Cultured Magazine

Fall 2015

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MUSEUM AS MUSE In a corner of the maze-like Paris headquarters of Hermès lays a cache of historic objects, which has inspired the creativity of the fabled house for almost a hundred years. BY ALEXANDRA MARSHALL 94 CULTURED Director Ménéhould de Bazelaire at Musée Emile Hermès, which celebrates the objects inspiring the house's iconic prints and equestrian designs W hile everyone at street level on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré is cueing for scarves and Birkins, on the second floor of Hermès' historic Paris flagship there is a museum. Not an archive like so many design houses have to store their past glories and mine for inspiration. Importantly, none of the thousands of items in this oak-paneled warren of rooms are made by Hermès. Nor is the museum a collection of major works of art, in the way that Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton have inserted themselves into the art world to position themselves as overall aesthetic tastemakers. If anything, the Musée Emile Hermès is both an amassing of centuries of artisanal skill and a testament to the mind of one man, Emile-Maurice Hermès, obsessed with how people lived and traveled. Before the word "curatorial" was bandied about to refer to the sort of post-post-modern style editing that we all indulge in so heavily today, Hermès was one hell of a curator. The Hermès family (and then Dumas, when the Hermès name was borne only by females) has been in charge of the company for six generations, but this one man is so especially revered due to the time of his tenure—1902 to 1951. This was the era that saw "the disappearance of the horse as a mode of transportation," says Ménéhould de Bazelaire, the soft-spoken, elegant wisp of a woman who is the director of patrimony at Hermès and the keeper of the museum today. Seeing it through required someone "avant-garde and of real imagination," she says. Without the support of his brother, who was until then an equal partner, only Hermès had the guts to rethink the role of style and lifestyle in the dawn of the photographic age, successfully transforming the brand from a maker of bits and boots for wealthy equestrians to a fashion powerhouse selling clever timepieces, silk accessories modeled on jockey uniforms, perfumes, jewelry and ladies handbags to a newly ascendant and newly visible celebrity class. "The objects in here all tell a story," says de Bazelaire, and there are a lot of them, arranged as "a kind of Ali Baba's Cave, or forest of memory of Emile-Maurice Hermès," from clothing to books and prints and paintings—and just about everything ever related to the horse, with some items dating back to 1,000 BC. Coming to the museum in 1986 off a job in the drawing department at The Louvre Museum, de Bazelaire takes care to understand the workings and inspiration behind each piece, in the process becoming the closest thing to Hermès' avatar that the company has, if he wore silver kitten heel sandals and crisp linen separates. When new employees are hired, she gives small group tours, and when creatives like Pierre Hardy (shoes and jewelry), Véronique Nichanian (menswear), or Nadège Vanshee-Cybulski (womenswear) come in for a little inspiration, or the craftspeople pop in to research a particular technique, she is their Sherpa, donning white cotton gloves to handle particularly intricate objects like the Napoleonic traveling cases called "nécessaires," which are models of both jigsaw puzzle-like spatial economy and restrained, elegant design. "So much in here has multiple purposes," de Bazelaire explains, showing off a massive 19th century leather portfolio with a quirky Orientalist motif, its extendable brass legs turning what was once just a document holder into a desk. From the clusters of walking sticks and Moroccan saddles that become prints for silk, or the once-must-have studded dog collars ("chosen by newly independent ladies" after the World War I to adorn the huge canine escorts that let them finally parade safely through the streets), which became the famous leather cuffs you see on so many well-appointed ladies and gentlemen today, it's abundantly evident that the museum as a whole "is in constant movement, and a never-ending source of inspiration." In the same spirit that guides Hermès today, nothing is simply beautiful, it is useful as well. PORTRAIT BY CAMILLA ARMBRUST

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