Originally commissioned in 1937 by Robert Dumas, the 90 cm silk square with a rolled hem became a blank canvas on which over a hundred designers have painted original motifs over the last 70 years, creating more than 1,500 versions recalling Hermès’ history and its affiliation with art, culture and tradition. “From the beginning, the Hermès carré was imagined as an object, not as an accessory,” Pierre-Alexis Dumas, artistic director and fifth generation inheritor of the Hermès legacy, recalls. “My grandfather was fascinated by the rigour imposed by printing on silk. He therefore accorded great importance to the design, and ended up with a very expressive printed style.”
Every season at the Lyon workshops, ten paper designs arrive, awaiting their rebirth in silk. The process begins with a full-sized prototype of the artist’s design, transferred onto card by hand. The engravers trace each colour in individual layers onto transparent film, using a quill dipped in Indian ink for fine outlines and gouache and a brush for blocks of colour – with a design consisting of 30 colours taking up to 600 hours to engrave. These films are overlaid and screen-printed using the chosen palette of colours, thus creating about ten different ‘chromatic harmonies’ for each design. Finished with the hand-stitched rolled hem, the carré is then ready to be delivered to the boutique.
Today, Bali Barret provides artistic direction for the carré, which has been diversified into different sizes, using twill, crepe, chiffon and even cashmere. Each new version acquires its own personality and function; the 1980 Plisse featured a kaleidoscope of colour; Martin Margiela’s 2001 muted, lozenge-shaped carré was a tribute to the minimalist taste of the day, and Barret’s 2003 Soie Belle Collection included the sophisticated Bracelet–Ruban, designed to be worn as a piece of jewellery.
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