I’ve fallen in love. Not with another human—but with a luxury brand. If I gathered all my extra loot, scrilla, ducats and cheddar, I still cannot afford anything in the Hermès of Paris lineup. Alas, I am not in their high-end customer demographic. But, it costs me nothing to crush hard on them. Why the zeal? Well, because they make most of their wares … by hand. Swoonsie! Despite their luxury pedigree, the 186-year-old company’s origin story is rooted in the utilitarian and the bespoke. They started in 1837 making paraphernalia, saddles and such, for equestrians.
In a world where so much is mass-produced crap, and one where I romanticize the return of Main Street aesthetics and values, a company with thousands of artisans dedicated to making high-quality products largely by hand—through time-tested craftsmanship and meant to last several lifetimes—is like a makers’ Shangri-La.
I love the fundamentals of Hermès—not only do they make by hand, they also support the handmade ecosystem in France with training in traditional craft and through partnerships like the one they have with Nest, a nonprofit that delivers supportive programs in artisan communities globally, including through their Makers United program, which has a local chapter called Makers United Chicago. I am a proud participant in their programs and a member of their makers guild that offers free, needle-moving resources to the handmade community here.
Before I go too far down the road on this backdrop, I should drop it here why I’m suddenly wanting to boo up Hermès. They are relaunching their Chicago location on Oak Street in downtown on Mon., Oct. 30. They also launched “Hermès in the Making in Chicago, Illinois,” a pop-up exhibition showcasing their hand-making processes in leatherwork, silk engraving, hand painting, gemstone setting, and more, happening through Wednesday, Nov. 1, at Union Station—in the newly re-opened Clinton Street Great Hall entrance that had been shuttered for some 40 years. An aside: that train station is just sublime—an architectural gem. It’s a perfect spot for Hermès to showcase some of its many metiers, or craft areas, and some of the artisans who people their 54 production sites in France.
I was there Oct. 27 with a contingent of other makers who are involved in *Makers United Chicago, which launched here last year with a cohort of 12 of us. You can read about that on my previous blog. I was giddy to be invited to a panel discussion “A Conversation on Creativity and the Craft of Culture,” moderated by Rebecca van Bergen, Nest founder and executive director (whom I got to meet); Guillame De Seynes, VP of Hermès’ manufacturing division and equity investments; Hermès leather artisan Sèbastien Fraisse; and rock star artist/artisan Nick Cave. (A later panel discussion, which I did not attend, was “A Conversation on Contemporary Relevance of Craftsmanship Practice.”)
CAPTION: Panelists discuss creativity (from left) Rebecca van Bergen (Nest founder and executive director), Guillame De Seynes (an Hermès VP), Hermès artisan Sèbastien Fraisse and artist Nick Cave.
I also met Master Chef, artisan and artist educator Tommy Walton, with whom I hope to do a bit of collaborating later (more on that as it materializes).
So, now you can appreciate why Hermès has me making eyes at its artisan cheek. Their approach to business intrigues me to the hilt, not because of the luxury and exclusivity but because of the level and history of craftsmanship and insistence on standing apart by doing it all THEIR handmade way, despite the robotic times.
[*NOTE: By the way, if you’re a maker/artisan/artist be sure to check out Nest and consider joining their makers guild to take advantage of their many resources. It’s free!]
CAPTION: (TOP) Makers United Chicago members (left) Hirmie Ahmad of HIRMIE and Jean Williams with Je Tuan Barron (center), who shared a presentation with us on how Hermès creatively uses colors in its lineup of handmade products. (BOTTOM) Makers United Chicago member Alexz Sandoval of Bird Trouble (seated) participates in a stitching demonstration and workshop.