PARIS — Hermes chairman Jean-Louis Dumas wants us to be nicer to our appendages, so he’s proclaimed 2002 “The Year of the Hand.” As Dumas says, “The hand is a little fairy under our eyes.”

With his intellectual-eccentric-high brow demeanor, and the slightest twinkle behind eyeglasses perched midway between the bridge and tip of his nose, Dumas can get away with such bon mots in the course of normal dialog. He can also wax on and on about our carpal friends while keeping the conversation totally engaging. About how infants learn by staring at their hands for hours on end. About the ancient Egyptians offering gifts of fruits to the gods. About what hands communicate, through sign language, cupped together in an offering, extended in greeting. “You cannot say hello like this,” he says, clenching hard into a dramatic double fist.

“We are what we are because of our hands,” Dumas proclaims. “It’s time to pay homage, not only to the hand that works, but the hand that touches, the hand that links us to the consumer. The item goes from the hand of the craftsman to the hand of the user.”

At a party during the couture shows to launch the hand motif, Dumas took the microphone to recount a story about workers lovingly caressing Birkin bags in the workshop. “The hand is the rival of the mind,” he declared. He then invited his 400 guests to enjoy a meal together, one they will eat with their hands — after they help whip it up. Trays laden with cutting boards, knives, dishes, vegetables and condiments are lowered in front of the guests who chopped, ground, grated and giggled. They made soup, salad dressing and a dip for the main course, sea bass tied to a bone and eaten like a lollipop.

Still, all culinary work and no play do not a party make. That’s where the jugglers and acrobats came in, along with an unseen hand-shadow genius. Then there was a nifty percussion performance, as three young men seated at tables slapped, pounded, scratched and taped out a tune by composer Thierry De Mey. Finally, guests hit the dance floor to a salsa beat, any inhibitions shattered by the party favors du nuit — white gloves which glow playfully under black lights.

“In Delhi years ago, I saw a sign in a museum,” Dumas recalled from his stairwell perch. “‘Man is the only animal who creates implements.’ We can take advantage of an implement if we can grasp it. We can save a life. Conduct a band. Write a masterpiece.” Or make a Kelly bag.

All of which, of course, plays to one of the great hallmarks of the house of Hermes, tradition. “When a man wants to marry a woman,” Dumas says, “it’s tradition for him to ask for her hand. Now, that’s not all he wants, but it’s part.”