Photo Essay: The saddle stitch


Photo Essay: The saddle stitch

Any brand that becomes an enduring comment on the global politics of style or philosophy of life owns a memorable emblem

For French luxury brand Hermès, which began in 1837 as a harness workshop serving the European nobility and today stands for exceptional luxury and lifestyle products, perfumes, ready-to-wear and fine leather goods, this symbol is, inarguably, the horse.

Around the world, the horse stands for hard labour, strength, speed and endurance. Historically, however, its significance has varied. The Greek Trojan horse, and a horse pulling an overburdened tonga in rural India, for instance, conjure up entirely different images.

For the Hermès family, it’s always the horse that wins the race—literally and metaphorically. And most certainly so for Émile Hermès, a third-generation family member who started a collection that is dominated by products from the equestrian universe: hundreds of objects picked up from all over the world.

This was the thought that stayed with me after I saw the collection last year in Paris, where it has been preserved for more than a hundred years by the family. Significantly, it is housed in the same building as the brand’s flagship store in Faubourg Saint Honoré.

Some items from this arresting collection are currently being exhibited in Mumbai, as part of a show curated by Philippe Dumas, a fifth-generation family member. The Hermes Horse exhibition has 150 pieces, including paintings, sculptures and art pieces. India is the second country it has travelled to; the first was Shanghai, China, in 2014, the Year of the Horse, to coincide with the opening of the Hermès store there.

The Mumbai display includes the 19th century drawing titled Hitched Carriage And Waiting Groom by a follower of French artist Alfred de Dreux, which became the inspiration for the Hermès logo. There are horsehead sculptures by French artist Denis Mondineu. As an additional element brought in by the curator, there are high-resolution photographs of the collection taken inside the Émile Hermès room in Paris by French photographer Antoine Schneck. These extremely high-resolution images have been stitched together.

Must-see pieces comprise an etching titled Jeu Des Omnibus Et Dames Blanches, which became the blueprint for the first scarf design from Hermès in 1937. The Pêle-Mêle drawing by Dumas features numerous horse-riding characters, including members of the Hermès family. Besides other pieces of Indian origin, there is a chiselled silver horse ankle bracelet with bells from the late 18th century Mughal period. Some of the exhibits are replicas of special orders by customers created in Hermès ateliers. Visitors can also watch a film by Philippe Dumas’ son Émile that documents a horse ride in Paris, during the day and at night.

The thoughtfully chosen centrepiece is a replica of a rocking horse that has been in the Hermès family for six generations. It is decorated with a Marwari bridle, part of a Marwari saddle sourced specially for this exhibition.

Regular customers and fans of Hermès would know that the family has an abiding emotional and artisanal connect with India and one of its popular silk scarves, inspired by the ceremonially decorated Marwari horse, was called La Danse Du Cheval Marwari.

It’s worth the ride.

The Hermes Horse is on till 30 November, 10.30am-7.30pm, at Hermès, 15-A, Horniman Circle, Fort, Mumbai. For details, call 22717400.