Skin-deep in the Hermès Men’s RTW Leather Atelier
The gesture is self-assured. With his furrier’s knife, Marc B. seems to cut the piece of deer skin as smoothly as if he were drawing lines. Like a magician, he removes the blades one by one, never hurting himself. The furrier’s knife is flexible, lightweight. It is easy to handle. There is a certain constancy. One must master the angle, spread the skin to avoid any folds; but beyond that, one must take possession of every single square millimeter. Imagine him grabbing a dozen skins from the trestles, curving them into a supple spectrum of ice-blue calfskin. He grabs the patterns – blue cards for the skins, orange for the linings – with the confidence of a true master. With thirty-five years of experience at Hermès, Marc (who prefers to use his first name) is a master of his craft. Outfitted in his chocolate calf apron, he operates as a true surgeon of materials, eliminating the “flaky” parts to keep only the noblest, central ones, knowing from the outset what will provide a collar or a sleeve with its roundness and neatness. From lamb to goat, from calf to baby sheep, each skin has its own character. Deer, for instance, evokes “caviar grains.” His father, a leatherworker, retained his passion for craftsmanship, which he passed on to his son, who has been a cutter in the workshop for the past six years.
Everything starts with the sorting of the skins, eliminating all those that could have bypassed the quality control by the tanners. An imperfection consists of those hairs stuck in the skin, no bigger than pinheads, which make it “pucker.” This, of course, is unacceptable at Hermès, where a jacket requires about 12 skins that are strictly identical in grain, suppleness, and shade. Here, the eyes alone determine color, and the spirit of Véronique Nichanian, artistic director of the men’s universe, radiates from the hands of the craftsman. “Véronique appreciates what is supple and natural. All the treatments are done with this in mind. The skin is never too covered. We keep its transparency,” explains Mireille Le Roux, director of the men’s ready-to-wear workshops. This is a delicate task because the model maker’s canvas never guarantees the result. If it is held, the stag melts, it becomes “empty.” So many details demonstrate the level of complicity between the studio and the workshops in Pantin. Within this realm of sensitive strength, she says, “Everything passes through our hands.”