Hermes Scarves: The Making of an Iconic Piece of Wearable Art
At the time of this writing, the Hermés company has nearly transcended it's standing as a luxury goods retailer and gained “empire” status. With 14 product divisions ranging from their coveted leather goods (as if we could forget the coveted Birkin Bag) to perfume, stationary, and table wear, they seem to have an iron in just about every luxury goods fire currently burning. However, there is one area where the Hermés company has always excelled itself; the company has defined itself over the years through the artisanal production of exquisite and highly-coveted silk scarves.
Rather than having an in-house designer (or even team of designers) for their scarves, Hermés employs the services of freelance artists from all over the world. Interestingly, the artists employed by the company are not always the stereotypical portrait of the bohemian painters and sculptors living on the fringes of society that you might expect. Just ask Kermit Oliver, an American postal worker from Waco, Texas, who has designed over a dozen scarves for the company. Hermés is always on the lookout for new talent, and the company has recruited artists from all walks of life and from all over the world; scooping-up talent from everywhere from children's book signings to art galleries and everywhere in-between.
The company aims to produce roughly 20 new scarf designs per year, with around 50 freelance artists working for them at any given time. The design process is a lengthy one at Hermés, as the design concept often has to go through many permutations between artist and company before a final design is agreed upon. This stage of the process alone can take up to twelve months.
Once a final design is agreed upon, the design moves into the hands of the Hermés artisans, who are based in a workshop outside of Lyon, France. Production time at the workshop takes roughly 18 months, as each color in the scarf is endlessly honed, tweaked, and adjusted in order to get it just right before committing the design onto the silk of the scarf. Although this turnaround time may seem unnecessarily long and inefficient, when one considers the fact that the average Hermés scarf contains no less than 27 colors, the reason becomes more apparent. Also, because the company places no production quotas or time restraints on the artisans in their Lyon workshops, all 750 workshop artisans are free to take the time and care necessary to create the very best version possible of the piece that sits before them.
The printing of each scarf design takes roughly 750 hours to engrave on the silk, after which each individual design is cut out and the edges are hand-rolled and stitched. Prices for a Hermés scarf start at approximately $400 for a 70 cm scarf and increase exponentially along with the size of the scarf.