LONDON (Reuters) - The polished halls of London’s Burlington Gardens have a rather unusual visitor: Zouzou, a white rhinoceros with golden horns is here to celebrate the latest exhibition for Hermes.
“Leather Forever”, which runs until May 27, marks the French luxury goods maker’s 175th anniversary and its enduring love of leather and its relationship with the material.
Zouzou, a rhino mannequin clad in white ostrich skin, sits at the entrance of the exhibition inviting all members of the public to interact with Hermes and learn about its equestrian history and love of superior craftsmanship.
“It’s a very poetic and light-hearted way to put through the experience of Hermes and this is best way to convey Hermes’ future; who we are, where we are coming from,” Thierry Outin, Managing Director of Hermes UK told Reuters.
“We’ve been in the UK for almost 50 years now I think it’s a very good time, when we are celebrating London, the Queen’s Jubilee, the Olympic games.
“It’s the perfect timing for us to reassess and put forward this culture of craftsmanship, this culture of beautiful objects, of great quality towards a British audience,” he added.
The 12 spacious rooms showcase the different stories and sides to Hermes which is famous for creating famed handbags such as the Kelly and the Birkin, named after Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco and actress Jane Birkin.
Visitors are encouraged to interact with the exhibition by lifting hidden panels, touching digital displays or just simply basking in the scent of the finest leather that money can buy.
“All the senses are stimulated, not just the brain. It’s not just gathering information, it’s also a mood as you walk through the different rooms,” said Patrick Albaladejo, Director of Communication for Strategy at Hermes.
“You will feel something and hopefully you will feel those values, this philosophy that has been driving Hermes for over 150 years,” he added.
On display is a bespoke saddle completed with wings in red and orange calfskin as well as clever and detailed references to the firm’s trademark orange boxes, and a neon oversized Kelly bag sculpture showcasing the many variations of Kelly and Birkin bags created over the years.
In large part the company’s image and baseline revenues are still driven by its oldest division, leather goods and saddlery.
As part of the festivities, Hermes has created four unique handbags to represent the UK which will be auctioned online by Christie’s on May 14. The proceeds of which will be donated to the Royal Academy of Arts.
Visitors will also be able to watch actual craftsman from the company’s atelier in Paris at work. Each Hermes bag that is made is created by one craftsman, from start to finish, who signs their name on each bag they create in an unseen place inside the bag.
“I think a craftsman is a master of the know-how. He has received the know-how from an older craftsman when he was training and in turn over time, he will become a trainer to pass his know-how to others,” Albaladejo told Reuters.
“But what is important to his job, is not so much the technique that he will use, but the nature of the objective that he is pursuing and his objective is to create beauty.”
In creating such objects of beauty, each craftsman must train for a year and create a Kelly bag from scratch, it is perhaps no wonder that the wait for a Hermes bag can last up to five years.
Albaladejo said the waiting times for a Birkin bag can vary because of the time it takes to create and source the leather.
“It could be anything from zero, you can get one today if you go to the shop or you want a very big Birkin in crocodile, you may have to wait several months, perhaps one year until we get the skin to make it.
“You cannot just answer with one figure.”
Reporting by Li-mei Hoang, Editing by Paul Casciato