Last week, for one week only, Hermès took up two galleries in the Saatchi Gallery showcasing the processes the designer pieces go through from screen printing to diamond setting. I went down to see it on Sunday and it was complete craziness! Masses of designer clothing clad, ‘it’ bag toting people all eagerly trying to get to the front for the demos, trying to get the best shot, listening intently to the translators and craftspeople. Here are some of my (not that great) photos of the experience…
Apart from the masses of people, the other things you first noticed were the overhead orange and grey arches, and the digitally printed carpet showing a repeat pattern of the tools used in the production processes. This level of detail bringing it back to the Hermès brand, is evident throughout the exhibition, even down to the branded tweezers, constantly emphasising the pride in the process and the name.
The first two workstations we came to were showing the art of stitching the bag from how they stitch the bag together, to finishing off the edges. We were told that the bags on display take on average 25-30 hours each to hand make.
The diamond setter was at the next station. A photograph of a cuff embellished with diamond set pyramids was on display as the craftsperson demonstrated the lengthy task of setting the 999 diamonds per pyramid (yes that’s 999 diamonds PER pyramid!). The process involves drilling the hole to set the diamond into, collecting the metal fragments which have been drilled from the hole, punching a diamond into that hole and securing it in place by pressing the recovered drilled out metal fragment back around the diamond! All of this done whilst looking through a microscope. If I’ve remembered this right*, each pyramid takes 3 days to complete, and the cuff takes 4 weeks to complete from start to end process- that is a long time!
The following tables showcased; how their watches are put together, the many processes their ceramic artist goes through to decorate the china taking into consideration the different firing temperatures of the different glazes/colours, a sewing process creating a T-shirt from different fabrics and the finishing involved, and in the next room, how they make their ties.
The most interesting workstations in the second gallery however, were the silk scarf station, and the pre-silkscreen station. Loads of people were huddled around this one lady who was displaying how she meticulously picks away at the screen printed silk scarves creating accent details where the silk feels and looks raised like velvet, but the printed pattern still visible. She went onto explain how this process is so specialised that a few years ago, only one gentleman knew how to do it. The fashion house realised they needed to train more people in the skill, but out of the 3 people that were trained, only the lady at the exhibition is still with Hermès. She now manages three trainees on top of her scarf workload! On average, it takes her 8 hours to finish the red and black scarf seen in the photos- that’s only a 5 a week supply for a global brand!
The pre-silkscreening station described how the screens for the printing process are produced. The craftsperson would be given a picture of what needed to be screenprinted- in this case, it was a Red Indian woman. She would then dissect that image, identifying how many different colours made up the picture. In the Red Indian picture, she picked out 46 different colours all of which would require their own screen, making sure that each colour aligned perfectly with the surrounding colours. That is so skilled…I know my head would be fried trying to attempt that!
From that station, the obvious next process to showcase was the screen printing. The man describing this process also gave an overview of the brand itself explaining how Hermès like to keep everything close to them, in the family, so they are always in control of the quality and the look.
Even though I come from a design and build background, and am familiar with various manufacturing processes, I was completely in awe of the lengthy, painstaking process each one of the pieces go through. Now I understand the hefty price tag that comes with every item- you’re not buying a machine manufactured, mass produced item of disposable fashion, you’re buying a fashion houses skill, patience, attention to detail, and pride. I was so impressed by this exhibition. Also, what a clever location for the showcase- it would be interesting to see if the Hermès store on Sloane Street has had a sudden increase in sales!
*As far as I’m aware, all these facts are correct but are remembered from memory so there may be some errors. Please let me know if so, and I will amend the post. Thanks!