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Hermès Gets Crafty in Chicago Before Continuing on Global Tour

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This coming Wednesday will be the last day of a five day run of Hermès first travelling Festival des Métiers (AKA) the Festival of Crafts. At this festival open to the public, guests are discovering the poetic and visionary techniques used to make Hermès signature scarves, watches, jewelry, ties, and bags.

By setting this festival up inside the spacious three-floor space next door to the existing Hermès flagship and utilizing a bouncy matrix of orange and rods and carpet with photos of tools in a transfixing pattern, it is apparent that Hermès is making modern strides in their craft which is rooted in tradition of saddle making techniques since 1837.

The goal of this festival (where nothing was for sale), was to share knowledge and tout skill level of the Hermes craftsmen and craftswomen. The demonstrations uncovering the Hermes dialect of savoir-faire include the intensely technical practices of watchmaking (horloger), gemstone setting (sertisseur), engraving (dessinateur), silk printing (imprimeur sur soie), shirtmaking (chemisier), as well as tie making, and leather stitching.

Without a doubt the most popular work benches at the show are engraver Nadine Rabilloud and the silk printer Henri Leli. The two work side by side and explain to guests of the festival how the scarves are made.

Nadine, who doesn't speak too much English, has her translator by her side the entire time. We visit Nadine's station while she's engraving and shading through a series of transparencies with an etching tool that looks similar to a tattoo gun.

As Nadine explains her process of thinking in color but working in shades of grey, and is telling her audience of housewives how much time each process takes, we can't help but wonder if she dislikes any one design and if she knows the person who envisions the design. We ask her about this and she, of course says she loves every scarf and does not personally know any artist of the scarves. Delving further into the topic we ask Nadine what criteria the Hermès artistic directors may have when selecting artists or artist's work for each scarf. We ask this because "time is money" and the more intricate the design of the scarf, the more time it takes to create. Based on this hypothetical criteria, are the artists commissioned keeping in mind that the design may become a scarf one day or are they given full creative license?

Nadine answers back (through her translator) that she is not able to answer that question "because of security".

Taking this into account and realizing that art is not seasonal like fashion, we ask Nadine (through her translator) that of the artists, colors, patterns seem to be trending right now, what visual elements will we be seeing on Hermès scarves within the next two years which is the duration of time in advance that Hermes creative directors choose the patterns for the scarves.

We lean down toward her work surface trying to hear the inflections in her voice over the super chatty Gold Coast housewives. She begins to respond to our question (in French) and we're listening hard here because she speaks softly and we feel like the translator had buffered our questions too much. Hunching over Nadine's work, we insist our interest in her craft and allows us the opportunity to inadvertently smell the ink she uses in her etcher gun. While in this hunched over and interested position, nadine finishes responding and her translator begins speaking, "We cannot say what will be happening."

Befuddled at how tight-lipped this conversation was turning out to be, we ask Nadine one last question: Do you like the smell of the ink?
To which the translator's reply was: "That is too specific of a question."

Then we head around to the screen printer, Henri Leli who's job it is to take the etched sheets of metal, pour ink over them, and with a rubber squeegee wand, swipe ink over plate and into the silk. With some scarf designs, there can be over twenty different plates for one scarf to achieve all of the different colors. Without asking questions, we move onto the necktie table, and then finally to the gemstone setter.

Standing at his table we watch him selectively take gemstones from a circular tray with numbers sketched on the top. To our understanding, numbers are a personal (not scientific) representation the size of the gems going from smallest to largest. He tweezes an array of stones and puts them into a small dish to keep them from falling off the table due to the vibrations of people's footsteps. Although this man speaks more english than his other French colleagues, he still has a translator. This makes it a lot easier to ask him direct questions about his microscope and the worth of all of the tiny diamonds he's working with. Still, "That is classified. I do not know and I cannot tell you."

If there was one thing we took away from this pretty amazing Festival des Métier, its become more apparent that Hermès is one of the most powerful luxury brands in history because their preciseness, consistency and through public displays like this have maintained their mysteriousness.

The Festival will after tomorrow move on to Washington D.C. from March 25 to March 30. The hours are from 11:00a.m to 6:00p.m. After that, the Festival des Métier will do a short tour in select European cities.
· Hermès [Official Site]
· All Hermès Coverage [Racked Chicago]