ROME – French luxury goods house Hermes has unveiled the secrets behind its design and manufacturing process through an exhibition in Rome that showcases the delicate skill of some 4,500 artisans who work daily to create a vast range of leather accessories, jewelry, watches and home furnishings.
The Parisian fashion and lifestyle brand, founded in 1837, through the “Behind the Scenes” exhibition offers Italian audiences a chance to take a peek backstage at the Hermes studio and see first-hand the full creative process of this iconic brand by watching 10 of its key artisans at work creating anything from handbags to gloves, scarves and even saddles.
Kamel Hamadou, communications manager for Hermes, told the audience at the exhibition that all artisans who worked with Hermes were trained within the “Maison” under the wing of teachers with over 30 years of experience.
Each apprentice requires three years of training in order to print onto silks, one year for printing onto cashmere and a further year for painting muslins, Hamadou added.
The venue of the exhibition, Rome’s Museum of the Ara Pacis, sees artisans work and interact with punters as well revealing curious facts of their process, such as the need to use a set of wooden pegs which they press with their thighs whilst stitching leather bags.
Porcelain painter Aude Novikoff, with extreme precision and great delicacy, hand-paints floral details onto a porcelain plate which was made in the city of Limoges, in southwest central France.
The artist tells visitors at the exhibition how she previously painted every plate, tray and jug on display.
Novikoff proceeded to show a series of 24 plates, of different sizes, featuring a drawing of a tiger in several shades of cobalt blue and indigo made with such care and precision you can make out each hair on the tiger’s coat.
The artist then held up one plate against a lamp to show how the light washed through the very fine porcelain plate giving it a translucent quality.
It takes Novikoff close to a month to finish each design with some 80 hours of work piled into each plate.
The artist uses only natural pulverized dies and mixes the pigments with turpentine oil.
Novikoff first makes an outline of her illustrations with a pencil.
Once she has created a stencil she uses a repetition technique to reproduce the designs at speed.
During her presentation, Novikoff told the audience that not all porcelain sold by Hermes was hand-painted, only the most exclusive designs.
Watchmaker, Cesare Monticelli, who works painstakingly and with great precision creating watches for the French Maison, holds up his loupe, a special magnifying glass used in the art of jewelry making and watchmaking so that punters can peer into the heart of a clock.
As the viewers take their turn to look into the screws, wheels and springs, Monticelli explains the process of how to put together and dismantle the pieces, both tasks that require high levels of concentration and patience.
One of the highlights of the exhibition is the space dedicated to printing designs onto scarves and ties.
An artist placed a long reel of silk onto a large table. The silk printer then pressed several metal stamps onto the fabric slowly building up the color onto the material.
The fabric was then pressed into a steel frame. Each frame has its own etching engraved onto gauze.
The silk printer then poured the chosen colors for each design in order to then spread them delicately with the use of rubber plaques.
Hamadou told the audience that the technique the artisan was using was known as “flat paint” or “image in Lyon,” coined when Hermes printed its first scarf in 1937 in Lyon.
Once the scarves and ties have been painted they then get washed, dried, cut and their seems stitched before being sold to customers.
Since Hermes was founded six generations of artisans and entrepreneurs have made the brand what it is today and have contributed to the dissemination of its values.
Currently, the international fashion house boasts 13,000 employees.
Hermes is today lead by Axel Dumas and its deputy director and artistic director is Pierre-Alexis Dumas.
The “Behind the Scenes” presentation runs in the Museum of the Ara Pacis until March 16.