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Iconic: The Hermès Scarf

This square, silk scarf has been an icon of French elegance since 1937. Long associated with chic style, it can be worn in a multitude of different ways. Tied in a knot as a neck scarf, as a head band, on a bag strap, or even as a belt. Every year sees the arrival of traditional themes ranging from the world of horse-riding and Nature to the arts and mythology.

Since being founded in 1837 by master saddler Thierry Hermès, the family company has made a name for itself through the unmatched quality of its leather goods. Its descendants widened the range to include bags, belts and gloves, and in 1937 sons Adolphe and Emile Maurice designed the famous 90cmx90cm hand-rolled silk twill scarf. The new piece was an instant hit with celebrities. Brigitte Bardot sported it tied under her chin, Jackie O. never changed her favorite model, “Astrology”, while Grace Kelly made it part of the Hitchcock heroines’ arsenal alongside her black sunglasses and understated suit.

A canvas for artists

Robert Dumas, then CEO of Hermès, created the first “Jeu des omnibus et Dames blanches” scarf in 1937, inspired by a popular board game called Game of the Goose and partly in homage to the Madeleine-Bastille bus route. The “Brides de Gala” was another iconic model, designed by artist Hugo Grygkar in 1957, and is still one of the luxury House’s best-selling products.

Buoyed by Bali Barret, Artistic Director since 2004, the scarf has been modernized. Formerly reserved for stylish, wealthy women, it can now be found as a limited edition at the Parisian concept store Colette. 2014 saw the opening of the website “La Maison des Carrés”, an online boutique offering classic formats, XXL scarves, pleated scarves and bow ties for women. The brand was also seen strutting its stylish stuff at the 2015 spring-summer catwalks, with headscarves for Saint Laurent and foulard ties for Gucci.

On the design side of things, famous contemporary artists are championing this stance, and Josef Albers, Daniel Buren, Hiroshi Sugimoto and others have worked with Hermès. In 2015 the brand chose the master of kinetic art, Julio Le Parc, to design ten series of six silk scarfs. The project was called “Variations on the Long March” and was reproduced in a book coproduced with the Actes Sud publishing company.

Artisanal manufacturing

Artisanal production is one of Hermès’ defining characteristics. All cuttings and hems for the silk scarfs are carried out by hand. Once the designs have been chosen, engravers use India ink and quills to trace the colors and shapes of each pattern. This operation takes an average of 2,000 hours according to each model. The two annual scarf collections are developed in around ten different color ranges, and the Hermès color chart, renowned for its vast spectrum, boasts around 75,000 hues.

Each scarf requires a total production of 300 silkworms, adding up to around 450km of thread. The silk is woven on looms at Perrin & Fils group in the Ardèche region, and silkscreen printing is then used for the pattern with a method known as “Lyonnaise” printing. The silk is passed through several metal frames which print the designs using a method similar to stenciling.

The scarf creation process from design to sale takes around two years. This lengthy work justifies the €250 price tag for a classic model, and its success — a Hermès sells a scarf every 30 minutes! The famous orange box was born following restrictions during the Second World War. Orange paper was the only choice available, and the color has been an emblem of the famous Parisian luxury House ever since.

Article published in the August 2015 issue of France-Amérique.

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