There is often an underlying current of play and whimsy through everything Hermes does, and that extends to their window displays too. After all, this is the house with a history of transforming store fronts into an art form unto itself – thanks to the wondrous imaginings of the late Tunisian aesthete Leila Menchari (Hermes’ former director of window displays).
The brand continues that rich visual tradition in selected stores globally. At its Liat Towers flagship here, Hermes recently unveiled a realm full of strange creatures: cue a giant turtle relative that appears to be crafted out of tents (with a fish tail to boot), or a Minotaur-esque figure with a bicycle wheel for limbs.
Artfully cobbled together, the effect is delightfully bizarre, reminiscent of the film Howl’s Moving Castle and its menagerie of part-animal, part-machine oddities – and a distinct nod to Hermes’ theme for the year: “Astonishment”.
A Minotaur-esque creation.
The installation is the work of Hansol Kim, the South Korean artist known for his imaginative use of a wide-ranging variety of mediums, notably clothing, to craft playfully textured sculptures. The 34-year-old is interested in how symbols and objects often take on new, hybridised meanings when they travel through different cultures and spaces.
“It’s fascinating to me how symbols and objects thought to be intrinsic to one culture often have a counterpart in other cultures, though they may be interpreted quite differently. For example, in Korea, I grew up with dragons being a big part of our mythologies and they’re viewed quite (benevolently), as compared to how dragons are commonly depicted in the West (as creatures of destruction),” says Kim.
Artist Hansol Kim is the brains and hands behind the latest window display at Hermes’ Liat Towers store.
That obsession manifests in how Kim enjoys taking apart objects to re-contextualise them. For Unique, Universal and Unity (the name of his installation for this Hermes project), historical garments and accessories such as 16th-century boots and traditional Korean socks were melded with contemporary everyday things such as skis and kayak paddles to birth new, trans-cultural characters.
Hermes objects too, are naturally part of the installation, though never in an obtrusive manner: a wool blanket is draped across the Minotaur’s back for instance, while Hermes toys and charms help burnish Kim’s mythical landscape and the ineffable sense that his creatures are marching towards parts unknown.
Ahead, the artist walks us through his creative process and how he’s imbued Hermes’ 2023 theme of “Astonishment” into this installation.
The artist skillfully wove together everyday objects, traditional accessories and Hermes products into an organic narrative.
Your works often seem to contain many parts from different objects. How do you start your creative process?
“For me, my creative process is akin to choosing what to wear every single morning; it’s all about my gut feeling. I always choose the materials I use in my artwork intuitively; I need to see the colour, the volume and the texture, much as one does when putting together an outfit for the day. I love clothes, so I tend to collect clothing one by one, and sometimes my wardrobe is full, so I just display them around my room, like a piece of furniture or sculpture. I see clothing as a malleable entity that can be a visually appealing, wearable object.”
So it would be correct to say that you collect clothes for the purpose of art-making?
“When I look at a piece of clothing, and if I like a certain technical pattern, I get inspiration from it. For example, houndstooth pattern is widely used in the fashion industry. But if I research about that specific pattern, there are loads of different words used for it in different cultures. It’s a good example of the DNA of my work, which is quite cross-cultural. I am Korean but I’ve also lived in Europe for nine years… as you research more about the history and origins of different fabrics and clothes-making techniques, you’ll often find that what you thought was (inherently Korean) may have similar counterparts elsewhere in the world – cultures, traditions, and techniques travel as part of trades like those found on the Silk Road, long before the Internet was a thing…
In the two smaller windows at the Hermes Liat Towers store, I’ve created my own take on the Silk Road – there are miniature signboards like those you see on traditional old-fashioned inns and taverns, helping to guide the creatures I created.”
Kim’s interpretation of the trades and journeys that took place on the legendary Silk Road.
Tell us about your own memories of Hermes’ windows.
“I came upon Hermes’ Bond Street boutique in London this April and was really fascinated by their window display. It caught my eye because I never expected to see this sort of wild brightly-coloured cave setting at Hermes, and even the brand’s products weren’t easily spotted. To me that was such a clever way of playing with ‘Astonishment’ (the brand’s theme for 2023) – getting people to get closer to the window and changing their eyesight level to find the products hidden within the tableau. I really like this approach as it’s a more fun and quirky way of telling stories.”
How did you translate Hermes’ 2023 theme of Astonishment into the final installation?
“I had the first meeting with the Hermes team in Paris, and what I understood from that meeting is that to the French, astonishment is not necessarily a big “wow” reaction. Astonishment can be something small; it can be something that makes people go, hey, I didn’t know or expect that!
I’m very interested in how symbols and objects are (transmuted over time and space)… So that’s why I researched about the transcultural civilisations; their histories, the things they traded, the techniques and languages they passed on to people from other lands. It’s fascinating to me how symbols and objects thought to be intrinsic to one culture often have a counterpart in other cultures, though they may be interpreted quite differently. For example, in Korea, I grew up with dragons being a big part of our mythologies and they’re viewed quite (benevolently), as compared to how they’re commonly depicted in the West (as creatures of destruction).
Hermes itself was born in France and its founder (probably never imagined it would grow) to become a worldwide phenomenon. For this installation, I created five mythical creatures wearing Hermes products, because to me, my creatures share a cultural code with the brand – they all have a universal goal to head off for a journey.”
A closer look at Kim’s assemblages.
When you’re making art for a gallery versus a commercial project – how does that change your working process?
“I was a bit apprehensive because it’s my first ever commercial project. But as it turns out, Hermes gave me total freedom in terms of creation, and even provided me with the leather to work with. I had the freedom to pick out what I wanted – be it the type and colour of leather, down to the final Hermes products that would be included in the installation.
So in the end, I largely worked as how I normally do… if anything, the change (in how he normally operates) was thinking about how to blend Hermes’ products with my work in a coherent fashion, without compromising either parties’ philosophies. Even prior to being commissioned, I was already a big fan of the house and what they do, so I think that helped in my planning of what to include and how to build a narrative that includes them thoughtfully.”
Hansol Kim’s installation will be on display until Nov 28 at Hermes Liat Towers, 541 Orchard Road