Stories Told on Silk: The Making of the Hermès Carré
The iconic silk squares, or Carrés as christened by the house of Hermès, are best known and loved for their intricate designs, incomparably soft twill, and hand-rolled hems. First produced by Robert Dumas in 1937, the carré remains to be a fashion favorite that never goes out of style.
Today, the direction behind classic Hermès piece is in the trusted hands of notable names such as Pierre-Alexis Dumas (artistic director of the Hermès group and grandson to Robert Dumas), Bali Barret (artistic director of the women’s silk), and Leïla Menchari (director of the color panel).
In the almost 80 years since the Carré was first produced, they have trusted only the best specialists to design the original motifs that are so distinctly Hermès. Despite the Carré’s large clientele, the Hermès group has never grown complacent. They make it a point to shake things up every now and then, at times producing Carrés of different sizes or material; on occasion, old designs are revisited, but always with a touch of something new, like a different style or color scheme.
Since the time of the senior Dumas, the artistic minds behind the Hermès Carré have always hailed it as more than a mere accessory or work of art—according to Pierre-Alexis Dumas, “It is an object perfectly composed and autonomous, which can suffice on its own.” The Carré is timeless not just because of its designs, but also its versatility. Deemed “classic or casual according to the taste of the moment,” the Carré can be worn on any occasion. With a little creativity, there is an endless amount of ways to use the Carré: as a headband, belt, bustier, even a handbag—calling it an accessory truly becomes an understatement.
Every year, Hermès brings life to about 30 new designs. To this day, more than 1,500 designs have already been produced. While the vast number of Carré designs can lead one to believe that production is almost effortless, the opposite is true: much thought, time, and labor is put into the production of every piece. Today, we take a look behind the scenes and get to know how exactly our favorite Hermès Carrés are produced—“from the cocoon to the Carré.”
It takes almost three months to get the silk from the mill to the printing tables. The ultimate starting point of a Carré is at a Brazilian mill, where the silk is produced. The magic equation is simple: one silk moth equals one Carré. From the mill, the skeins of raw silk thread are sent to the iPerrin establishment for weaving. It is there that the Carré’s silk twill material, made distinct by its serged weave and fine diagonal ribs, is obtained. In the words of Bali Barret, “It is this very fabric that plays a large part in the magic of the Hermès Carré.”
This stage is probably the most painstaking and time-consuming—a design that makes use of 30 colors can take between 400 and 600 hours of engraving. The engraver interprets the nuances of the design and determines the number of films necessary. Each color corresponds to one transparent film, onto which the engraver traces the life-sized mock-up with Indian ink. This stage is crucial—the very perfection of the engraving determines that of the printing.
Coloring takes place in the Lyon workshops after the engraving of the design. Here, a lot of brainstorming takes place—colorists dream up 10 or so different ambiances or color schemes for each scarf design. A lot of thought goes into each ambiance, as each style is aimed at being suitable to any of its wearers. Pierre-Alexis Dumas describes the coloring process: “To succeed in coloring a Carré, I therefore need to tell myself stories. To imagine a situation, an atmosphere, a journey that is different for each version, so as to avoid reproducing the same ambiances.” While others might think they go to unnecessarily great lengths, this is precisely what makes for the personality and the originality of every collection.
Once decided upon, the colors are prepared. Each hue has its own specific recipe, and the colors are cooked by hand. The amount of each color to be used for every corresponding area on the Carré is measured quantitatively—precision is of utmost importance, so as not to put any materials to waste.
To print the design on the carré, Hermès makes use of a traditional Lyonnaise printing technique. Each film corresponds to a metal frame over which polyester gauze is stretched. The gauze, coated with a layer of photo-sensitive gelatine, ensures that only the color of choice is printed on the desired areas. The frames are applied onto the stretched out rolls of silk one after the other, leaving a new color behind after each frame passes. They start with the outline pattern, and then fill in the smallest to the largest areas, from the darkest to the lightest colors. The printing is then completed with the border, where the rolling of the hem will later be done.
Once the silk is dry, the finishing touches can take place. The colors are fixed by steam cooking at 103 degrees Celsius for an hour, after the silk is washed, dried, and cut. Finally, the process comes to completion by giving the Carré its signature hand-rolled hems. Upon approval after a final quality control visit, the Carré is ready for delivery.
Since the birth of the very first Carré, Hermès has told more than 1,500 stories in different designs. The very production of the Carré is a story in itself. Having discovered the hundreds of hours and countless talents behind every Carré has us looking forward to the rest of the stories Hermès has to tell on silk.
Article originally published in Metro Society's March 2016 issue / Photographs courtesy of Hermès ?/ Minor edits have been made for Metro.Style