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A Furniture Collection That Perfectly Balances Utilitarian Ergonomics and The Luxurious

By Renée Batchelor

The new Équilibre d’Hermès collection consists of a table, chair, and an armchair that exudes a lightness and simplicity. The trio was adapted from an original 1997 design by celebrated designer Jasper Morrison.
 
The new Équilibre d’Hermès collection consists of a table, chair, and an armchair that exudes a lightness and simplicity. The trio was adapted from an original 1997 design by celebrated designer Jasper Morrison.

The universe of Hermès extends beyond the silk scarves and flawlessly-constructed leather goods and bags which the house is known for to include exquisite collections for the home. Sleek, contemporary and beautifully-made, to own a piece of Hermès furniture or homeware is to appreciate its unique place in design and luxury. Along with furniture, Hermès also offers lighting, tableware, textiles, fabrics, wallpaper and objects to enliven and invigorate the space at home. 

In keeping with the ethos of artistic director Pierre-Alexis Dumas, the goal is not about offering a wide breadth of products, but instead those that have a specific function. To that end, the French house has appointed Charlotte Macaux Perelman and Alexis Fabry for the task of overseeing this important arm of the Hermès universe. Both Macaux Perelman and Fabry joined the house in November 2014 as deputy artistic directors and oversee the creative design for the Hermès Maison collections. 

Each of them brings their own creative expertise. Macaux Perelman is an architect and designer who started her career at Philippe Starck and went on to launch her own architecture company Studio CMP, with offices in New York and Paris. Fabry meanwhile specialises in Latin-American photography, and is the co-founder of publishing house Toluca Editions. Having this unique position — existing both within and outside the company — has given them a certain perspective. “The challenge consists of keeping oneself in a state that combines concentration and extreme availability — sharp focus and aimless strolling. Having one foot outside of Hermès helps us to do that we think,” says Macaux Perelman and Fabry. 

Behind the scenes at the Hermès workshops where the Équilibre d’Hermès collection was crafted to perfection. Morrison spent a lot of time on the ergonomics of the chair to ensure a functional chair that served its purpose.
Behind the scenes at the Hermès workshops where the Équilibre d’Hermès collection was crafted to perfection. Morrison spent a lot of time on the ergonomics of the chair to ensure a functional chair that served its purpose.

Both Macaux Perelman and Fabry know that as artistic directors there was a need to respect house traditions and capture the sense of timelessness that it lends to all of its clothing, accessories and collections, while creating a fresh signature for the brand. “What is important for us is achieving harmony in our collections, and in the collection as a whole. Being close to our heritage and being in tune with the times. This means striking the right balance between the past, the present and the future,” says Macaux Perelman. “Our interest is in making objects that are of their time, but which are also freed from the mannerisms of this time,” says Fabry. 

At the same time, the impeccable quality and craftsmanship of the maison has to be respected and maintained. “We are also very committed to creating objects that last. Thus, we try to select the best materials and make the objects in the best way to reflect our conviction and Hermès’ craftsmanship. We spend a lot of energy on materials, emphasising their importance and making them appear as natural as possible. Hermès Maison is constantly searching for quality, a quest of joyous rigour, with a great attention to detail,” says Macaux Perelman. 

For the latest collection, the duo wanted to focus specifically on furniture — with pieces including a table, a chair and an armchair, designed by celebrated product and furniture designer Jasper Morrison, as well as a coffee table by Normal Studio. The chair was originally created by Morrison in 1997 for a convent, but this time it comes with a table and an armchair,  with lines that are both softened by the addition of leather as well as rounded inwards. The coffee table meanwhile combines the maison’s bridle leather with oak, while offering up a gently hollowed-out top and contoured edges. “The aspiration [was] combining strength, solid wood, powerfulness, robustness and lightness. The purity of a clear and tense design underlined here and there by a sheet of leather such as in, for example, the Hippodrome d’Hermès coffee table. This year, we have put usage, the user and ergonomics at the centre,” says Macaux Perelman.

The making of the Équilibre d’Hermès pieces at the hands of the expert craftsmen of the house.
The making of the Équilibre d’Hermès pieces at the hands of the expert craftsmen of the house.

While Fabry has worked with the designer Jasper Morrison in another context — Morrison has contributed to titles under his publishing house — it is the first time the latter is working with Hermès. “Since we arrived at Hermès, we have been wanting to work with Jasper Morrison. We had just been waiting for the right opportunity to do so. His modesty is something we like and his relationship to materials and objects that seems self-evident, yet requires a lot of thought [in his design],” says Fabry.

Another similarity was Morrison’s approach to design, which is based on almost utilitarian principles, without sacrificing the details.  “For the  Équilibre d’Hermès collection, Jasper spent a lot of time on the ergonomics of the chair. He sat, he got up, looking at the curve, the inclination of the back… we wanted a very functional chair and that is the genius of Jasper’s work because behind the purism there [are] a lot of ergonomics,” says Fabry. “It is necessary to take into account the new user, to add comfort to the seat, to adjust, to mould, to enhance. At Hermès we are very attached to the use that is being made of our objects and furniture,” says Macaux Perelman.

For both Macaux Perelman and Fabry, the idea of the existing design had to be modified based on a single criteria, the change of user. “Jasper sat on the chair countless times, on its successive versions, confirming that it was comfortable, balanced, that one’s belt was not cramped by the back, that the polished wood had the necessary softness… the planes are slightly inclined, the angles rounded, without any loss of the initial élan, the lovely simplicity,” says Fabry. At the same time the chair needed to exalt the quality of wood, a material that is both beautiful in its simplicity and complex in its individual grains. “[We had to] make the necessary modifications to make a chair that is both comfortable and resistant to the wear and tear of time ... which has all the characteristics of a Hermès chair. It has a lot of curves, counter curves and right angles. Finally, it is complex — drawn but fluid at the same time,” says Macaux Perelman. 

“It has a lot of curves, counter curves and right angles,” says Charlotte Macaux Perelman. Morrison says, “The chairs and the table are quite complicated structures and need to be made with precision and exceptional craftsmanship.”
“It has a lot of curves, counter curves and right angles,” says Charlotte Macaux Perelman. Morrison says, “The chairs and the table are quite complicated structures and need to be made with precision and exceptional craftsmanship.”

For Morrison himself, the process started with improving the structure, proportion and ergonomics of his initial design. “Then we designed an armchair to complement the dining chair and finally a dining chair which makes use of some of the elements and details of the chairs. The chairs and table are quite complicated structures and need to be made with precision and exceptional craftsmanship. There has been a lengthy development process of adjusting details and jointing of the wooden elements to bring about a durable, comfortable and pleasing result,” says Morrison. He also took inspiration from the maison’s archives. “Seeing Hermès’s archives was also amazing. And from that I really got the sense of craftsmanship and quality,” he says. 

Morrison also enjoyed various parts of the process including working with highly-skilled craftsmen who lent their expertise to this collection. “The workshop involved in producing the chairs is a highly-specialised one with a lot of know-how in wooden furniture manufacturing techniques, so it was very interesting to see their proposals for constructing the various pieces for Hermès,” says Morrison. Designing with the DNA of the house in mind is also important to Morrison and a challenge that he seems to relish. “I enjoy designing things in my own way but I also consider the character of the company I’m designing for. I find it very inspiring to work towards an object that will seem to be a good example of my work but also fit comfortably within the collection of the company,” says Morrison.

Alexis Fabry and Charlotte Macaux Perelman, the deputy artistic directors in charge of the Hermès home universe.
Alexis Fabry and Charlotte Macaux Perelman, the deputy artistic directors in charge of the Hermès home universe.

For Macaux Perelman and Fabry, this particular collection as a whole is one that cut directly to the core of what they were trying to express as artistic directors. “This collection is also fairly ‘curt’ or ‘sharp’, we would say, because of its form of simplicity and pureness. There is a great virtuosity from the point of view of know-how, thanks to the many hours of work, for instance with the Cordélie rugs, but which may not be immediately noticeable — there is some virtuosity which does not appear as such,” says Macaux Perelman. Echoing the sentiment of simplicity is Morrison who says, “I found that objects reduced to their essential expression were more effective contributors and appeared to sit more naturally in their surroundings, making for more pleasing surroundings than those that expressed too much,” he says. 

For Morrison one of the challenges of his design and practice are the sometimes unseen qualities of good design that are no less important. “Good objects are the result of paying attention to various qualities, one of which is the visual one but there are many more which are equally important, such as the atmospheric quality, the functional quality, the quality of longevity, material quality and production quality,” he says.

The designer Jasper Morrison whom the duo wanted to work with upon joining Hermès.
The designer Jasper Morrison whom the duo wanted to work with upon joining Hermès.

Working with Morrison and other design studios like Normal Studio is also a considered process for the maison. “We like to collaborate with designers whose language is close to that of Hermès’, that have a certain idea of righteousness and discretion. Their quality of drawing is essential. When we are working with a new designer, we are interested in understanding how they comprehend Hermès and the point where we can meet,” both the designers say. For instance, what we like about Normal Studio is their understanding of know-how, of materials, of constraint in general, which they always approach with modesty and intelligence... and their interest in everyday use,” says Macaux Perelman and Fabry.

In the end, every designer is working towards a common goal, that of providing the client with a sense of home. “Home is a subjective concept, we all have our own instinctive understanding of what it should be, but there are grounds for consensus which allow a designer to work for a commonly understood goal of what ‘home’ might consist of,” says Morrison.