Hermès gives the traditional Indonesian art of ikat an exquisite update with its latest tableware collection
Throughout its 178-year history, Hermès has been something of an avaricious magpie when it comes to its singular artistic direction—anything and everything is fair game. Whether seashells, Raj-era elephants or equestrian accessories, fairground attractions or vintage cars—all have been joyfully co-opted into visually arresting designs and motifs for the French house’s range of fashion, leather goods, jewellery and homeware.
But even long-time fans of the maison—one of the few truly independent luxury labels left—were bowled over when Benoît-Pierre Emery, creative director of tableware at Hermès, presented Voyage en Ikat during this year’s AD Home Show. The inspiration is, as the name of the range suggests, ikat—the traditional Indonesian fabric in which long strands of thread are tied at specific intervals and then dyed before they are hand-woven into silky fabric dressed with dreamy, gauzy slashed patterns.
The first ikats date back to at least the Dark Ages and pre-Colombian Central America. At one stage, they were a popular merchandise along the fabled Silk Road route. Of course, the more fabulous story of its origins revolves around an ancient weaver who wove the first ikat to reflect the shimmer in his young daughter’s gaze.
Long beloved by fabric aficionados and cut into everything from pillows and couch throws to kimonos and gowns (Marie Antoinette was quite partial to the pattern), ikats have always been something of an open secret especially amongst house-proud fraus and upmarket interior designers like Mariska Meijers, Luke Irwin and OKA. Leave it to Hermès to add its indelible touch to a resurgent trend by reworking the ancient textile tradition into a contemporary setting—in the dining room, no less. Somewhat unusually, too, given the provenance of ikat, Hermès chose to collaborate with the Paris-based American fibre expert and artist Sheila Hicks to create the woven textile effect on porcelain, a notoriously tricky surface to work with, let alone imprint a pattern that’s difficult enough to work with on fabric.
Described as “an on-going dialogue between East and West”, the new tableware collection of dinner plates, saucers, cereal bowl, teapot, soup tureen and vase is cast in Limoges, France’s porcelain capital. Each piece is emblazoned with a series of distinct geometric yet organic ikat patterns in over 20 hues of emerald, ruby and sapphire, and hand-edged with 24-karat matte gold.
Mesmerising shades of greens and pinks and blues create rainbow-dappled shadows on white porcelain, the striated motifs an extraordinarily faithful rendition of the actual cloth patterns. The surrealistic effect—almost watercolour-like, as if Turner himself had decided to take up tie-dying—is startlingly life-like, a tribute to the craftsmen at Hermès HQ and to Sheila Hick’s eye-catching designs.
As artistic experiments go, Voyage en Ikat is proof once again that, in the right hands, even age-old artisanal techniques can be revived and reinterpreted in wholly unexpected ways that preserve an ethnic flavour, but without ever descending into painterly kitsch.
Of course, this being Hermès, the price list for Voyage en Ikat is not for the faint-hearted—a single 14-centimetre bread plate starts at $280 and the soup tureen for $5,200. If a full set from the collection doesn’t turn heads at your next dinner party, we don’t know what will.