The stories behind the Hermès bag team
TOM SCHIRMACHER / CHEST ARCHIVES
Dorothy Parker wrote lingerie legends, and Joan Didion dabbled in fashion magazine display copy, but few literary heavyweights have ever found themselves out of place to weigh in on a handbag. Colette could be the exception. In 1942, Hermès’ creations prompted him to write that “the beauty of the material calls for the perfection of the work, even if it cannot be seen. The bottom should be worthy of the top, and the inside outside.
Today, almost 80 years later, Catherine Fulconis, deputy general manager of the leather goods-saddlery and “Petit h” divisions of Hermès, demonstrates this perfection from the inside as from the outside as we speak. , showing me the inside of one of the most prized rooms in the tote house. This attention to the smallest details is part of Hermès’ pragmatic approach. “We don’t see a bag as an accessory,” says Fulconis, “but as something made to last. Among their 50+ styles, you’re probably most familiar with the Birkin and Kelly, which have certainly got the most pop-culture airtime, whether it’s Rory Gilmore receiving a Birkin birthday party or Grace Kelly modeling what will become. later his name. bag on Hitchcock’s Riviera background To catch a thief. But there is a formidable and equally beloved entourage waiting behind the scenes, from the Garden Party, a sturdy tote originally designed to carry gardeners’ tools, to the Constance, named after the designer’s daughter. “They are all different stories,” says Fulconis, “but they all breathe Hermes.”
Among the tales that she treats me to is that of the Bolide which, she says, demonstrates the capacity of the house to evolve with the times. In 1923, after the automobile had invaded the popular imagination, Émile Hermès created a tote with a curved roof, originally called the car bag– which was perfectly formed to fit in the trunk of an older model car. (“Look at him [side] profile; it’s like a statue, ”Fulconis proudly notes.) It was also one of the first bags to feature a zipper instead of a clasp. (Hermès imported the zipper design from Canada and patented it.) He created a smaller version for his wife Julie, one of the first women to take driving lessons. But while the styling may have been designed with the horseless carriage in mind, it still has an equestrian echo: its handles, which resemble flanges.
The Evelyne is more straightforwardly a reminder of Hermès’ equestrian roots, with its signature H perforation, a touch more functional than decorative. Fulconis explains that it was meant to be worn against the body, allowing a rider’s grooming equipment to dry out. As it grew in popularity outside of racing circuits, wearers wore it with the logo facing outward.
Yet another form of transportation inspired the Roll, whose nickname refers to the rolling motion of a ship. The nautical theme extends to its clasp, inspired by the house’s iconic Chaîne d’Ancre (anchor chain) bracelet. Fulconis shows the embroidery on the bag, which takes over 100 hours of painstaking work.
“There’s no recipe,” Fulconis says when I ask him what makes a Hermès bag a Hermès bag, but they all have one thing in common. “They are the result of an alchemy of elegance and purity and functionality of design.” She explains that when the brand started in 1837 as a harness maker, it eschewed ornamental pieces common at the time in favor of purity of line. “This idea is still really encoded in our creative style. As another great thinker she quotes, Le Corbusier, said, “luxury is well made, neat and clean, pure and healthy, and its nudity reveals the quality of its workmanship.”
This article appeared in the August 2021 issue of ELLE.
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