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Hermes celebrates craftsmanship

Touring exhibition ‘Hermes in the Making’ features 11 artisans

May 20, 2024 - 15:53 By Choi Si-young
An Hermes artisan from France works on a horse saddle. (Hermes Korea Limited)

An exhibition shedding light on a culture of commitment to “exceptional craftsmanship” that powers Hermes is taking place in Seoul, as artisans demonstrate in person how the French luxury house has come to embody “know-how” and “creativity."

At “Hermes in the Making,” 11 artisans -- all from France with one exception from Switzerland who works on watches -- offer a glimpse of their craft processes involving leather, silk, porcelain and gemstones, with visitors to each booth invited to test the techniques demonstrated.

The 10-day touring exhibition, which started Saturday at Lotte World Tower’s World Park, makes Korea one of the nine countries to host the event since the inaugural show in Copenhagen, Denmark, in October 2021.

Hermes Executive Vice President Guillaume de Seynes said the latest tour is to “highlight the potential of craftmanship in the future.” He noted that behind every object lies an artisan who guarantees quality.

Recognizing exceptional craftsmanship wherever it is while pursuing artisan spirit or know-how and creativity has been the mission for a luxury house that began as a saddle maker in 1837, according to de Seynes.

Artisans at the Seoul exhibition communicated that such commitment is still alive as much today as it was centuries ago.

An Hermes artisan from France works on a horse saddle. (Hermes Korea Limited)

“A saddle is only complete with human touch,” an artisan said of his work at the booth “Crafting a Saddle.” Machine sewing could help but only craftspeople can be sensitive to what kind of leather is best for a saddle that is safest not only for the person riding the horse but the horse itself, according to the artisan.

“I take artisanal pride in that,” the artisan added. All artisan names were withheld at Hermes’ request.

Another artisan at the booth “Repairing Objects” highlighted “weaving back a narrative” behind every repair.

“There is a story behind every repair -- be it a leather bag or something else,” the artisan said. “My job is to make the memories associated with the items needing repairs last longer.”

The craftsperson, one of the two artisans posted at Hermes headquarters in Seoul since August last year, noted that she had volunteered to work in Korea for her first overseas post since joining the luxury house in 2017.

An Hermes artisan from France works on a leather bag. (Hermes Korea Limited)

“I’m fond of Korean culture,” said the artisan, who recalled learning Korean martial arts taekwondo when she was eight.

The booth “Separating the Colors” stood out as an artisan was busy showing the gallery how she did her work from start to finish -- with a tablet, one of the mediums helping materialize “creativity.”

The artisan explained her routine was to determine how many layers of colors would be needed before silk screening, used for scarf imprints.

Employing the latest technologies still requires the “eyes and hands” of an artisan in the end, the artisan said, citing for example, that visualizing how colors would eventually be projected on various textures is a job for artisans.

An Hermes artisan from France prepares silk screening. (Hermes Korea Limited)

“Respect for the work each artisan does is ingrained in our culture,” she said.

The latest exhibition is part of a broader push by Hermes to show how it seeks to live up to its commitment to craftsmanship. Since 2015, the French luxury house has supported Korea’s initiatives to restore items like dishware and furniture believed to be used in Joseon-era palaces (1392-1910) in Seoul.

Deoksugung, one of the Joseon palaces, was the first palace that received Hermes restoration support between 2015 and 2021. From 2021, similar efforts have been underway for Gyeongbokgung, the main Joseon palace.

“What is important for us is fraternity between craftsmanship around the world, and that’s why I think this idea about the royal palace in Seoul is a fantastic idea,” de Seynes said, referring to Gyeongbokgung, the main Joseon palace in Seoul.