Right Brain, Left Brain | The Welcoming Appeal of Hermès’ Festival des Métiers

BoF’s editor-in-chief reports from the Festival des Métiers, a travelling Hermès exhibition that touched down at London’s Saatchi Gallery last week.

Claire Marie, Leather Craftsperson at the Festival des Métiers | Source: Hermès

LONDON, United Kingdom — Over the weekend, I popped into Festival des Métiers, a travelling Hermès exhibition which started in Seattle in 2011 and has since hopped around the world, from San Francisco to Singapore, and most recently to Shenyang and Beijing, before touching down in London last week.

On the day I visited the Saatchi Gallery, where the exhibition was held, the space was mobbed. Crowds of people swarmed around stations manned by artisans who brought the various métiers of famous Hermès products to life, from screen-printed silk scarves and hand-painted ceramics to the brand’s iconic leather goods. According to Hermès, more than 40,000 people passed through the exhibition in just one week, evidence to support the fact that consumers are as interested as ever in seeing behind the end product. Indeed, in a world where everything is increasingly mass manufactured, including some luxury products, there is real value and interest in handmade products with authenticity, and so an exhibition like this clearly plays to Hermès’ strengths.

Starting in early 2009, in the depths of the global financial crisis, luxury goods companies began trading glossy campaigns and supermodels for communications with an emphasis on heritage, craftsmanship and the work that happens in their secretive ateliers. Many luxury consumers had already begun to distance themselves from ostentatious displays of wealth and the bursting of the financial bubble only served to accelerate this trend, making ‘discreet luxury’ a buzzword amongst fashion executives at brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton who started working artisans into their advertising campaigns.

But Hermès’ travelling tour of talented craftspeople has come at this in an entirely different way. Rather than making a glossy marketing spectacle of their artisans, it has simply enabled people to see for themselves, up close, how everything is made. No bells. No whistles. No attempts to sell anything. In fact, the whole environment felt very open and welcoming, which was perhaps my biggest takeaway from the Festival des Métiers.

I remember walking into the Hermès store on London’s Bond Street a few years ago to do some market research on luxury leather goods brands and the reception I received was far from welcoming. The salespeople seemed to look down their noses at me, unconcerned with questions from a curious young consumer. Many luxury brands, including Hermès, have sometimes cultivated an intimidating and imposing atmosphere in their stores, rather than one that’s open and welcoming.

But the Festival des Métiers seemed to welcome scores of young people interested in the heritage of Hermès with open arms. It’s the latest in a series of initiatives that seem to signal a more open and welcoming Hermès. If this new spirit of Hermès can also be cultivated in the brand’s stores, then I’m all for it.

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  1. No silk screens on this traveling exhibition which I’m quite sure has helped Hermès maintain their luxury status within the retail world. Other luxury brands should use this as an example. It’s not as easy as it was years ago to attach an outrageous price tag to a product just because there is a legendary name stitched on the label. There are some high-end brands that uses the same manufacturers as the low-priced and contemporary designers we love. And with technology letting us peek into places we didn’t have access to before, withholding in the name of a brand’s luxury status will only result in more discounted items and more contemporary brands on the fashion forefront.

    The disgusting customer service the high-end fashion boutiques provide, yikes, don’t think there is enough space for that. Let’s just say the sounds of my keyboard clicking while I place an online order is much better than having to deal with the rudeness from someone who thinks its ok to treat me like I’m inferior.

    Kalyca Romeo from Brooklyn, NY, United States
  2. The collaboration they did with Liberty London was a clear message that the brand is not about an uncomfortable and snooty retail experience, although this can the case unfortunately with many luxury retailers. With that collaboration, they made their theatre and astounding quality accessible and reachable for a wider audience. Internally, they have amazingly creative and ‘open’ directors and designers, and I quite like that behind a high wall that perhaps not every one can climb over (or is even interested to) is a world of creativity, craftsmanship and collaboration.

    Alexandra Stylianidis Mathie from Brighton, Brighton and Hove, United Kingdom
  3. We went yesterday to their Sydney press showing and it was amazing.. they were very down to earth and focused on quality which was so refreshing..

    We were fortunate enough to visit Hermes Festival de Metiers yesterday in Sydney – they are such an amazing house! :)


    Mehri Doyle from Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia