The exquisite designs and rich silks used to create the famous Hermès shawls and scarves make these works of art highly collectable.

The Hermès show at Paris fashion week (March 2016) unveiled a new, modern day minimalist collection, paired with the luxury the brand is best known for. Hermès is not fashion for exhibitionists but for those who value superior craftsmanship, classic style and opulence.

For a brand that is perhaps best known for its highly coveted Birkin bag (and one of the best financial investments, currently performing better than gold), the ready-to-wear collection showed that the luxury fashion house is much more than just handbags—the collection featured effortless tailoring in the form of wide-legged cropped trousers, shearling overcoats and double faced silk knit ballerina dresses. Creative director Nadege Vanhee-Cybulski creates strong visual themes, notably steering clear of prominent trends and choosing to focus on straightforward clothes that have their own sense of superiority through the meticulous craftsmanship.

The craftsmanship seen at the Paris show is championed by Hermès, perhaps most evident in the intricate, striking silk scarves. The brand is as well known for these lavish silk scarves and shawls (also known as the carrè) as they are the Birkin handbag, but Hermès started out as a more modest harness and bridle shop in 1837: ‘Our first customer was a horse’, explains the great-great-grandson of Hermès founder, Xavier Guerrand-Hermès, in an interview with People magazine in 1980.

The first scarf design was created a hundred years later in 1937, using the same silk that lined the company’s riding jackets. The first ever Hermès scarf, designed by Hugo Grygkar, was inspired by a parlour game similar to the ‘Game of Goose’ from the 19th century, with two ‘dames blanches’ in the center of the scarf, surrounded by two circles of the first horse-drawn buses, and the words above stating ‘a good player never loses his temper’.

This first scarf, called ‘Jeu des Omnibus et Dames Blanches’, was re-released in 2007 to mark the 70th anniversary of the carrè Hermès. It was released in a new 70 x 70cm size, with each centimeter paying tribute to 70 years of fine scarf making.

An Hermès scarf costs between £200 and £2,000, and the more contemporary scarves measure 90 x 90cm and are woven from the silk of 250 mulberry moth cocoons. The particularly popular ‘Brides de Gala’, which was first introduced in 1957 and also designed by Hugo Grygkar, has been re-produced more than 70,000 times. The scarf is described as Hermès as the ‘most celebrated carrè’, perhaps due to the strong equine design: ‘it’s title, short and to the point, has the same, direct impact as the dazzling show bridles themselves, evoking the clink of buckles and chains to the rhythmic, majestic beat of the horses’ hooves.’

Hermès’ silk canvases have gone on to feature sailing ships, constellations, jungle animals, and of course, horses—the brand’s iconic and instantly recognizable logo is also following the equestrian roots, it features a Duc carriage which is attached to a horse, paying homage to the brand’s humble origins as horse saddler manufacturers.

A vast number of artists are commissioned to create their own designs for the 36-inch square silk scarves, with elaborate detailing and bright colour combinations. The silk screening process is an intricate one, and can take hundreds of hours to complete, with any individual scarf having 20 to 30 different hues, and each colour must be allowed to dry completely before the next is applied.

Once the artwork is crafted, selecting the colour combinations is normally the next stage in creating a carrè. Pierre-Alexis Dumas, the artistic director of Hermès, and the grandson of the founder of Hermès, describes their colour process as very complex. ‘Sometimes we discuss a single colour for a considerable time for a scarf that will include more than thirty [colours].

This research into colour is the work of incredible perfectionism. The palette is infinite, its variations at the limit of what the eye can perceive.’ Leila Menchari, the director of the colour panel, explains ‘the work of colouring the Carrés [carrès?] takes time, because each design must be produced in around ten different colour schemes.’

This intricate design and creation process has resulted in the scarfs being seen as wearable art in their own right, and perhaps the most recognizable item in fashion history. Since the first Hermès scarf was created in 1937, over 2,000 patterns have been produced by 150 artists all over the world, and it’s said that a Hermes scarf is sold every 25 seconds. The recognizable scarves have long been a sophisticated celebrity favourite; Audrey Hepburn and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis each wore theirs as a headscarf, Grace Kelly used one as a sling for her broken arm, and the Queen wore on in 1956 for a postage stamp portrait.

Hermès brings out two scarf collections a year: one collection for spring and one for autumn, with each collection comprised of twelve scarf designs. Hermès choose an annual theme for the year to dictate the season’s subjects, and the patterns are usually adorned with intricate objects, again following the equestrian roots: riding boots, canes, and hunting weaponry often feature. Vintage designs are often re-released in new colours, and any one design can be released in up to five different colours.

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