The Universe That Is Home
Trust Hermès to dream up a veritable galaxy of pieces that exquisitely fuses beauty with functionality
Subtlety may not always be the hallmark of the millennial marketing pack. Still, it takes a certain chutzpah to label a lifestyle collection a “home universe”. That said, visitors to Hermès’ Mauricio Rocha-designed pavilion at this year’s Milan International Furniture Fair came away feeling that the label was completely apt.
The new 2016/2017 home collection comprises an incredibly varied line of new furniture, objets, fabric and wallpaper. Without exception, each piece—there is something for every room in every home in every climate—is beautifully designed, flawlessly made and completely covetable.
For this result, collective hats off to Hermès’ deputy artistic directors Charlotte Macaux Perelman and Alexis Fabry. Since their appointment in late 2014, the pair has wrought subtle refinements to the DNA of the French house, especially in the “home universe” of which they are in charge.
Working with a light touch, youthful vigour, commercial nous and more than a dose of subtle wit, they have dovetailed their training and work experience to Hermès’ storied legacy—Perelman worked with Philippe Starck, David Rockwell and André Balazs, whilst Fabry is a specialist in Latin-American photography.
As with the collections from previous years, impeccable workmanship is the bedrock of each piece in the 2016/2017 collection. Every edge and every visible stich has the lineal regularity of geometry. Each sheath of leather has been tanned to exactly the same shade—a brash declaration of the leather expertise of Hermès’ tannery. Every design is informed by the palimpsest of the house’s venerable past.
The clearest example of this comes in the form of the magazine rack. Here, Perelman and Fabry have eschewed the traditional model of the modular rack. Instead, their magazine rack is a saddle—an accessory with which Hermès has long been associated. In fact, the equestrian gene runs through the entire collection, whether in the contouring cut of the wastepaper basket, the angular fold of the reading lectern (a maple block clad in fawn bull calf) that recalls the saddle seat, or the patch-worked leather of padded sofa cushions.
Similarly, the silhouette of the new Sellier sofa by the French designer Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance echoes the interior of a fin de siècle horse-drawn carriage—complete with hidden compartments and drawers, and saddlebags on the sides of the arms for storing magazines—whilst the upholstery and caning techniques are straight out of the 19th century playbook.
In Milan, the retrospective mood was particularly vivid with the unveiling of several key pieces that had been designed by the late Rene Dumas—who was the driving creative force behind the design of the Hermès stores—and now re-imagined in maple. And sometimes, when one speaks of perfect balance, Perelman and Fabry have literally created just that with a spinning top encased in solid moulded leather, or a magnifying glass that sits poised on the tip of a cone like a Magritte abstract.
Devotees of Hermès’ fabled scarves will be thrilled by the new collection of plaids, fabrics and wallpaper, as much for the designs as for the tactile pleasures of merino wool, hand-woven cashmere and a lush weave of lambskin, wool and alpaca.
Here, the Irish architect, illustrator and long-time Hermès collaborator Nigel Peake has been commissioned to create Escher-like prints such as two interlocking horses rotating around a patchwork of stripes and stairs, alongside more complex mazes of architectural perspectives, looping flights of stairs and wrought-iron balustrades.
Peake’s crayon work on a triptych of decorative panels is perhaps the most ambitious of the collection. Used singly or as a trio, each piece commemorates morning, afternoon and evening in an imaginary metropolis, the edges barely containing the bold geometric striations of rhythmic colour. “What is interesting,” Perelman told The Telegraph, “is that you can see the work of [Peake’s] hand, the gesture of the craftsmanship, and that is really what lies at the heart of Hermès.”
Cleverly, Perelman and Fabry know when to rein in the exuberance. The commissioning of Pierre Charpin to create a set of centrepieces and bowls is a particularly canny appropriation of Japanese aesthetics that somehow still feels French. The modern streamlined shapes could just as easily have been carved out of maple and sheathed in leather, but the decision to cloak the surfaces in layers of glossy lacquer was an inspired one. More so because for the bigger bowls, Charpin cut the concave shapes down the middle to create an abstract form that he says is reminiscent of the Asian gesture of offering a gift with two hands.
It is not always easy to communicate the values of a house, especially one as storied as Hermès, much less in a way that a contemporary and notoriously demanding and fickle consumer of luxury goods can respond to. But if the showing in Milan was anything to go by, Hermès has risen admirably to the challenge.
The new Hermès home collection is available from September 2016 in a selection of Hermès stores around the world. www.hermes.com