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No matter how many Birkin bags and silk scarves Hermès sells the world over, the house never forgets its first customer — the horse. Further reinforcing this historic bond, Hermès USA came to Wellington, Fla., during the Winter Equestrian Festival to partner with the United States Equestrian Federation Inc. as the title sponsor of the United States Show Jumping Team. USEF fosters amateur equestrian sports competition recognized by the U.S. Olympic Committee and serves as the sport’s national governing body.
As if on cue, horses neighed in the night air when Robert Chavez, president and chief executive officer of Hermès USA, made the style-meets-sport announcement in a state-of-the-art stable at the Grand Prix Village connected to the festival’s show grounds.
More than a fete cohosted by USEF president Chrystine Tauber, the visit also served a practical purpose in fitting U.S. team riders Beezie Madden, Brianne Goutal, Laura Kraut and McLain Ward with their uniforms. After partially premiering at the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup in late February, the full uniforms officially make their debut at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France, in August.
“In just the brief feedback I’ve heard so far, the team liked what they saw,” said Chavez, of the quasi-capsule collection in patriotic colors emblazoned with the American crest, as well as USEF and Hermès Sellier’s joint circular logo. “It’s certainly one of the more prominent joint logos we’ve done.”
Beneath flickering lanterns in a grand foyer linking horse stalls whose equine occupants greeted guests such as new parents Georgina Bloomberg and Ramiro Quintana, a group of uniform prototypes was on display. Hermès U.S. team riders, as well as Hermès equestrian partner riders Nick Dello Joio and newly appointed Lillie Keenan, studied red pinque coats equally for elegance and technical components from lightweight construction to stretch ability.
The U.S. team also has its pick of custom polos and outerwear, which are still being fine-tuned with Gore-Tex fabrics, down linings and other high-tech features.
Fitted show coats come in a jacket length in red for jumping and a blue shadbelly for dressage. They are contrasted with white competition shirts, ties and breeches. Their details also are being worked out.
Ménéhould de Bazelaire, director of cultural heritage and curator of the Emile Hermès Museum in Paris, gave an overview of Hermès’ 177-year equestrian heritage amid a makeshift gallery of pieces with an important link to the U.S. Its scope went beyond saddles and trunks to include personal artifacts like an American visa for a trip to buy supplies for the French army during World War I.
“Hermès was fascinated by American innovation and licensed the zipper to pioneer it in Europe in the 1920s,” said de Bazelaire, adding a large saddle bag from the 19th century on display had great success in the U.S., prior to it inspiring the Kelly bag. “Americans were constantly on the move and needed lighter luggage than trunks to carry their saddles.”
American show jumping champion Bill Steinkraus dreamed of owning a Hermès saddle since the Thirties. A few decades later, his wish was granted and then some with the Hermès Steinkraus saddle. Tauber’s colleague’s circa-Sixties saddle on view caught her attention.
“It shows how far back our relationship goes with Hermès,” she said.