Just behind the Hermès boutique at BLVD Place on Post Oak Road sits a parking lot, and at the very back of this lot is where you will find the exhibit for Festival des Métiers. A large white building -- unassuming from the outside, except for the distinctive signage indicating the couture wares within -- houses a group of craftsmen and women who handcraft the design house's bags, jewelry, watches, scarves and more.
Early yesterday I received a text from my friend, the one who told me about the Hermès exhibit coming to town: "Get there early; a crowd forms around the scarf making and it's hard to see." When I arrived there weren't more than 50 people in the entire exhibit hall, but most of them were crowded around the table in the back where the silk-screening of scarves had just begun.
I made my way toward the table, pausing along the way to see what was going on at the other work stations. Etching, leather work and watchmaking were all on display; the tiny tools of each craftsman sat on the empty stations (most were just returning from lunch) alongside scraps of leather, watch gears and other, less-identifiable ingredients of Hermès couture creations.
All of the stations were eventually manned by their respective craftsmen or women, but the scarf exhibit is by far the most dramatic. Silk screener Henri meticulously completes two scarves at a time, laying down screen after screen (14 in all for these scarves, but some scarves use as many as 46 colors; the average number is 30 per scarf), adding one color, one section at a time. The scarves created during the Festival -- Eperons d'Or and Géométrie Crétoise -- will be available for sale in Hermès stores nationwide for $410.
As you watch and listen to the demonstration, you learn the history of Hermès and of the scarves you see come to life before your eyes. Scarves take two years to complete, from design conception to the retail space; Hermès began creating scarves on its 100-year anniversary, in 1937, and the house calls their scarves Carré. No topic is off-limits -- though some details are, naturally, withheld -- and questions from the crowd are encouraged. We learned about the process of selecting designs, etching the screens, the cultivation of silk from butterflies, the creation of dyes and selection of colors for scarves, and the tricks to distinguishing a real Hermès scarf from another. (The trick: French hand-hemming, in which the hem is rolled back to front and then hand-stitched in place with silk thread.)
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Easily as breathtaking as the process is the array of Hermès couture displayed in the crowd. I saw more than a few Kelly and Birkin bags on the arms of the crowd, and a dazzling array of scarves -- draped over shoulders, knotted around necks, tied around heads and looped around the straps of shoulder bags. You will see even more Hermès than you bargained for when you visit Festival des Métiers.
The show is sure to satisfy both fashion fans and craft enthusiasts alike. There are 3,000 Hermès artisans working in France, and just 9,000 working worldwide; this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see them execute their art in person. Festival des Métiers is a must-see. The festival continues through October 14 at 1800 Post Oak Blvd., 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, go to the festival website.