In the quick-changing world of fashion, it takes something extraordinary to outlast seasons, trends and fickle consumer mindsets. And there’s little more remarkable than the Hermes scarf - the coveted, colourful silk accessory is a much-collected symbol of style and luxury, so much so that they are oft displayed as artworks.
The French maison’s first scarf was produced in 1937, based on a woodblock drawing by Robert Dumas (an Hermes family member). The scarf was made from the same silk that lined the luxury house’s famed riding jackets, a tradition that is still adhered to today.
These days, more than 2,000 designs exist, though not all of them have been produced. The designs are kept in le frigo (the fridge) – a white metal box kept in the Hermes headquarters in Paris.
Another interesting fact about the scarves: About 20 new designs are produced each year and there is no single designer for them - the company hires around 50 freelance artists from all around the world, including a postal employee in Texas named Kermit Oliver, who has contributed over a dozen designs.
Another regular contributor is children’s book illustrator Alice Shirley, who has been creating whimsical work for Hermès since 2012.
The Brit artist attended the Hermes store re-opening party at Liat Towers recently, and we had a chat with her to find out more about her collaboration with the French house.
You were in Singapore for the re-opening of the store. How was the experience?
It was absolutely wonderful. The Hermes teams in Paris and Singapore put together the most amazing event, and it was extraordinary to see my work translated into so many delightful forms. I loved the Tyger Tyger and jungle horse head photo-booths, and the whole of the 7th floor was jaw-dropping.
Why are you drawn to illustrating children’s books?
I had wonderful children’s books when I was a child, beautifully illustrated and inspiring. Parents have to read the same books over and over to their children, so they ought to be beautiful to look at and fun to read. Children also remember the books they read as a child for the rest of their lives, and they can be so inspiring.
If I can do that for a new generation of children, that would make me happy. I don’t have any children of my own yet, but I hope to write some new books for mine when I have them.
The Zebra Pegasus (AW2014) was Shirley's first design for Hermès
Animals seem to feature prominently in your works. Was this a conscious decision from the start?
No, but it has persisted as a theme in my work. As a child I wanted to be an animal - I thought they were so much more beautiful and interesting than humans. I would spend a lot of time pretending to be horses, lions, tigers, penguins, foxes.
I feel this pretending was once very much a part of human nature and we have become disconnected with it, that it was part of ancient rituals, our religion and spirituality. We have forgotten we too are animals, and that animals are not so very different from us. Humans are nature’s miracle and her menace... The problem-child of evolution.
Tyger Tyger (AW2015) was inspired by William Blake's poem The Tyger
Your references are wide-ranging, from William Blake’s poem to the Great Barrier Reef. Is there a particular source of inspiration that you find yourself returning to?
Nature, and our place in it. It is what every artist is trying to do - explore their place in context of the world around them.
Under The Waves (SS2016) pays tribute to the Great Barrier Reef
What’s the story behind Under The Waves?
I was asked by the Hermes creative team to create a design of sea wildlife. I decided I wanted to use the Great Barrier Reef as my inspiration - all those amazing colours and beautiful forms. I wanted the design to show the incredible bio-diversity of the reef, and raise awareness of the fragility of our coral reef eco-systems that are so under threat from climate change, pollution, irresponsible fishing practices.
It is one of the great wonders of the natural world, and it deserves our protection for future generations. Coral reefs are the gardens and nurseries of the ocean’s fish populations - if we do not protect them, all fish stocks will suffer around the world.
Which is your favourite design from the collaboration so far?
The one I am working on now. That is always the way.
What is the best thing about working with Hermes?
Seeing the wonderful ways they use my designs to make beautiful things.