Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Hermes Tells a Playful Tale of Leather

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Hermes Tells a Playful Tale of Leather

Article excerpt

The exhibition "Hermes Leather Forever" at the Royal Academy of Art's sister space, 6 Burlington Gardens, communicates a serious history in a whimsical way.

When the Duke of Windsor went shopping in Paris for a gift for Wallis Simpson, the vendeuse suggested a pair of leather gloves.

"My wife already has a wheelbarrow of gloves!" replied the former King of England. So the Duchess received just that: a leather garden cart with decorative drawers to store her accessories in their French country home.

In its whimsy, its imagination and its detailed workmanship, this charming object from 1947 could only be Hermes.

Every invention by Hermes, the French leather goods company, seems to have a story attached. There is the legendary "Birkin" bag, created after the actress and singer Jane Birkin dropped her belongings in a mess on a plane from Paris to London in 1983. After her fellow passenger Jean-Louis Dumas, then the chief executive of Hermes, had helped her to pick everything up, he designed a de- clutter Birkin handbag.

Then there is the rustic glamour of a "Kelly" wicker picnic bag, named for Princess Grace of Monaco but recreated in nomad spirit of Hermes, which represents a subtle kind of luxe.

"People talk a lot about luxury, but it is important to show what Hermes is about -- that our culture is of quality and excellence with noble materials," said Pierre-Alexis Dumas, the company's artistic director, as he opened "Leather Forever," an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art's sister space, 6 Burlington Gardens, which celebrates 175 years of Hermes.

"Leather Forever" showcases some updated examples of playful glamour. Four one-of-a-kind versions of the "Passe-Guide" bag are devoted to the British Isles. They feature red plaid and a kilt pin for Scotland; emerald green crocodile skin with a dangling shamrock for Ireland; a winged Welsh dragon; and a guardsman's bearskin hat as a frisky fur tail for England.

You cannot buy the bags, shown behind red curtains in a miniature theater. …

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