Object Lessons

  • The Sac Écritoire unfolds into a portable writing tablet.
  • The Sac Écritoire unfolds into a portable writing tablet.
  • Photo by Pierre Even
    The Sac Écritoire, which unfolds into a portable writing tablet, was designed by Pierre-Alexis Dumas. Photo by Pierre Even
  • Émile Hermès’s original office is now a private archive and museum that showcases thousands of travel-related historical artifacts collected by the family over the past century.
  • Émile Hermès’s original office is now a private archive and museum that showcases thousands of travel-related historical artifacts collected by the family over the past century.
  • Émile Hermès’s original office is now a private archive and museum that showcases thousands of travel-related historical artifacts collected by the family over the past century.
  • Age-old leather-making techniques are employed to handcraft the Sac Écritoire in Hermès’s workshop on the outskirts of Paris.
  • The fall men’s runway show reflects the brand’s modern spirit.
  • Photo by Pierre Even
<< Back to Robb Report, September 2015

The Hermès family upholds its tradition of producing practical products and elegant curiosities that, in turn, create meaning and memories for generations of owners.  

In defiance of our digitally accelerated, smartphone-obsessed culture, which emphasizes an immediate gratification that seldom gratifies, Pierre-Alexis Dumas dedicates himself to dreaming up concepts intended to inspire society to slow down and savor the moment. The latest such
whimsy from the artistic director of Hermès is an attaché case that unfolds to form a small writing tablet—a practical yet capricious device that gives the imagination a place to play, no matter where the owner happens to be. “I designed the Sac Écritoire for myself,” he says. “When I’m stuck at the airport or in transit, I can open my little desk and sketch wherever I am.” 

More than just an adaptable tool for daydreamers, the portable escritoire represents a continuation of one of the company’s most novel traditions: Each year, the 178-year-old luxury-goods producer adopts a theme that speaks to some particular aspect of its heritage, and its design team then devises a series of limited-edition items that reflect the chosen subject. Dumas, a member of the sixth generation of his family to steward the brand, inherited the task of selecting this annual leitmotif from his father, the longtime chairman Jean-Louis Dumas, who initiated the practice of thematic presentations in 1987. The practice encourages the company’s custodians to connect to the past while keeping in mind the weighty responsibility of carrying forward the legacy of Hermès—one of the few large fashion houses to remain in the hands of family members. This year, Dumas organized the design team’s efforts around the idea of flânerie, a French term often used in the 19th century to describe the favorite pastime of the leisurely urban explorer, who strolls the streets, meditating on the energy and beauty of the city. 

“Flânerie is a celebration of life,” says Dumas, who in the spirit of this diversion invited a group of international journalists to spend a day with him in London as flaneurs, meandering through different neighborhoods, antique markets, and shops. “In a digital age, it is a reminder that we have two legs, and our body needs to experience the real world. Flânerie is a mind-set that allows our minds to wander and discover beautiful objects.” 

Dumas’s discoveries as a flaneur inspire him to produce such beautifully handcrafted pieces as his Sac Écritoire, an appurtenance that likely would have appealed to his great-great-grandfather, Émile Hermès, who established and cultivated the company’s twin commitments to craft and enduring style. From 1910 to 1950, this patriarch greatly expanded the scope of his father’s saddlery workshop, providing wealthy Europeans and a cadre of royals with impeccably crafted leather saddles and luxuriously appointed carriage interiors. Enamored of striking design and skillfully executed work, Émile assembled a collection of thousands of superbly rendered, centuries-old items from around the world relating to horses and travel, and this collection—along with his original, almost perfectly preserved office—constitutes the private Hermès museum, which occupies a floor above the Parisian flagship store on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. “He was a true collector and was sensitive to any object that seemed to be animated from inside or had a spirit,” says Dumas, who adds that Émile spent much of his time in pursuit of finds to join the rest of his burgeoning private collection. Among the treasures on display in his menagerie are a mechanical horse made for Napoléon III’s son, the Prince Imperial; an elaborate leather travel case made for a British officer stationed in India; and a vibrant assortment of intricate jeweled and embroidered saddles fashioned for Asian warriors, African potentates, and Indian maharajahs.

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