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WWDStyle issue 04/06/2011

Hermès is going home.

This story first appeared in the April 6, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The storied French luxury house makes its debut at the Salone Internazionale del Mobile this year, showcasing its first comprehensive home collection. Hermès will introduce a contemporary furniture line, created by its artistic director, Pierre-Alexis Dumas, in collaboration with top international designers including Enzo Mari, Antonio Citterio, Denis Montel and Eric Benqué.

The pieces will be available starting this fall in select Hermès stores around the world. The company will also introduce a collection of home fabrics, wallpaper and carpets through a joint venture with Italian textile producer Dedar, available in May.

Hélène Dubrule, managing director Hermès Maison, discusses the brand’s latest product extension.

WWD: Why is Hermès expanding in home?
Hélène Dubrule:
Hermès has always had a “homey” spirit. This is, of course, because it is a family-run house but also because it has always had a close relationship with the home métier. Since the Twenties and Thirties, Hermès’ “suggestion brochures” proposed objects that complemented our clients’ lifestyles at home: decorative objects, office tools, throws and covers, even lamps and furniture.

In the past 30 years, Hermès has actively developed tableware collections with a unique style as well as “art de vivre” collections. In 1987, the Pippa furniture collection, created by Rena Dumas, expressed the ideas of nomadism and travel that are dear to Hermès. Now our ambition is to offer a complete universe for the home. We already offer a wide range of objects for the home, but we needed to add more structure to our vision. And what gives living space in a home structure is the furniture, above all else. We think Hermès can offer a unique type of furniture, based on its craftsman’s spirit.

First, we wanted to return to the source of our savoir faire in furniture. That’s why we reissued the collection that Hermès produced with Jean-Michel Frank in the Thirties. And now Pierre-Alexis Dumas, our artistic director, wants to produce a contemporary interpretation of Hermès furniture.

We are also applying our savoir faire to a range of carpets, furnishing fabrics and wallpaper. The idea is that once you have given the space structure, you then need to dress the walls and the floors.

WWD: What kind of a space are architects Shigeru Ban and Jean de Gastines creating for the presentation? What were the guidelines from Hermès, if any?
We wanted to present our world of the home in a surprising and spectacular nomadic house. Pierre-Alexis’ desire was to contrast our collections and the écrin (jewelry case), which will house them. We wanted to make an architectural statement, but at the same time we didn’t want this statement to compete with the collections.

So the concept of a light, nomadic structure emerged — a sort of caravan that could land in Milan and then fly off to another city. It had to be easily assembled and disassembled. It had to convey the impression of a home with different living spaces.

Shigeru Ban is the architect of lightness and of ephemeral structures. He and his partner, Jean de Gastines, used very simple materials — cardboard tubes and paper, which can look very cheap — but assembled them in such a way as to give the impression of high craftsmanship.

WWD: How would you describe the brand’s new furniture? What was behind your decision to single out and work with Enzo Mari and Antonio Citterio, and how do they work for Hermès?
An Hermès object is always about functionality, comfort and timeless elegance — from harnesses and saddles in 1837 to handbags and furniture today. You can see the same respect for beautiful materials worked by hand, for attention to detail, for the link between tradition and modernity, and for a relationship with time.

Enzo Mari has had a special relationship with Hermès ever since he was the first president of the jury for the Emile Hermès design prize. His work is driven by the idea of the “essence” of a project, the search for the purest lines and the best materials.…Extreme simplicity with the noblest materials is hard to achieve, but the result is profoundly “Hermès.” He designed a simple yet strong desk, a chair with a secret storage compartment and an imposing table in marble.

With Antonio Citterio, we had long discussions about tradition in furniture. He loves the elegance of Jean-Michel Frank’s collections, and the idea of pieces of furniture designed for a specific use, but he was also inspired by the idea of travel that Rena Dumas had brought to the Pippa collection. His living room furniture establishes the link between Hermès’ tradition and its contemporary vision.

Certain pieces also caught his eye when he visited our conservatoire (archives), such as a saddle support, which gave him the idea for an arm for his armchair and lounge chair. His objects tell stories about Hermès. This collection is also a tribute to the interplay among noble materials, whether they be leather, wood, metal or fabrics.

WWD: How has your relationship with Denis Montel evolved for this home line?
Denis Montel is the artistic director of RDAI (Rena Dumas Architecture Intérieure). Denis worked with Rena Dumas for 10 years as an architect and designer before taking over as head of the agency. RDAI has designed interior architecture for all Hermès boutiques. We are used to calling our flagships our “maisons.” RDAI has also designed a lot of objects for Hermès, both tableware and furniture, like Pippa. So when we wanted to launch a chair to embody Hermès’ core values as a saddle maker, we decided with Pierre-Alexis to consult Denis, who collaborates with the French designer Eric Benqué.

The brief was very precise: We wanted a transversal chair that could be used anywhere in the house with any piece of furniture. We wanted it to be simple, with upholstery, either in leather or canvas, that could be removed easily for cleaning. The result is a chair that is quintessentially Hermès. At the start, they drew something very simple, but then they really studied the comfort of the chair and the relationship between the seat and the body, just as you do with a saddle. I think this chair might well be our signature object.

WWD: What is Dedar’s strength and how will it enhance Hermès products? Is Hermès furniture also made in Italy?
We knew Hermès could bring something unique to (home fabrics and wallpapers), due to our rich heritage of illustrations printed on silk scarves and accessories and our sense for textile quality for more than 75 years.

We also know that it is a difficult market, in which you have to be an expert in logistics, service and distribution, so we looked for a partner with whom we could really develop this side of things.

(We first met) with the Fabrizio family, with whom we share the same values of quality and sense of family business. We appreciated their modern approach and expertise. We created a joint venture in which Hermès keeps creation and image control while Dedar brings its expertise in technical development, logistics and distribution.

The majority of our furniture is made in Italy. We choose the very best local savoir faire, and that is why we chose to produce in Italy. We worked with our supplier to make sure that their standards of quality matched our own. Our supplier and our leather research and development artisans pooled their expertise.

WWD: What’s the distribution plan for the collection?
Our Jean-Michel Frank furniture collections are already displayed in France in our two stores. at Faubourg Saint-Honoré and Rue de Sèvres. and will soon be launched in several Hermès stores around the world, starting in the U.S., then Asia and Europe. The contemporary furniture collections will be available starting in October in those stores. Within two years, around 40 Hermès stores will carry the complete world of “la Maison.”

Our furnishing fabrics and wallpapers will also be distributed in a specialized network of retailers and showrooms.

The price reflects the quality; at Hermès we are used to saying that our products are “costly.” But they are made by true craftsmen, and they last a very long time.

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