There’s something magical going on at the Hermès flagship store on New Bond Street. Downstairs, set designer Faye Toogood has transformed the space into a veritable ‘Ali Baba cavern’ filled with all manner of wondrous things: a teapot transformed into a mobile with leather wings, a playing card grandfather clock, a gigantic floppy leather lioness and a boat-shaped bench in green calfskin. These objects (and many more) created by a roster of designers ranging from Christian Astuguevieille, Stefania di Petrillo, Gilles Jonemann and Adrien Rovero are the result of equal parts experimentation, exquisite craftsmanship and a refreshing sense of whimsy and fantasy that define Petit h, the 3-year-old métier of the 176-year-old luxury house, Hermès headed up by Pascale Mussard.
At Petit h, Mussard is seeking to find a new life for the discarded Hermès materials which don’t make the cut of the house’s exacting standards, refashioning them into something completely new. Or as she puts it, “I love to remake, renovate, reinvent and re-enchant." As a 6th generation descendant of the house’s founder, Thierry Hermès, Mussard grew up running around the ateliers of the Hermes’ artisans, raiding their drawers “because in their drawers were always treasures, and also sweets, that I was not allowed to have!” This instilled in her “the respect, care and obsession to even the smallest detail” that the craftsmen took to their craft, an experience she hopes to carry over to the petit h line. In many ways, petit h is a very serious way for Mussard to indulge her childhood fantasies – as the thrifty schoolgirl who fashioned costumes out of offcut leather and wrapped presents in found materials, she was given the nickname ‘Don’t throw that away it might be useful.’ “Even my kids make fun of that today,” she sighs, “But I tell them it’s a serious business.”
“I love to remake, renovate, reinvent and re-enchant"
Indeed, since its inception, Petit h has put on temporary exhibitions in New York, Singapore and Tokyo, selling out each time of its exclusive and unique treasure trove. So successful have these irregular interventions been, that petit h now has its own atelier in Pantin and a designated space in the Paris flagship. Says Mussard, “For me, Petit h is Hermès, but it’s more than the DNA for Hermès. Petit h is really a way to respect Hermès –respect for our materials, respect for the people who work for us, respect for the memories. It’s like a transmission project. And maybe it won’t work, but I will have tried to transmit the story of Hermès.” Asked if there was an item that defines this philosophy, Mussard points out a solid crystal doorstop with a handle from an old Kelly bag: the perfect synthesis of new techniques and centuries-old craft. “It seems very easy, but it took one year to do it,” she explains, “There were a lot of experiments along the way, like in a laboratory.” The sometimes unexpected nature of the end product comes about through the designers she collaborates with attempting to transform their way of thinking, insisting, “They do not come to Petit h to repeat what they are doing. They are challenging themselves to make themselves better.”
It’s also a way for her to push the brand forward but at the same time, utilising the skills of the anciennes, some of whom returned to work for petit h after decades of service for the main line. “For me it’s a relief see them again and to see their energy and their enthusiasm. You have to understand that, it’s not just a family house but also a family spirit.” She continues, “I think that a craftsman who has spent 25 years – that counts. That is not to be thrown away. And a young designer, that counts also. Luxury for me is human relationship; it is human encounters and dialogue.” That, and a boat-shaped bench in green calfskin too of course.
The Petit h temporary sale runs from November 20 to December 7 at Hermès, 155 New Bond Street London W1S 2UA