Visiting Hermes at Work: A Maker's Perfect Day Off!
The Hermès at Work exhibit was an amazing opportunity to interact with the craftspeople that create Hermès’ world-renowned luxury goods. Lucky to have a Friday off, I headed downtown to Jack Poole Plaza to check it out, and I’m so glad I did. As a sewer, quilter, and knitter, I have at least a rudimentary understanding of what goes into a hand-crafted product, but this exhibit opened my eyes to a whole new level of workmanship, quality, patience and pride in a job well done.
When Thierry Hermès started his company in 1837, he was making hand-crafted bridles for horse-drawn carriages. It was thus fitting that part of the exhibit displayed how luxury saddles are crafted.
Hermès is also well known for high quality screen-printed silk scarves. The exhibit included demonstrations of the “flat frame” technique. The photos above from left to right show shelves of the high quality dyes and the flat frame with an example of an intensely coloured scarf. There was also a demonstration of how the hems of these scarves are hand-rolled. A hem allowance that looked to be about ¾” is meticulously rolled (like making cinnamon rolls) and then invisibly stitched with no knots. The ends of the silk thread are carefully hidden inside the rolled fabric. The process of hemming each scarf requires approximately 45 minutes. I’ll have to start practicing! I was encouraged that the seamstress demonstrating the technique was left-handed like me!
I was unfamiliar with the fact that Hermès produces porcelain, but I was so impressed to see that all of the artwork that graces the porcelain is applied by hand! The exhibit showed various stages of the products which may require six to seven firings to complete the images.
The highlight of the exhibit for me was seeing the woman creating an iconic “Kelly” bag. She explained that this is the most difficult handbag to produce, so this is the one that they use to train new craftspeople. She was completely trained by Hermès, to such a degree that she said if she ever wanted to leave Hermès, she would have to start training from scratch because the skills and techniques she has developed are so specific to the Hermès brand. I asked how long the work day is for her given that the job seems very taxing on the hands. I was surprised when she said she worked a full eight hour day. She explained that in recent years, efforts have been made to make the tools and the environment much more ergonomic. She also told us that physio-therapy and massage therapy are available to counteract the physical strain of the craft on their bodies.
Unfortunately, as you’re reading this, the exhibit is over. It ran from Sept. 21st through Sept. 25th 2016. If you ever get a chance to see the techniques and materials used to create luxury goods, I would highly recommend it. It will give you a better appreciation for why these items are so highly prized.