Rigueur et Fantaisie: the design approach of Hermès Maison
Architect Charlotte Macaux Perelman says the design approach at Hermès Maison is techno-artisanal—an inseparable union of the dualities
January 26, 2018
Interview by Judith Torres
Photographs courtesy of Hermès Maison
Charlotte Macaux Perelman says the design approach at Hermès Maison is an inseparable union of the dualities, sensuality and functionality, craft and technology, heritage and revolution.
Techno-artisanal. A duality that is every bit as credible and potent as Macaux Perelman’s unexpected partnership with Alexis Fabry as Hermès Maison’s two deputy artistic directors: she, an architect and designer, and he, a book publisher and curator of art and photography exhibitions.
BluPrint interviewed Macaux Perelman at the press launch of Through the Walls, Hermès Maison’s off-the-wall exhibition at the Hermès flagship store at Liat Towers on Orchard Road in Singapore.
We asked Macaux Perelman how being an architect prepared her for her role at Hermès, how she and Fabry collaborate with in-house and outside designers, and what their vision is for the brand in the coming years.
How has being an architect prepared you for your role in Hermès?
I like going to job sites, I like working closely with the people who work on my projects. It’s the same thing at Hermès. I feel very close to the craftsmen. For me, the link between the vision, the creation, and the craftsman is terribly important—the whole chain from the beginning to the end of the project. I like seeing how it all comes together.
As an architect, I don’t just draw and give the drawing to someone else. I’ve never done that. I keep my office small because I like to be in on all the different stages of our projects.
For me, what is essential in architecture, obviously, is a sense of the volume and space, and how the light interacts with my project. Also very important for me is the relationship between inside and outside. In architecture, I’m always wondering, “Is it the right project, the right solution for this project, for the client, for the space itself?” Each project has its own meaning.
It’s the same here. It doesn’t matter what the scale is; it’s a matter of how you approach the project. Here, I’m always wondering, “Is this object the right object for Hermès and the collection?” For us, (Alexis and I), it is imperative that the collection is very homogène, very clean. That doesn’t mean everything has to be the same. Not everything has to be colorful. We don’t believe, for example, that everything has to be leather.
Who is in charge of what?
We don’t divide the work. We always make decisions together. There’s no one in charge of something. It’s been really easy to work with him. This is our first time to work together although I have known him since forever. We obviously have different ways of seeing and different backgrounds, but we share the same ideals, the same values.
We agree that the furniture pieces are more stricte or more rigoureux, whereas the textile and the paper products could have more fantaisie. What is important is the whole collection together—the balance between objects, furniture, fabric, wallpaper, and the message we give out. You can’t say Hermès is only rigorous, and you can’t say it’s just crazy. It’s both.
Tell us more about the rigor. Is it in the design? In the manufacturing?
Both. For example, when we went to Barber Osgerby for the Bronze Table, we knew that the design was very strict, very clean, and strong, and pure. We wanted the table to be crisp, very sharp. The idea of using bronze came after. Actually, they wanted at first to do it in leather. We said, “Okay, for Hermès, it would be great to have a material that conveys know-how.” But, you know, we wanted another know-how, not just leather. So we thought of bronze because the design was pure and almost sculptural. We said, “Why don’t we use a material that refers more to a sculptural object?”
It is essential for us to always explore new know-how in materials we have not fully explored. Bronze-work is an ancient craft. We went to see a family of artisans who has been employing the same techniques for generations. You see, bronze has a lot of imperfections, and a sculpture hides all of that. But when you make such a clean surface (as the Bronze Table), it is tough to do. The process is very complicated.
So we are rigorous not only regarding design but also in the process of making the furniture. We put a lot of energy into how it is processed. We always go to the best manufacturers and the best craftsmen to do the pieces. If it is leather, we do it in-house. We design a piece, and we let the craftsman interpret it because we believe they are more capable than we are of designing the details, of finding the right way to work it in leather. They know how the material will react.
Hermès always partners with experts in materials outside of leather, as you did with the silversmiths of Puiforcat?
Exactly. We always work with the best people we believe we will have a good relationship with, and together, we move forward. That was the case with Karumi by (Pritzker Prize awardee architect) Alvaro Siza.
We like working with architects because, obviously, the architect’s relationship with time is different than a designer who responds to the moment. At Hermès, history and patrimony are very important. Pieces are made to last, so we like to collaborate with architects.
We went to Alvaro Siza because we like his very simple architecture, his use of material. We came to him to design rattan furniture. He came up with very simple drawings, two stools and a bench. We had a hard time finding the craftsmen to make them! We went to Italy, we went to Portugal, but it was too craft. It wasn’t the right product for Hermès. After two years, we finally met this master in Japan who invented this technique with bamboo—multilayers of bamboo, like multiply. It has the properties of bamboo, which is very strong and pliant. With this technique, we achieved Siza’s drawing.
We call (this approach) techno-artisanal because it is between craft and technology. Finding new techniques and working very closely with the craftsmen moves Hermès forward.
You like working with designers like yourself who are involved throughout the entire process?
Yeah, yeah, I like them to be involved. Alvaro Siza was really involved. He was very difficult, he knew exactly what he wanted, and we couldn’t change anything in his design. But I like the path between what we have in mind in Hermès and what they have in mind.
(Spanish architect) Rafael Moneo gave a great quote to a journalist. He said, “What is interesting with Hermès is the path we made together. Without Hermès, I would never have met at this corner. Hermès moved too, so we met in the middle of the road, working together.” That is very interesting. I don’t care for just receiving a drawing and doing what we want with it. It’s what we do together that’s important.
How do you know when to give in and when not?
I pretty much trust what the architect wants. I chose Rafael Moneo because I love his work. I have a book by him (The Freedom of the Architect), with some of his great prototypes from many years ago, so I knew his work. I love his work.
Who else do you admire?
Luis Barragán, for the simplicity of his spaces, his relationship between interiors and exteriors, so simple it’s almost monastic, and the way he uses color—playful but very strict. I like his use of materials, simple but beautiful materials. I love Peter Zumthor, I love his Benedictine chapel, in the middle of the mountain.
Anyone you are looking forward to working with?
I can’t say! Someone from here (Asia) and someone from Europe.
Your vision for the next five years?
No change. Hermès is amazing because it lets us do whatever we want. But Alexis and I are pretty firm about not being here to make a break. We are here to continue what has been done, carrying the same values, but moved forward. There are always new artists, new designers. All those collaborations make every day fascinating. We have a great internal team, and we have obviously new ideas. There’s a real energy in everybody to put in as best as we can, to use the best material, and to always respect the art, the manufacturer, and the craftsman. We’re not changing the world, but hopefully, making beautiful stuff.
Hermès Maison in the Philippines is in Greenbelt 3, Ayala Center, Tel: (02) 757 8910