Hermès strikes a winner with its latest collection of new-generation furniture and homeware
For its legions of deep-pocketed loyalists, Hermès remains a gold standard for its prismatic-hued scarves, men’s ties and leather accessories—particularly its relatively small but exquisitely made equestrian range. The latter is a legacy dating back to 1837, the maison’s foundation year, of its original métier as a harness and saddle maker.
In recent years, however, the legendary French marque has been quietly expanding its oeuvre in private home furnishings. Though it’s been producing desk accessories, decorative objets and lamps since at least the 1920s, it really wasn’t till the early 2010s that Hermès ramped up its home collection.
In 2011, it debuted at the Milan International Furniture Show (known simply as Salone to insiders) a suite of furnishing fabrics, wallpaper and carpets, alongside its first line of contemporary furniture designed by the likes of Antonio Citterio and long-time collaborator RDAI Studio.
The next year, Hermès released Shigeru Ban’s Module H, a modular screen and partition system, and in 2014, a series of lights and bespoke pieces inspired by cabinets de curiosité that hold everything from precious baubles to prized booze.
Last year, under the youthful guidance of its deputy creative directors, Charlotte Macaux Perelman and Alexis Fabry, Hermès unveiled a new generation of exquisitely made furniture, fabrics, wallpaper and porcelain—part of its extravagantly anointed Home Universe—at the same time as it murmured gently about the need to balance rigour and fantasy within its collections.
While it might not have been entirely clear at the time just how that balance might be struck, answers surfaced at this year’s Salone with the launch of Lien d’Hermès. Harnessing simple lines, elegant shapes and an intriguing juxtaposition of homey wicker, metal, lacquer, maple and crystal, the new collection is a quiet homage to the brand’s equestrian heritage, in particular, the use of bridle leather.
Whether a quotidian coat hanger, log basket or wine rack, the designs for Lien are both formal in their silhouettes and quirky in their originality. Who, for instance, could fail to be charmed by a simple loop of leather whose precise window cut-outs and inscribed numbers turn out to be a perpetual calendar?
For Hermès, Lien is, “leather reduced to its quintessence, a simple line”. This reductive quality permeates every item in the catalogue. While considerable press attention has been given to the looped metal bar wrapped around a slender strip of belted leather—the coat-hanger, as it turns out—it’s the functionality of pieces such as the Équipages d’Hermės that effortlessly captures the amused attention.
Here, everyday items like a tray of maple and leather, and a serving trolley of shiny brass wheels, wicker and fawn bull-calf trim achieve an almost sculptural permanence—less to be used for anything so mundane as serving breakfast, as to be set in the centre of one’s living room to be admired.
Besides harnessing the talents of its imitable in-house team, Hermès has tapped a blue-chip roll-call of designers to contribute to Lien. The list includes British hotshots Barber & Osgerby, whose Aes is a low-slung bronze coffee table that is reassuringly austere in the simplicity of its surface and solid pillars of legs.
Karumi, a trio of matching stools and bench, meanwhile, is designed by Alvaro Siza, the Pritzker Prize laureate collaborating with Japanese master-craftsmen in a hinoki workshop near Tokyo to lash carbon fibre with bamboo harvested from Kyoto’s Arashiyama forest. The result is a set of pleasingly spare and light-hued silhouettes that almost seem to disappear into the background, surely the very definition of unobtrusive design.
Hermès’ men’s ties make an unexpected cross-over in the titular Tie Set, which counter-intuitively turns out to be the new porcelain range. Incorporating 20 patterns, the dinner service is an optical tour de force, as in-house tie designer Philippe Mouquet plays with varying hues to create a coterie of bowls, cups and plates that can be mixed and matched without raising any comment other than unmitigated praise from envious dinner guests.
And with Hermès extending its ambitions to furnishing fabrics and wallpapers, literally every surface in the house has been accounted for. Those have been designed by Gianpaolo Pagni, who layered cotton and wool with repetitive motifs and smartly stylised renditions of the house’s equipage and ‘H’ symbols.
In a move that will surely please a generation of hipster parents, Pagni has even created a range of children’s wallpaper swathed in a montage of cabins, bijoux horses, stamps and stripes drawn with felt-tip colours—proof enough that when it comes to introducing impressionable minds to beautifully crafted luxury, you can never begin too early.
By Daven Wu