Leather Forever by Hermes FREE
6 Burlington Gardens, until the 27th May, off Piccadilly, walk thru the Burlington Arcade and turn right. First floor past the white leather Rhino.
This would be a 5 star exhibition if only one could see the exhibits.
Hermes has let loose some Arty-Farty designer who is a vampire.
It is so dark you can’t see the handbags, some have flickering lights running over them, and some shine brightly, seductively in glass cases, and as you walk towards them, the light fades. What idiot designed this? The Luggage room, the Saddle room and the Special Orders room are light enough, but the handbags, what we addicts of useable art REALLY, REALLY want to see, are in darkness. And who got so clever as not to write what it was we were seeing on a little card by the item, and make us carry big white cards with numbered explanations, which in darkness cannot be read anyway!
This is a fine example of an exhibition being too clever for its own good. Not letting the exhibits ‘speak’ for themselves, nothing speaks to BagAddicts more eloquently than Hermes items, is a unforgivable sin. Please shoot the lighting designer.
The flowthru of the rooms is interesting, many got stuck in the first 2 rooms.
The first room is touchy feely fix for all addicts, it is the leather room. You are allowed, indeed encouraged, to touch, handle, fondle, feel all the types and weights of leather used in the production of the bags of Hermes. Many people walked around this twice, 2 Japanese girls in front of me could not move beyond the exotic lizard and crocodile skins.
How to make a Kelly Bag: This staging area, relatively light and additionally spot lit, was Mecca for BagAddictsAnonymous. An Artisan from the company, a Frenchwoman, Nadja, who has been a bag maker for 9 years with company, following a year of technical training and 11 months of in house company internship, with close to 1000 Kelly bags of all kinds, and sizes under her belt, speaking reasonable English and Spanish and having great patience with those of us who wanted to try our French on her, showed us with great good humour how to hand stitch, how to edge finish the leather, and answered the same questions again and again. This makeup free lady of indeterminate years with calloused fingers is the true star of the show. I, and a few others, could have spent all day in her knowledgeable company. Two ladies with Kellys, (la vrai chose!) stopped to talk to her, and let us addicts gaze in envy at their small pale Kellys, the soft leather, reversed style.
The Kelly was named after Grace Kelly, but was already a design popular since 1930 with its origins in steamer bags. (Check out the slide thru grommets and keyed buckles) The original carry-on luggage. It is machine cut but entirely hand stitched, pieced, glued, and finished by one artisan. This process, true hand craft of the highest order takes 22 hours. Nadja can make 2 bags a week. I would dearly love to know what she gets paid. Nadja now lives in Madrid where she is the Hermes artisan responsible for the repair and cleaning, the most required service, of Hermes bags in Iberia. These bags do not wear out. Bags in perfect condition, 40 years old, are presented for cleaning, occasionally a handle is replaced. The most difficult thing to replace are the studs on the base of the bag. Nadja has a technique that saves 1000 Euros of repair. A new Kelly can cost up to £10,000 depending on the size and type of leather, exotic leathers being the most expensive, and most difficult to work with. There are some 26 variations on the Kelly bag on display in one of the dark rooms. The Birkin, Kelly’s larger sister, is well represented in leather and in canvas-and-leather versions, but in today’s big bag era, it looks small.
The exhibition leads on to bags, notebooks and briefcases from Hermes own Historical collection, some dating back to 1823, some used in house for 50 years, some by French artists and diplomats, a notecase made in leather buried in the seabed for 200 years. Bags were not what Hermes, a saddler, made originally. It was horse gear, and a whole brightly lit room is devoted to this noble and still demanding customer. High Tech saddles, whips, boots, nosebags and all things horsy. You can have a Hermes box for your horse’s sugar, if you really want.
The Fashion Bags are hidden in dark rooms inside occasionally lit cabinets. This is not antique clothing in the V and A that needs to be preserved by dim lights. This is leather, that is ever improved by handling and light and use. I really hate this lighting designer for depriving me of a good look up close and personal at my favourite things. Lindy bags, rarely seen in London, La Plume and the Bolide, which I know as the goose egg bag, are all there, closed, in such darkness that you can’t even see what colour they are! This section is truly disappointing. Please, open the bags, turn up the lights.
A section on the clever and effective fastenings used in Hermes equipment, not only bags, but luggage and horse gear, is ill-lit with flickering lights that fade if you stand too close. To be able to handle and operate some of these would have been a tactile pleasure equal to the leather room.
There is a brightly lit Desert room. This is vintage travel evocation par excellence. New bags and intuitive luggage in soft leather, coats, right-brain designed shoe boxes, nowhere is the ingenuity of Hermes designers more on show than here. Be careful with your Big White Card, there is no glass protecting the exhibits, only mosquito netting, the corner of the stiff card caught and tore a hole in the netting, sorry! But it was not the first.
Shuffle thru the sand and enjoy!
By far the most interesting, and just a little bit creepy, is the Special Orders Workshop. A wheelbarrow for your gloves, a saddle with wings, doll’s mittens and intricate jewellery boxes. Entered thru a curtain of leather cordings, you just might be in some house of fetish. No fetish wear on display. Want to bet that Special Orders makes some? Mmmmm......
A few harsh words about the catalogue: It is beset by ‘false friends’ those linguistic enemies of English and French. A Diary in French is obviously not a Diary in English. It has illogical missing words and words that only exist in dictionaries: Antonomasia! What? (hint: Hoover is an Antonomasia.) inte-grating? pasionaria? Lots of minor mistakes, read it with a faux French accent for a good laugh.
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