To do that calls for a preternaturally open mind. As long as one remembers that the end product should be useful, is produced “with excellence” and surprises – what De Virieu says are the three main traits of anything Hermes – the possibilities are indeed endless. He recounts how by accidentally tipping over a crystal wine glass (it didn’t make it to stores as it had a chip), he and a designer came up with not one, but three objects. The elegant bowl was fitted with a rope net and transformed into a hanging vase perfect for succulents. The stem became the chic pestle to a wooden mortar, and the foot – when combined with another – became an oversized (and highly luxurious) yo-yo.
Unlike at the other ateliers at Hermes, the creative team and artisans who work collaboratively at petit h aren’t given an annual theme or have to deal with regular deadlines. “Even if it takes six months to complete, we do it,” says De Virieu. “We are not under pressure to create objects. We are under pressure to create nice objects.” Factor in the unpredictable and eclectic nature of their resources and they develop just between 250 and 300 items a year, all handcrafted and most of which are one of a kind.
Adding to the somewhat mythical existence of petit h, the only permanent destination to see and purchase these idiosyncratic works of craft and creativity is the brand’s Rue de Sevres boutique on the Left Bank, housed in what was once one of Paris’ most beautiful, Art Deco-designed indoor swimming pool complexes. The studio also gathers some of its wares and wanders the globe, setting up specially curated, pop-up sales exhibitions at its stores in other cities, one at a time.
Catch petit h Tomorrow At Hermes’ Liat Towers Shop
From tomorrow to Dec 15, this upbeat, conservation-forward outfit lands at the Liat Towers shop on Orchard Road. The second time that petit h has made a stop in Singapore (it first did in 2013), the public event will feature an assortment of objects thought to reflect our local culture and environment. De Virieu and company – sparked by a visit to our garden city last year – have singled out the likes of giant, mushroom-shaped paperweights with caps bound in ostrich skin; a petite (no pun intended) shagreen top-handle bag with a woven base that resembles a mini fishing basket; and – one of De Virieu’s personal favourites – a wooden chair with sensuous, seemingly ergonomic curves, its back formed with the frame of a saddlebow (yes, Hermes still produces saddlery).
Setting the scene to this whimsical design wonderland is the local, Salon del Mobile-recognised multi-disciplinary artist Olivia Lee, handpicked by De Virieu who was bowled over by her storytelling prowess and how she – in her own work– plays with materials in unexpected ways. (He calls her 2015 exhibit The Marvellous Marble Factory, in which she reimagined confectionary using the patterned stone, “perfect”.) For this instalment of petit h, she’s dreamt up “Planet h”, a landscape populated by organic forms and resources with which a mysterious astronaut has created – in De Virieu’s own words – “some crazy things”.
Visitors, you’ve been warned. To quote De Virieu’s reply when asked if his artisans ever move on to Hermes’ other workshops after entering the petit h universe: “Once you’re here, you don’t want to leave.”
The event is free for all to attend and runs from 10:30am – 8pm daily. Browse the gallery below for a look at some of the items that will be on display tomorrow.