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From a Horse Saddle to a Goat Carriage, an Exhibition of Hermès’ Archival Objects

By Kames Narayanan

Inside the exhibition space located at Hérmes’s boutique at Liat Towers open this month, from 11 to 19.
Inside the exhibition space located at Hérmes’s boutique at Liat Towers open this month, from 11 to 19.

With a history that dates back to almost 200 years ago, French luxury maison Hermès counts amongst the oldest of heritage houses in the fashion realm. While Hermès today has risen to the upper echelon of the luxury fashion industry with its repertoire of iconic Birkin bags and a prestigious line-up of ready-to-wear, the brand recalls its humble beginnings in saddlery. 

The impeccable craftsmanship that the house is now synonymous with has evolved from its age-old leather-making traditions. Its heritage has come to be an integral part of the brand, revisited every so often even in its contemporary collections. 

As an ode to its legacy, the French maison hosts a cycle of touring exhibitions titled Hermès Heritage, the latest instalment of which coined “In Motion” will open its doors this month in Singapore. A sequel to its two prior exhibitions, “Harness the Roots” and “Rouges Hermès”, the third instalment delves deep into the house’s archives. As its name suggests, the latest episode is an open dialogue on the notions of mobility and transport expounded through archival objects from the Émile Hermès collection named after the son of the founder, Thierry Hermès, the Hermès Conservatoire of Creations, alongside its modern creations. 

Here, we further explore the conception of the exhibit in a conversation with its curator Bruno Gaudichon, who has also worked on the previous editions of the exhibition. 

HermèsFrom left: The original Hermès Haut à Courroies bag and an Hermès horse saddle.
From left: The original Hermès Haut à Courroies bag and an Hermès horse saddle.

KAMES NARAYANAN: “In Motion” is the third instalment of the series of Hermès Heritage exhibitions. Take me through the inspirations you had in mind when you were curating the exhibition.

BRUNO GAUDICHON: Through the “In Motion” exhibition, the subject of movement is used as a guiding narrative thread. It is not an exhibition that evokes nostalgia but rather new horizons. We worked with a lot of objects that stimulate the imagination or that were modern in their time. In the different modules of Hermès Heritage, there are reoccurring themes, but for example “Harnessing the Roots” stems from fundamental elements of the house, whereas for “Rouges Hermès” it is not exactly the same process as it focuses on a specific detail. Choosing the objects for “Harnessing the Roots” was more difficult because we were overwhelmed with choice. For “In Motion”, we had to choose objects that allowed us to get the message across in a clear way.

KN: With a house like Hermès, naturally, the archive that follows is an extensive one. How did you go about curating the vast amount of information into an exhibition without overwhelming visitors?

BG: The Hermès Heritage exhibitions reflect the house’s spirit; the singularity of the creative process. The main thread throughout the exhibition needs to be understandable, and the objects must resonate with us through their exceptional or unique characteristics. As a result, the role of the scenographer, Laurence Fontaine, is fundamental. In each space, we highlight an object, which is related to the theme. Objects must be arranged with consideration to ensure a coherent and understandable link regardless of their time period. 

KN: Take me through the process of curating a series of exhibitions. When you curated the first of the series, did you already know what you had in mind for the parts that were to follow or do you work on them in isolation?

BG: The themes are chosen by Hermès’s Artistic Director Pierre-Alexis Dumas and linked to the core values of the house.  The idea of fairly unassuming modules that explore a question or theme in more depth is not as simple as it seems, often taking a year and a half of planning. We worked in collaboration with the scenographer and the technical teams to set up all the elements. Thankfully the Hermès museum’s curator is open to sharing the Emile Hermès collection, but I admit it is difficult to stay within the limit of objects designated by the volume of the exhibition. We look out for objects, which could be placed in other modules of the exhibition and that we wish to keep for future topics.

HermèsAbove, an old-world Hermès goat carriage, and behind it is a Le Flâneur d'Hermès bicycle.
Above, an old-world Hermès goat carriage, and behind it is a Le Flâneur d'Hermès bicycle.

KN: What are you hoping for visitors to take away from the exhibition?

BG: It is about the house’s roots, its contemporaneity, and their interaction. Through this exhibition we explore how Hermès is linked to the saddle- making métier and how technicality is an object of desire for today’s client. 

In the scenography, the matter of movement is marked by this trajectory, which goes through the exhibition. You see the contrast between the “sociable” horse-drawn vehicle (voiture hippomobile in French), at the heart of the house’s activity in the 19th century, and Le Flâneur d’Hermès, the ideal urban bike of the 21st century. This evokes the question of the future of our planet and the emergence of environmentally friendly ways of commuting. 

This topic is also well illustrated by the story of Jeu des Omnibus et des Dames Blanches. This board game, born from the inauguration of the omnibus line that linked Madeleine to Bastille at the end of the 19th century, was the inspiration for the first Hermès carré. It is very symbolic because it represents Hermès’s first métiers (trades): the worlds of saddlery and of automobile cars. At the end of the exhibition journey, one discovers how artist Gianpaolo Pagni has revisited this design in a very contemporary way.

KN: If you could sum up the exhibition in a sentence, how would you describe it?

BG: When Pierre-Alexis Dumas picked the theme, the matter of movement seemed obvious to us and it could well have been the first module of the Hermès Heritage series of exhibitions. It is one of the faces of Hermès, which is defining in the contemporary world: exploring the past and how it can inform our evolution into the future. The main goal is that the visitor takes pleasure in the exhibition and that one understands the uniqueness of the theme and of the house of Hermès. 

The “Hermès Heritage — In Motion” exhibition is open to public from 11 to 19 May at Hermès Liat Towers, 541 Orchard Road.