Beneath a canopy of twisted metal wires, which appear to spring from a decorative carpet like party streamers frozen in mid-air, a young French woman named Amadine painstakingly removes the excess glue from leather strips she has just melded together using a blunt knife and beeswax.
The piece will eventually become the handle of a Hermès Kelly bag (which boasts a $10,000 price tag). When asked how many totes she has created – each artisan is responsible for an entire bag – Amadine laughs and shrugs. She notes her serial number is engraved on each one, and refuses to reveal the amount of hours it takes to fashion a bag, insisting it’s about the quality and not the quantity.
This trained maroquinier, or leather worker, is just one of a dozen Hermès craftspeople who have been flying around the world as part of Festival des Métiers, a roadshow presenting the craftsmanship that goes into the French label’s high-end goods. It has touched down at Toronto’s Design Exchange until October 6 before moving on to Luxembourg.
In another corner of the Design Exchange’s historic trading floor, a scarf engraver takes a drawing of a Native American woman and etches it onto 46 transparent sheets – one for each colour of this particular design. The sheets are then handed off to two men manning the printing machine, who proceed to hand-screen each shade onto a piece of silk. Each year ushers in 10 new designs in 10 different colourways. During the demonstration, the engraver explains what is involved in creating a 90-by-90 centimetre square: 200 hours over two years, 300 cocoons from one butterfly.
The various métiers, or skills, on display in the exhibit include everything from stitching silk ties and cashmere twinsets to painting porcelain dishware. And, of course saddle-making – the roots of the 176-year-old company, which has maintained its the bulk of its local production. While the mens collection is manufactured in Italy, and the jewelry and watches are made in Switzerland, 75 per cent of the Hermès output originates from its French workshops, which employ approximately 2,000 craftspeople.
Hermès Festival des Métiers is on until October 6 at the Design Exchange at 234 Bay Street in Toronto. Admission is free.