Hermès—Émile’s Collection

By Cheryl Anderson



“His golden rule was beauty through usefulness.”                                                            

          —Menehould du Chatelle


Émile Hermès’ collection, and that of the Hermès family, is displayed at 24 rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Paris, the Hermès flagship store.  (In a previous article, there was an address mistake—this is correct.)  Émile’s office was located on the upper floor.  Today, inside the wood-panelled rooms, the walls are covered with paintings and swords, glass cases are full of fascinating curiosities, and placed all around on every surface is memorabilia—a vast private collection of 10,000 objects and several thousand books.  

Attelage en arbalète, Philippe Ledoux, 1972.

Leather collar with brass buckles, late 19th-early 20th century.

Les Eperons, Françoise de La Perrière, 1976.

Nadine Coleno states that, “Only objects imbued with meaning survived the test of time.” The Collection is not open to the public, but is “a source of inspiration for the creative minds at Hermès. A place where the designers can come to marvel at the things he himself marveled at, and see how they can inspire new collections and new objects.”, Menehould, Director of Hermès Cultural Heritage.  However, the museum is open to those with private invitations.


Harnais de Cour, Philippe Ledoux, 1977.

“He was born in the family, born to dress horses…The horse is not concerned by the logos, the brand, the price…A horse does not want to be ridiculous…he is at the source of Hermès, not just at the back but as a leader.  The message of this collection is to remember the horse and try to be worthy of the horse.”, states Menehould.

Varnished leather blinker, France, 19th century.

The theme of the collection is most definitely equine. One comes away knowing the horse is the soul of the Hermès brand.  In the collection, you’ll find equestrian antiques, some original Hermès products, children’s toys, pieces of furniture, jewelry, clothing, and much more. There are paintings of horses, saddles of course, sculptures of horses, an early 1900s child’s saddle, small caleches for children, spurs, whips, harnesses, boxes with grooming items, objects of horse related occupations such as tools of the ferrier and coachman..

Varnished leather blinker, France, 19th century.

Buckles, 19th century.

For years, I would catch the bus in Cap Martin to go to Menton or to Monaco.  Across from the bus stop was a ferronnerie. I often heard the not unpleasant pounding sounds coming from inside and imagine sparks were flying.  Sometimes, a horse and carriage with tourists would go by as I waited at the stop.  On other occasions, the horse and carriage would pass by as I walked along the private road in the Cap—hearing, on the otherwise very quiet road, the clip-clopping sound echoing in the air. The ornate gates to huge mansions face the road, but on the far side of the gates the residents have a glorious sweeping view of the Mediterranean

Les Épaulettes, Caty Latham-Audibert, 1975.

Épaulettes, M. Hiltert.

Brandebourgs, Caty Latham-Audibert, 1972.

M. Hiltert, Dolman de la Garde impériale, Second Empire.

The Dreux sketch, that was the inspiration for the Hermès logo, hangs above the ornate fireplace in the museum. I saw a picture online of a 19th century South American ladies’ side saddle stirrup in the collection made of copper alloy and a moonstone in the center on top—function and beauty. Truly very pretty and delicate in its appearance. There’s an original Hermès travel satchel made for a lady.  Its design fit perfectly in the trunk of the early vehicles and inspired future Hermès handbags—this original shape is similar to the Hermès Bolide.

Ferronnerie, Caty Latham-Audibert, 1970.

Cast iron door knocker, horse-head decoration, France, 18th century.

Émile Hermès began collecting at age 12.  I read that his first purchase was made with his first tip, 2 Francs.  This first purchase was an 80 year old canne galant, a gentleman’s walking stick with a delicate parasol hidden within—just in case the lady, while on a stroll with the gentleman, needed protection from the sun. Two other canes in his collection possess a  convenient addition for specific tasks.  One was very handy if while walking in the woods one decided to collect mushrooms for luckily there was a velvet pouch attached.  The other had a small candle at the top for whenever light was needed. Functional, and I imagine was beautiful.  Émile forever marveled at ingenuity and creativity of everything he collected.  In the 1920s, Hermès created a yo-yo and Menehould found an Hermès purse in the shape of a dog at a Paris flea market.

Grand uniforme. Joachim Metz, 1985.

M. Hiltert,  Shako de tirailleur-grenadier, Premier Empire.

As time moved on, the House of Hermès made the necessary innovations, adaptations, and creativity required—the automobile had arrived.   Menehould states, “His obsession was that the detail must be perfect, very fine. It looks simple, but it accompanies your movement very well. For Émile-Maurice, the motorcar was like the horse; deserving of the best.”

Cannes et pommeaux, Françoise de La Perrière, 1985.

Canes, sticks and crops, 19th century.

What prompted the bespoke suitcases Émile made for his friend Ettore Bugatti, the car-maker?  It all started with an antique trunk Émile bought. The trunk had been owned by Jean-Jacques Régis de Cambacérès, a statesman in Napoleon Bonaparte’s government.  When he first considered buying the trunk it was complete with all the things a statesman would require on his travels, razors, bowls, mirrors, and tableware.  But, by the time Émile made the decision to buy it, all of the contents had been sold separately.  What was left were the keys and the trunk itself—so he bought the trunk and the keys.   One key opened the hidden lock on the trunk and the remaining keys opened the compartments inside. This trunk fit perfectly on a coach. Shown the Napoleonic trunk, Bugatti was intrigued by the “secrets” of the keys—that they opened so many secret compartments.

Color ways of Brandebourgs.

Hermès store interior, picture from the 1950s, Little Book of Hermès.

Bugatti had manufactured, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful cars ever made, the Bugatti Royale. Ettore was already a client of Hermès for saddlery and tack, then in the 1920s he commissioned a trunk in yellow cowhide—to match the Bugatti Royale in yellow of course. Et voila, a delightfully gorgeous trunk in yellow, other bespoke suitcases, and keys with their own secrets—all designed for Bugatti’s cars.  I can only imagine how pleased was Ettore.

Ferronnerie on the Cap.

Carriage going by.

A picnic set made to go in an automobile, designed by Émile-Maurice in 1928, is in the collection. It’s said, it was a simpler version of the Napoleonic trunk.  Cleverly wrapped in pig leather to control humidity and protect what was inside—“sandwich boxes, cutlery, crockery and an insulated flask for your caviar, among other things.”—designed for easy access from its position in the car.  As it is, and was, standard practice, details of Hermès products are always important, resulting in perfection.  Since the motorcar requirements were just as important as items for the carriage and horse, so was the picnic set made to fit the auto.  I have a silver sandwich box and I can just imagine a basket full of such beautiful things as my sandwich box.

Sandwich box.

Sandwich box open.

Trunks in yellow cowhide were made for the yellow Bugatti Royale.

Hermès travel cases.

Some of Émile’s collection, inspired artists and found their way as motifs for carrés de soie,  In 1992, the scarf, Memoire d’Hermès, considered an homage to Émile Hermès, was designed by an artist that had worked for the House since 1960. In the center of the scarf is the picture of his grandfather, Thierry Hermès, surrounded by, among other things, a powder horn, a comb, artist’s palette, and a book on hunting with dogs.

Gate on the Cap.

Such a lovely place to take a stroll.

Quite the entrance.

The scarf, La Selle Imaginaire, designed by Jan Bajtlik, celebrates the Hermès collection and the House of Hermès.  Described thusly at, hermes.com, “Braids, spirals and optical illusions adorn the dynamic composition. Its numerous motifs evoke faraway lands and invite us to travel. As with all of his creations, the artist has hidden a portrait of his dog Kluska in the design.”  Inspired by the collection, Jan took the image of the saddle to a whole new beautiful and chic dimension in his design.  I remember seeing saddles at 24 Faubourg Saint-Honoré that were certainly beyond anything I had ever seen. I was awed by such remarkable workmanship. I can see how Jan was moved to interpret the beauty of the Hermès saddle.

A place to take a seat along the way.

His contemporaries collected French 18th-century [objects and art] because it was considered a thing of taste. But this didnt concern Émile-Maurice. He collected to enrich his vision for the company., Menehould  du Chatelle.

Along the way, a mailbox.

Along the way, a mailbox.

À bientôt


Quotes and Pictures:

The Hermès Scarf—History & Mystique, by Nadine Coleno,  Thames and Hudson, publisher.

Hermès publications.

Little Book of HERMÈS, The Story of the iconic fashion house, by Karen Homer, published by Welbeck.