Vogue International Editor Suzy Menkes is the best-known fashion journalist in the world. After 25 years commenting on fashion for the International Herald Tribune (rebranded recently as The International New York Times), Suzy Menkes now writes exclusively for Vogue online, covering fashion worldwide.
Hermès in Wanderland
10 Апреля 2015
Who exactly is the flâneur — the figure who saunters down the boulevards, impeccably dressed, swinging his cane? In the case of one collector’s item, the cane has a horse’s head with a tongue poking out under pressure.
Can a collection of whimsical pieces ever have seemed so elegant as those brought together by Emile Hermès, one of the French company’s long list of family entrepreneurs.
A small portion of his artefacts form the core of the charming exhibition at London’s Saatchi gallery, known for its modern-art exhibitions. On the upper level that hosts Wanderland (until May 2), the display is modest, intriguing, digitally savvy — and an original way of suggesting both the quirkiness and the craftsmanship behind this famous name.
“When you join Hermès, you need to be a bit crazy,” said Axel Dumas, the company’s CEO, who was with his cousin Pierre-Alexis Dumas, artistic director. They were in town to show off the refurbished Hermès store on London’s New Bond Street, which has opened up its former offices to let light in on a high-ceilinged area devoted to furnishings, especially the signature orange leather. Outside on the terrace, a Henry Moore statue is displayed among potted trees.
Both cousins realise how difficult it is to anglicise the word /flâneur/, so quintessentially French, invented in the nineteenth-century Proustian era with a suggestion of a self-aware, male elegance shown off at a leisurely pace.
“A wonderfully liberating art of urban wandering is second nature to Hermès,” claimed Pierre-Alexis.
Axel Dumas, praising London as a “happening” spot, seemed to suggest that the once buttoned up Anglo Saxon attitude had changed, making the elegant offerings in the store appropriate for the cosmopolitan city.
Over at the Saatchi gallery, Pierre-Alexis waxed lyrical about his eccentric great grandfather Emile, who bought his first umbrella at the age of 12, setting off an obsession with collecting that is in view throughout the Wanderland exhibition.
Out of a selection of the 30,000 artefacts has come what Axel Dumas called an “immersive exhibition” that starts with a room of canes. The walls are inserted with videos, like graphic windows, bringing the objects to life. A dancer juggling with his cane is described as “dancing the cane-cane”, as a riff on the French can-can.
Throughout, from tiny postage-stamp inserts in objects to floor panels that speak as you walk across them, videography plays an important role in moving the story of a Belle Epoque flâneur fast forward into the twenty-first century.
Curator Bruno Gaudichon and scenographer Hubert Le Gall used eight artists to give a touch of Alice in Wonderland zany-ness: hence street lamps turned upside down to stand on their heads. A wall of drawings of famous Parisian places includes motor cars zooming behind a horse-drawn carriage and top-hatted gentlemen from the turn of the century chatting up modern, miniskirted girls.
The first step from the room of canes is into competing ladies’ and gentlemen’s salons, hers with a red-tounged horse’s head above Hermès bags hung on the wall. The men’s version has a similar horse’s head but with more obviously collectable objects. The treasures of the Hermès founder are placed alongside objects that failed to sell successfully and are therefore washed up in empty bottles outside the oh-so-French café, named: Cafe des Objets Oubliés or “forgotten objects”.
The fascinating part of the displays is the mix of historical and digital, as in a room where the candelabra is made of champagne glasses and where a mini Eiffel Tower suddenly swings out of a mirror.
I was charmed by an open post-box with envelopes addressed to Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolf. And I was mesmerised by a paint box with some colours digitally treated to create miniature squares of video, showing moving water. The urban areas include walls boldly splattered with pop-art graffiti by the legendary artist known as Cept.
The most Gallic city scenery is the creation of a shopping galerie — the nineteenth-century genus of today’s shopping mall. The classic shop windows included the French version of the British “bull in the china shop” — a hefty elephant stepping its vast feet on a dainty blue tea pot.
Perhaps only a privately owned luxury company could produce such an engaging exhibition that spends a fair amount of time laughing at itself and celebrates the quirkiness of its family history. But this theatre of illusions has a clear message when it reaches the final curtain. That is, in fact, a door, which appears to be three dimensional with curlicues and decoration. In reality, it is a flat surface given twenty-first-century digital depth.
“The future is digital,” announces Axel Dumas. And that turns Wanderland into Wonderland.
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