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.