, which equals 45,000 metres. The problem is that finding the beginning of the thread is very difficult,” Homadau laughs.
    “Then we respect the time for our designer to design the silk scarf according to each year’s theme. This process takes six months. It takes another six months for our silk engraver to interpret the nuances of the design and translate them into combinations of colours, which will determine the number of films necessary. When Hermes’ silk scarf first appeared in 1937, it has 13 colours. Today, our most complex design, the wakoni, has 46 colours, which means 46 films corresponding to the same number of silk-screenings. The engraving of this scarf alone takes 2,000 hours. Normally the average for one scarf is 27 colours.”
    Nadine Rabilloud, an engraver who has been with the company for more than 38 years, says she loves separating the artistic design into many films as it has different colours. “I’ll trace each colour, one by one from darker hues to lighter ones, on a transparent film placed on the mock-up of the design, using Indian ink and a quill for the fine outlines, and gouache and a brush for the blocks of colour. It is time consuming but I really enjoy it. Personally, I like the complex designs. It is like an adventure to find out what’s in the design – the trees, the animals – as well as to guess what objects the artist paints and what it made from so that I can choose the colour in the same direction, such as the colour of leather or metal.
    “The human portrait is probably the most difficult one due to the expression and emotion of the face but I am very proud of it.”
    And Rabilloud and her colleagues are certainly kept busy. The brand has 20 new designs each year around the one theme, divided into 10 designs each for the spring-summer and autumn-winter collections.  
    The silk printing starts with the “finesse”, or outline pattern, and is then filled in via the colour screens or “rentures”, from the smallest to the largest areas, from dark to light tones. The printing is completed by the “liste”, the border of the square, where the rolling of the hem will be done. The stitching is called “French hemming” and measures precisely 15 millimetres.
    Colourists create the exclusive colours in cooking pots, mixers, and precision scales. “I have my own pots to cook the mixtures of pigments and vegetable gums. We currently have a chart of around 75,000 hues that gives the exact proportion of pigments and binder, and translates the nuance into a formula for artistic direction.
    “We prepare some 100 for one season. Then we invite store managers from around the world to place orders. Only then do we begin the production of the silk scarf. That means we never have any stock. Once that scarf is sold, then it is no more,” he adds.  
    Over at the leather goods station. Alexandre Lay demonstrates how he crafts the famous Birkin bag. The preparation begins with the choice of all the different elements – leather and lining, double lining and metal parts. His basic tools comprise a toothed grid, good awl and single thread.
    He begins by cutting an arm’s length of linen thread, four to eight times the length to be sewn and coats it with beeswax. Then he takes two needles, passing each one three times through the thread at one end, before securing the thread in its eyes. Assembling a bag, which is known as retournage, involves turning the bags inside out to set them straight.
    The leather worker proceeds with gloves, tongs and an umbrella pincer, plus a big size-five hammer. This process has to be fast since hesitation could seriously damage the skin. One last touch from the stream iron, and now the bag is foursquare, nice, and smooth.
    The saddle station is also a fascinating place to spend time. Master sellier Jerome Giboire says each saddle is hand-made for a specific horse. Saddles are hand-sewn using saddle stitch, which entails a single piece of thread with a needle at either end. The two needles are passed through both pieces of leather. The resulting seam is exceptionally sturdy and will not come apart even if the thread accidentally snaps in one spot.
    “There is also a standard saddle that can always be modified to suit both horse and rider. Normally, to create one saddle needs about three craftsmen. However, if the customer wants it custom-made, then the saddle will be assembled by one craftsman,” he explains.
    Luc Hennard, regional managing director for Hermes South Asia and Middle East, says that the brand hosts the Festival des Metiers four times a year as it feels it is important for customers to understand the Hermes way of production. “And the best way of doing that is by looking at the craftsmen,” he says.
    The exhibition arrived in Bangkok after stops in Sydney and Chengdu at the end of last year and is scheduled to travel to Sao Paulo in May.


Published : February 26, 2015

By : Kupluthai Pungkanon The Natio