The Hermès boutique at 24 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré is a treasure trove for those who appreciate the maison’s artistry and craftsmanship. A destination in itself, the boutique serves as an entryway into the Hermès universe, where collections weave into each other and where each scarf, plate, and bag has a story to tell. The beginnings of that story did not come from very far, only a few floors up, in fact.
Step Into My Parlor
On the upper levels of the boutique, hiding in plain sight, is the Emile Hermès museum. It is different from all the other museums in Paris because, for one, it is not open to the public. Only a privileged few have stepped into these wood-paneled halls where each object is a historical artifact and every painting is a masterpiece. There are leather saddles, baby prams, rocking horses, spurs, canes, monogrammed travel kits—a veritable “cabinet de curiosités” which Emile Hermès had been collecting since he was 12 years old. As the third-generation president of Hermès, Emile (1871-1951) strongly influenced the tenets of the house as we know it today. Even then, there was already a strong affinity to horses. At the museum, there are a number of antique saddles in pigskin and leather, coaches and harnesses, and protective boots for postal workers riding in the winter. Even the portraits all have similar references. Taking pride of place in the room that used to be Emile Hermès’ office is a painting of King Louis XIV, which dates back to 1669, riding his warhorse.
Inside the Emile Hermès museum and its collection of Natural Heritage pieces.
A Trip Back in Time
At a very young age, Emile Hermès already had a knack for collecting interesting things and unique artifacts. The very first piece in his collection, an ivory cane with the head of a duck, which he bought with his school pocket money, can still be found in the museum today. Over time, Hermés honed his craft and grew his reputation in France, and was soon closely tied to the royal family. This is plainly evident in the museum, where paintings of the royal family adorn the walls. The son of Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie also features prominently in the collection, where portraits of the young prince, along with handmade toys, pony saddles, and rocking horses, are displayed.
Each piece tells of a history
In the 1920s, Paris was a different city and so was the Hermès boutique. Back then, the store was a functioning workshop, where bags, suitcases, and travel kits were made. Outside the store was a sign that read “au singe violet,” or the violet monkey, and, in fact, there was a monkey in a violet coat that entertained the customers while waiting for their merchandise. Here, Hermès found a home for his collection, which would inspire his artisans to create remarkable pieces. For instance, there is a travel kit made by the goldsmith of Napoleon III, which contains everything a gentleman might need for a long voyage—silver cutlery and bowls, a candelabra, and grooming tools such as a mirror and a secret compartment, all contained in a handcrafted leather box. This was the inspiration for Hermès’ customized travel kits that are specially made for chefs, photographers, and artists that have special compartments for their tools. There is also an enormous 19th-century dog collar on display, which bears a striking resemblance to the Hermès collier de chien bracelet.
More of its rich interiors; and a travel kit made by the goldsmith of Napoleon III, which contains all the essentials a gentleman might need.
Under Lock and Key
Seeing the collection in the museum, most of them Natural Heritage pieces, it is easy to see why Hermès would want to keep it private. More than the objects’ monetary value, the collection has the power to awe and inspire, to challenge creative minds to create something new from something old. Innovation at its finest—this is what Hermès finds most valuable of all. The museum is open to the maison’s artisans who can comb through each piece and let its story spark a new beginning. For the rest of us, a peek into this privileged world will have to do.