PARIS — It’s no exaggeration to say the windows displays at the Hermès mothership on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré are a work of art.
For starters, they are unique to the Paris location, making them more of an installation than a marketing tool. Cementing their cultural prestige, the elaborate vitrines are the subject of an exhibition set to run in the French city of Poitiers from Monday to Sept. 18.
“Le Petit Théâtre de la Démesure” (“The Little Theater of Excess”) showcases the work of Antoine Platteau, who was appointed director of window decorations for the Faubourg store in 2014. He had big shoes to fill: His predecessor, Leïla Menchari, held the post for more than three decades.
Platteau came armed with a background in fashion and movies.
A graduate of Studio Berçot in Paris, Platteau began his career as assistant to designers such as Adeline André and Kazuko Yoneda. In 1990, he switched to production design, alternating between theater and working with French cinema auteurs such as Arnaud Desplechin, Bertrand Bonello and Rebecca Zlotowski.
He started working with Hermès in 2000 on set designs for its men’s ready-to-wear shows, gradually expanding his remit to other divisions and special events. In his new role, Platteau has carte blanche to create four seasonal displays a year across 13 windows.
“The house gives me no particular instructions, except to amuse, please and delight people, even those who might not enter the store,” he said. “We have a lot of room for maneuver and I come up with a new idea each season that has nothing to do with products or advertising campaigns.”
Platteau brings a sense of spare poetry to his miniature sets. He’ll go all-white one season, then switch to twilight scenes featuring archery targets and a crocodile leather-clad chainsaw. Starting with sketches, the designer builds a full-scale model of the display that allows him to interact with the space, before it is built in feverish bursts of nighttime activity at the flagship.
Platteau taps artists such as Nigel Peake, Antoine Carbonne and Philippe Caron to help him carry out his vision, in addition to artisans such as feather-maker Marcy or the French luxury label’s in-house teams.
“We feature exceptional products that we order especially for the window — it could be saddles, hats or bags. The different divisions of the house make these items specifically for us,” he revealed. “We ask them to make products either in colors that are not available in-store, or in different materials and iterations.”
It may not make much sense commercially but then, Platteau sees his window displays more as narratives. The customers don’t seem to mind, either. “We sometimes meet people who have traveled by plane or train to come see the window displays,” he noted. “I think that’s quite unique.”
The exhibition at the Chapelle Saint-Louis in Poitiers is part of the inaugural program of Le Miroir, the city’s new cultural institution, which aims to foster dialogue between art forms. It will feature replicas of a selection of Platteau’s designs. Meanwhile, the designer is already working on next season’s concept.
“I feel like I am still discovering the range of possibilities of this showcase, so I’m still feeling my way around, but the idea is to create a sense of surprise every time and not to fall into habits, so you have to try new things. For me, each window is a fresh test,” he said.