Shortly before I went home for the holidays I received the January schedule for the American Women’s Group, whose tours I go on regularly and always enjoy. One event particularly excited me- a tour of the Hermes workshops in their gorgeous store on Faubourg- St. Honore, which is smack dab in my neighborhood. The tour was limited to 10 lucky people, and for once I didn’t procrastinate and managed to get on the list. Woo-hoo! I got lucky, and now you can get lucky, too!
The Hermes store always has incredible windows, and before this tour, they are as close as I got to the inside of the store. I learned that the windows have been done by the same artist, Leila Menchari,since 1977, and actually are more like museum exhibits than store windows. Many things in the windows are not even actually for sale. The displays are kept for about three months, and then put into a storage facility, from which they may be retrieved and recycled into future windows. Here is an article with many pictures of her amazing Hermes windows.
The street level Hermes is the retail store, brimming with gorgeous things and gorgeous people. We spent most of our time on the upper two floors, in the workshops for the special orders. Yes, apparently there are plenty of people for whom the ordinary, “off the shelf” Hermes is just not special enough. Those people can bring in their own designs or design ideas, and even their own materials. The designs have to be approved by someone at Hermes, and then the customer works with one artisan who is responsible for making the item, by hand, from start to finish. Each artisan has an album with photos of all of the special items he has made. We were able to look through one, and it was fascinating. The first photo was of what appeared to be a small, round shoulder bag that looked like an apple. Actually, it was an apple carrier for a woman who took an apple with her every day. The inside was lined with metal, and the top held a small tool that peeled and sliced the apple. Other interesting items were a baby bottle holder, a case for an elephant gun (really?), a stand for a Rolls-Royce hood emblem ( so it could be displayed on a desk), a large suitcase made to hold nothing but shoes, a tennis bag, a purse made from a needlepoint canvas, and a dog carrier. Doesn’t your dog deserve Hermes?? I would love to have taken pictures of some of the more outrageous creations in his album, but we were not allowed to take photos of any special orders.
Special orders take at least six months, including the time it takes to receive approval for the design. Every Hermes bag and saddle is made entirely by hand, be it special order or just “standard”. Each item is then marked (unobtrusively, of course) with the date, the place, and the artisan. We were able to watch the artisans work for a short time, and I was totally charmed by how traditional it all felt. Some of the tools looked as though they could have been used for centuries.
pattern pieces for a much sought-after "Birkin" bag
crocodile skins supplied by a customer for a special order
After a fascinating hour or so on the floor where bags were made, we went upstairs to the saddle workshop. I didn’t know that the first product Hermes made , way back in 1837, was horse harnesses. In 1879 they expanded to include saddles. Although I know nothing about horses or horsie equipment, even I could appreciate the beauty of these saddles. The saddle guy demonstrated the entire process of saddle making for us.
They even make these tiny decorative saddlesl
OK- this is really cool. They have these large books in which they have logged every single saddle they have made since 1909. Actually, it may be only the special order saddles they have made, but whatever. It’s all entered in longhand, with a diagram. He said that recently someone brought in a saddle made in 1920 and they were able to find it in the log and make a record of any repairs made to the saddle. I love it!
Hermes man at work
At the end of our tour we were taken down to the store, where we got mini-lessons on shoes and scarves. I confess that by that time I was getting kind of tired. At one point I tuned out our lovely tour guide and watched a young American woman who was down the counter from us, trying on scarf after scarf. The Hermes woman pulled out each scarf, folded it expertly, handed it to said young American, and she turned around to the mirror and tied it around her neck. Then she returned each one to Hermes Woman, who refolded it and put it back in the case before pulling out the next one. I wonder how many she tried on? I feel certain she bought one (or more), but I didn’t have time to wait around for the culmination of the exchange.
You may have noticed that I have not made any mention of price. That’s because there was no information given about price of any of the special orders we looked at. Even the scarves in the retail case didn’t have prices on them. I assume it’s the old adage , “if you have to ask…..”.
Today I walked back down to the store to take some pictures of the inside of the retail area, because I wanted you to see how gorgeous it is, but alas, as one so often hears in France, “eet ees eempossible”. I guess you will just have to make a visit there for yourself. However, as I had walked all the way there on a cold, grey day, I hung around and looked more closely at the things on display, and the people buying them. Only one person was buying a bag at the time I was there. An Asian man was having a gorgeous purse boxed up, and from his appearance, it very well may have been for his own use. Interestingly, many of the bags had signs saying that they were for display only and not for sale. Huh? My favorite bag that our tour guide showed us was the “Lindy” bag. I found this picture on the internet. When she showed us the one off the wall (which was a to- die- for light pink color) , someone in our group finally was bold enough to ask how much a bag like that would be, and the answer was “between 3 and 5 thousand euro”.
I don’t know about you, but I am not accustomed to being given a range of $2700 when I ask how much a bag costs. TJ Maxx always has just one price right there on the tag, and that’s the price you pay. (I saw a Lindy bag on Ebay in crocodile listed for $35,000 dollars. Quick- go bid before someone else snatches that one right up!) I suppose if I were to buy a Lindy bag, the ever-chic Hermes salesperson would give me endless options on leather grade, color, etc., and that’s what makes the price so variable. It would take me longer to buy that bag than it took the woman at the scarf counter to pick out a scarf, and then I would have to wait several months for it. During that time I might even recover my senses and wonder what the heck I was thinking buying a bag that cost that much. Maybe. Or maybe I would consider it the perfect thing to always remind me of my magical time in Paris. Whew. I think I need some fresh air. I’ve been sniffing too much leather.
I know this has been a long post, but I hope you enjoyed your tour of the Hermes workshops. I know I did.