Hermès in Wanderland

by Maria Rossi

photography Gabriella Codastefano

3 August 2015

Spring entails wandering, deviating from the straight road to follow unexpected twists and turns. The House of Hermès riffed on this idea, dedicating an exhibition to the mythical figure of the flâneur. A classic literary character—dear to Baudelaire and Benjamin—born in Paris, a flâneur might be best defined as an urban stroller, a saunterer in the city's boulevards. It embodies, according to Pierre-Alexis Dumas—the company's artistic director—an immersing carefree attitude.

Perhaps making a subtle case for a comeback of flânerie in our lives but with their feet firmly set in the present, Bruno Gaudichon and Hubert Le Gall—curator and set-designer of this exhibition, respectively—remodeled the past into something new, with the aid of modern technology. They were let free into Émile Hermès' archive and able to chose any object they wanted. The items, along with others coming from the Hermès museum, were brought back to the present thanks to tailor-made installations curated by eight different artists. Gaudichon and Le Gall have given life to a journey part 19th century flâneur, part Nouvelle Vague cinema, and into a whimsical Parisian world of fantasy.

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An arch suggestive of classical architecture sets the boundaries between the magical world of Wanderland and reality. The Go Home door, a pathway leading to the exit of the exhibition, is in fact an illustration by Ugo Gattoni, animated by a video designed by Sigmasix.

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The unique aesthetic of illustrator Emmanuel Pierre, a regular at the house of Hermès, turns the House's codes into quirky creatures of the imagination in the Wanderland booklet.

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The French word Zieuter—title of this corner of the Hermès Wanderland world—translates as "peeking into a room." Sneaking a view through open windows into the living room of a Russian exiled princess, viewers can let their imagination roam.

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The first corner of the living room: a cape from the fall/winter 2011/12 Hermès by Christophe Lemaire collection. The precious piece rests under the gaze of a dog in a golden frame, set against the cognac toned paisley motif of the wallpaper.

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On the left side, the "Ikat" motif of a porcelain tea set from the Art de la Table collection lends a modern touch to the traditional rite of tea. On the right, the earthy-toned leather trimmings edged in rope provide closure and elegance to the Hermès collection cape.

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The opposite corner of the room houses a fireplace complete with a traditional Russian matrioshka set. Its walls are decorated by portraits belonging to Emile Hermès private collection. 

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Looking up, a final detail of the Russian princess room reveals a flamboyant chandelier made out of crystal glass from the Saint Louis collection tangled among golden little twigs.

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On the left side, the silhouettes of typical Parisian rooftops decorate this silk lantern, brightening up the pathway between the Crossroads Room and the Square That Wasn't Room. Moving right, bottles are left on a table of the Cafè Of Forgotten Objects. Like treasures rescued from the sea, they harbor delicate jewels: a "Spoutnik" pendant in white gold, yellow and rose gold, and lapislazuli and a "Rose De Mer" pendant in silver, both belonging to the 2009 jewelry collection.

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It'a dusk and a street lantern sheds a warm light on the outside seats and onto the entrance of the Café Of Forgotten Objects. Here it's not unusual to leave your tie instead of your coat at the entrance.

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A sight that many a flâneur has encountered in every corner of Paris, the wicker chairs and small tables of this bistrot are not devoid of cinematic film noir undertones suggested by the mysterious nature of the objects oubliés.

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Magic lies even in the most common things; it reveals itself with pleasing subtlety in these two beautiful installations where a common bottle on a bistrot table and a water puddle become the means of a serendipitous discovery of two video installations, both by Nicolas Tourte.

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This graceful elephant in a China shop shall do no harm as it jostles with the beautiful pieces from the Bleus d'Ailleurs porcelain tableware 2011 collection. Moving to the right, the warm earthy and vivid tones of these leather stacks' grainy textures come to life against the backdrop of a pale grey wooden wheel barrow.

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On the left, in a daydream that toys with Surrealist fodder, a dog is playing in a coral-toned "Himalaya" plaid surrounded by feathers and golden eggs; while on the right side, a bird house-cum-tissue box perched on the wall can offers shelter to a red fish.

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Above, "Les Perroquets" carré from the spring/summer 2015 collection offers solace to a metal framed glass dog house, from which metallic arms decorated with "Toucan" black and white tableware branch out. A red fish takes in the scene from in a crocodile and calf leather nichoir created by Charles Kaisin.

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Stashed in a closet, the "Haut à Courroies" bag overflowing with spray cans, acquires unexpected street credibility in this display created for the boutique windows in 2013 by Leila Menchari. On the right, towering on a pedestal and taking the spotlight, this top hat decorated with "Les Robes" print from 1980 belongs to Emile Hermès personal collection.

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In the Square That Wasn't section of the exhibition, the Alice in Wonderland dimension takes over, throwing visitors in a room where time and space don't obey the usual rules. Upside lamp posts double as watches display, and a scarf donning the "À l'Ombre des Boulevards" print serves as background. On the right, this pocket watch that belonged to Emile Hermès—dating back to the Directoire period—would make the White Rabbit fret.

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The perfect companion to the flâneur, this particular example is of the imaginary variety. Printed on wallpaper, it stems from the fantasy of Ugo Gattoni.

Hermès in Wanderland was on view at Saatchi Gallery in London through May, 2nd. The exhibition is moving to Paris in September, and later to Milan.

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