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Hermes marks 175th anniversary with Leather Forever exhibition

Andrea Divirgilio / May 2, 2012

Hermès is the world's best-regarded luxury company

They have provided nice resting places for all your essential stuff. They have accessorized women across the length and breadth of globe. Their perfumes have filled the air up at countless parties, gatherings, balls or events. Hermes, in their last 175 years of existence, it seems, have fanned out into pretty much everything that screams of elegance and style. Time now, therefore, to re-visit a glorious past- one that presents perfectionism and master craftsmanship in the most attractive package imaginable. Remembering the years which led up to the formation of Hermes as we know it today, a unique Leather Forever exhibition takes place at London this month. We had earlier told you about the four one-off Hermes bags designed to celebrate its “Leather Forever” exhibition. Besides the limited edition handbags which will be auctioned off separately through Chrisite’s, the prime focus of the exhibition, it goes without saying, will remain on Hermes’s 175 year old history and fascination with creating beautiful designer objects from leather. And, for those who, in all likelihood, would not be making it to 6 Burlington Gardens, let us offer a glimpse of how Hermes together with its leather items, has evolved through time.

When it was started:

Hermes today is a name synonymous with exquisite silk scarves, world class perfumes, enamels, decorative arts, jewelry etc. However, flipping through the pages of history, leather, it appears, has formed the very basis of Hermes. Leather is the first material tamed, crafted, mastered by the company and remains their biggest conquest till date. That leather goods- used by mankind since the beginning of civilization- will find a definition in a German craftsman’s expertise was something the world could have seldom expected. So, you see, it all started in the spring of 1837, when Thierry Hermes, a German immigrant to France, first established Hermes as a harness workshop (The company website has even gone to the extent of calling, horse as their first client!)

Thierry and his small army of artisans worked day and night to ensure that horses in chic Parisian neighborhoods were fitted out elegantly. Thierry’s workshop produced some of the finest bridles and harnesses for carriage trade. After Thierry, the responsibility of running Hermes fell directly on his son Emile, under whose aegis the shop moved to 24, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré- the current premises. Emile, together with brother Adolphe, catered to the elite of Russia, Americas, Asia and North Africa.

We have now reached the 1900s, the period when the first Hermes leather bag came about. And no, it wasn’t meant to be swung around some French mademoiselle’s arms. The Haut à Courroies bag was designed specially for riders to carry saddles with them. While Hermes leather items, in the next hundred years or so, will chart an interesting path, marked with innovation ,artistry and creativity, their main inspiration-the horse-has not been forgotten either. Hermes’s equestrian origins continue to be reflected in a variety of goods like sports clothes, crops, fly whisks, sugar boxed and more recently, the Talaris. All said and done, how exactly did the bags and leather goods evolve through time? Read on and be mesmerized!

How it was started:

Sac à dépêches or the Kelly bag was the first leather handbag introduced by the company

Throughout the twenties, the sole control of the business remained in Emile Hermes’s hands and he introduced a new Hermes accessories collection. During the following 10 years, many of the company’s most recognizable leather items were introduced. The first iconic Hermes bag was crafted in the 1930s. Released in the year 1935, the Sac à dépêches became a huge hit among the European elite. Re-christened the Kelly bag, it can probably be described as one of the most iconic Hermes leather bags ever.

Following his death in the year 1951, Emile Hermes was succeeded by son-in-law Robert Dumas Hermes. The baton, for the first time in the history of the organization, passed on to a non-Hermes. Under Dumas’s leadership, the company scaled new heights, as additional lines of handbags and jewelry was created. In later years, Hermes’s range of leather items would extend to include Python motorcycle jackets and ostrich skin jeans.

saddle stitch

Hermes’s was a business built literally on the power of a stitch, which could only be done by hand. Known as saddle stitch, it is an almost handsome stitch, which when done properly will never come loose. Armed with such superior techniques, Hermes has pumped out the choicest selection of bags in history.

Apart from Kelly bags, the Hermes collection has also earned considerable fame on account of the Birkin and Constance bags. Each item is hand crafted using exotic leathers from Florida, Malaysia, Pakistan and Australia. They have all been prepared, raised, selected and tanned for best results. Keeping such considerations in mind, let us now take a look at the two most iconic handbags by Hermes.

Iconic handbags:

The Kelly Bag:

The Kelly Bag

Arguably the most iconic in the entire Hermes handbag line is the Kelly bag. What started out as Sac à dépêches was renamed Kelly after celebrated actress Grace Kelly, when the latter posed for the shutterbugs accompanied, famously, by her leather handbag. A double saddle stitch is actually used to sew the bag. In order make the leather moisture resistant, hot wax is also applied.

The Birkin Bag:

The Birkin Bag:

Handmade in leather, the Birkin bag, is named after singer and actress jean Birkin. In 1981, Hermes Chief Executive Jean Louis Dumas, while traveling on a flight from London to Paris, happened to be seated next to Birkin. The actor then complained to Jean about the lack of proper weekend bags in the market. The man returned home from that flight only to get back to Birkin with a new bag three years later, designed exclusively for her. Today, Birkin bags cost anywhere between $9,000 and $150,000. So, what exactly about the bag does Hermes make it act so “pricey”? Well, probably the very fact that it takes around forty-eight hours to create one Birkin!

The Multi colored winged saddle:

The satyr-winged saddle bag

The winged bag is a relatively new addition to the Hermes list. The bag, in a way, pays homage to Hermes’s oldest expertise- of creating saddles. Originally made for a Japanese rock band’s album cover, the bag has inspired an entire equestrian range.

The Tongue-in-cheek apple bag:

The tongue-in-cheek apple bag

Handbags, we know, have a long history as sincere food movers. From the Louis Vuitton Noe to the Hermes apple bag- the creators of high end fashion accessories have time and again fallen back on foods for design ideas. The Hermes bag is more than just a bag to carry afternoon snack, for it also comes with a knife holder. And to keep the green leather as fresh as it can be, the bag is lined in hard metal.

Hermes bag lovers should also not miss the upcoming Vintage Hermes bags sale at Bonhams.

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