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Secrets of the ‘Hermès carré’ to be explored at CMA

By KATHY O’NEIL

Once in a while, Clevelanders get a unique opportunity to view the world of global fashion from a front row seat. Hermès of Paris has had an unrivalled impact on international chic. Available in Ohio only at Cuffs in Chagrin Falls, Hermès will be showcasing “The Secrets of the Hermès Carré” at the Cleveland Museum of Art next month. As a preview to welcoming Pierre-Alexis Dumas, Hermès’ artistic director, to Cleveland, let’s explore a bit why the Hermès scarf is so collectible and the epitome of the luxury accessory.

Hermès was founded in 1837 as a saddle and harness workshop. As the world evolved away from horse transportation, Emile-Maurice Hermès, the son of the founder, realized that saddle-stitched luggage and travel goods were the new accoutrements for the international traveler and automobile owner. As a passionate collector of equine collectibles, he amassed an immense collection of horse-related items from paintings, toys, objet d’art and printed material which became the basis for a museum collection behind the Hermès flagship store on the Fauberg St. Honore in Paris. This treasure trove was the original archive for Hermès scarf designs and the company’s logo.  Scarves have been a staple in Japanese, Greek, Roman and military clothing for millennia.

Originally they were not a fashion item, but a clothing necessity. By 1937, form still dictated function; but celebrity, couture, and the creative energy between two world wars created a window where the punch of color from a scarf meant joie de vivre and glamorous isouciance. It was then the Hermès carré was born.

The first scarf was created from a woodblock drawing by Robert Dumas. Today 2,000 different scarf designs are archived in Paris. Twenty new scarves are released each year. From its beginning, each scarf has had a story behind it. Since 1987, the carré has been based on a general theme, selected each year, which determines the design motifs. Each scarf has a unique designer.

Initially scarf design was based on special events, horse-related equipment or family memorabilia. Now, more than 50 worldwide, ever-changing freelance designers create their magic inspired by everything from botany, contemporary art, history, food, astronomy, and even dreams! After a design has been selected for production, the designer is paid a fee, but also earns a royalty on the number of his or her designs sold. The design is then the property of Hermès.

What makes a Hermès carré so special … and so expensive?  They are manufactured in Lyon, France by up to 750 collaborating artisans. The decision process on a single scarf design can take up to 18 months, and it can take many hundreds of hours just to create the engraving plate on which the scarf is made.

Developed in 1948, the Lyonnaise screen took silk screening to amazing precision by developing a process which gives extraordinary graphic definition and rich color application … up to 27 different colors per scarf!  Each scarf is hand rolled and stitched — a process so painstaking, only seven scarves can be finished each day by a seamstress. Each scarf is designed by an artist, selected by Hermès family members, and then put into production; it will take a year from the beginning concept to when you swipe your credit card to buy the scarf.

Modern technology may speed up the printing process a bit, but the Hermès level of excellence and pride in craftsmanship is, and always will be, the trademark of the scarf you purchase.

Pierre-Alexis Dumas, a sixth-generation member of the family, has opened the vista of scarf design. His more contemporary visual memory incorporates the traditional scarf’s square motif with an even more creative use of color, subtle harmony, and a modern pattern and palette; this gives the prospective collector a wide selection of choices and moods.

Traditional or contemporary in design, each Hermès carré is a work of art. From Oct. 30 to Nov. 3, come see two scarf designs being made in the Ames Atrium of our Cleveland Museum of Art.  This is an artistic and fashion opportunity that is not to be missed.

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One Response to Secrets of the ‘Hermès carré’ to be explored at CMA

  • Cuffs in Currents News |
    November 17, 2014

    […] Once in a while, Clevelanders get a unique opportunity to view the world of global fashion from a front row seat. Hermès of Paris has had an unrivalled impact on international chic. Available in Ohio only at Cuffs in Chagrin Falls, Hermès will be showcasing “The Secrets of the Hermès Carré” at the Cleveland Museum of Art next month. As a preview to welcoming Pierre-Alexis Dumas, Hermès’ artistic director, to Cleveland, let’s explore a bit why the Hermès scarf is so collectible and the epitome of the luxury accessory. Read More Here. […]

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