“Petit h” is a new collection from Hermès made with leather off-cuts and other materials deemed imperfect for use in its main lines. Artistic Director Pascale Mussard talks of her dream to innovative and give new life to materials.
The French luxury goods house Hermès is renowned for its tight quality control which ensures that only the most flawless materials are used in its ateliers. But what of those deemed imperfect: the crocodile with irregular skin, the naturally lined leather, the mis-shaped porcelain, or the off-color silk? And what of the off-cuts of leather that are sliced from the patterns of Birkins and Kellys? Whereas once they might have been discarded, they are now the basis of an entire collection.
“Petit h”, as the new Hermès brand is called (it even has its own logo with a lowercase “h” as opposed to the usual upper case “H”), is the brainchild of its artistic director Pascale Mussard, a sixth-generation descendant of the founder of the company. Long associated in her family with the phrase, “Don’t throw that out, it might be useful”, Mussard envisioned a collection of objects made from materials that are either by-products of the craftsmanship process or for whatever reason were rejected for use in the primary Hermès lines.
An effort at environmentally friendly recycling this is not. Instead, “Petit h” is about a creative laboratory that brings together for the first time both materials and craftsmen from all the Hermès métiers – leather goods, glassware, porcelain, jewelry and silk production, amongst others – to give a second life to objects.
The first “Petit h” collection includes a chest of drawers inlaid with beach towels, a swing constructed using steel stirrups, dumbbells crafted from leather and crystal, lamps made of the signature Hermès silk scarves, and “jewelry hooks” (which look like coat hangers but designed for more delicate objects) made from the spouts of porcelain teapots. Marrying whimsicality with ingenuity, these are items that Mussard describes as “Unidentified Poetic Objects”. As abstract as that may sound, the first collection has proved a runaway success, with so many sales in the week it was launched at the Paris flagship that a new merchandise installation was required.
While the price point of the new collection begins at a modest 50 euros, “Petit h” is utterly in tune with its flawless sibling. Indeed, “Petit h” is self-described as, “like a jazz group invited to improvise alongside the large symphony orchestra of Hermès”.
“Petit h” is on sale exclusively at the Hermès flagship store at 24 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore in Paris from November 13 to December 4. A second collection will be on sale in Tokyo in May 2011, with a third collection planned for New York and Beverly Hills in October 2011.
Pascale Mussard’s definition of luxury?
For Hermès, luxury is a word that only appeared 10 years ago. For 135 years previously, the word did not really exist in our world. It was not about luxury but about giving happiness to people. I asked my uncle, Jean-Louis Dumas, what is luxury for Hermès. He said not to bother with a definition but that our luxury is the desire to make objects that can be repaired. I didn’t understand when he said that to me. But now, after years and years, I understand about making objects that you desperately want to buy, will want to keep and will therefore want to repair.
For me, luxury is family. To be a wonderful example to my children and do everything I can to make them free in their mind. To do everything I can to help them to be happy.
What is Petit H?
My idea for Petit H was to mix the unused materials from all our métiers and to combine them. There are left overs from our crystal ateliers which you can’t do anything with alone. But if you mix them with leather you can make a lamp, a mobile, a toy. With left over silk alone you can’t do much, but with leather you can make bags. I was lucky as when I was in charge of creation at Hermès, I was going from one metier to the other. So I know each side personally. I realised that crafts have the same language even if they don’t speak to each other. Some even have the same tools for different purposes. For example, I realised that the oven for making plates is the same as the oven for making jewels in enamel. I wanted to share these skills, cross them, and innovate.
What makes a Petit H object?
Contemporary artisans. We are the link between all the métiers. I talk to designers to find an object that we can make from the materials we have. What do I brief them? 3 things. Firstly, it has to be functional. It’s not art. An object with no function is not Hermès. Secondly, it has to be beautifully done aesthetically. Lastly, and most importantly, it has to last long. In 25 years it must not be broken and must also have a patina that has enhanced the object and made it more beautiful. It’s not Hermès that gives beauty to an object. it’s the customer – the way they use it and take care of it.
What was the inspiration behind this project?
The idea was genetic! I was lucky to be born into a family who were creative and always trying to find new ideas. For example, my grandmother wore a magnifying glass as jewelry. She was always playing with things, even in her old age. We are made of the examples around us. I had a family who never threw anything away. More than that, they were taking things and transforming them. Creation is in our genes. At one point after 33 years the desire to do this at Hermès was just too strong.
How does Petit H relate to Hermès?
Petit H is very Hermès. We have always grown like that. From the leather off cuts of our bags my great grandfather invented the famous Hermès agenda. The process of creation at Hermès has always been about reusing beautiful pieces that you don’t use anymore. Only objects that we like do we take care of. At Hermès our secret is to make objects that we can repair. If we can repair it, it means we know how to repair it. If you want to repair it, you want to keep it. If you want to keep it, you want to pass it on to the next generation.
But how do the Petit H objects relate to iconic pieces of Hermès design such as the Kelly bag?
The Kelly bag was created around 1935. But it really only became known around 1956. For 20 years only one or two people were buying it every year. Why did we continue to make it? Because my grandfather thought it was beautiful and was the perfect shape. He didn’t care that it wasn’t a big hit. He was selling it nicely and quietly. Unfortunately he died in 1951, so he never knew that he was absolutely right to keep it. This is what Petit H is about.
Do you want to be a separate brand to Hermès?
My point is not to make a second Hermès. I love Hermès so much! Sometimes the next generation of a family business want to leave their business but I couldn’t do that. Rather, I wanted to mix our different métiers. Petit H can’t exist without Hermès. I have everything here: the value, the hands, the perfection, the materials. This is our treasure.
So is Petit H the future of Hermès?
One day we might exist in a world where we can’t use leather or crystal. Or we won’t have enough water for the tannery of the leather. I am thinking deeply about what I will leave to the children of my children. My point is to innovate.
Are you conscious of being environmentally friendly with this project?
What interests me is not recycling. It’s not about being politically correct. It’s more than that, it’s genetic. I can’t throw anything away. I know how difficult it is to make the most beautiful skin. It takes time and skill. There is no excuse for throwing away part of a beautiful skin.
How have the Hermès artisans reacted to Petit H?
They reacted in stages. When I first showed Petit H to the artisans, they thought it was a lot better than they imagined it would be. They had thought it was going to be about recycling. I was a bit shocked because after 35 years I thought they knew me! They understood that I was admiring their skill. The second stage was when I was visiting sites and there were suddenly boxes with Petit H written on them, filled with materials. And then the next stage was that they sent me sketches and ideas and requested that they become the “hands” of Petit H!
Why take such a risk with this new collection?
I have memories of my uncle Jean-Louis Dumas. I was his niece but I was also someone who worked at Hermès. One day, I was in charge of the window displays. I did a window at the George V store. I was very happy with it, I thought it was very Hermès, I was proud of it. For the first time, I asked him to come to see the window. I think I wanted recognition or a thank you, I’m not sure. He came and there was no reaction. I asked him if he liked it. He said, “Yes, it’s beautiful, it’s more than Hermès, it’s really great. But you don’t bring anything more, you don’t astonish. Who is going to stop at that window? It’s too Hermès”. He said we must always take a risk in our work.