A button becomes a salt shaker; tiny porcelain discs join forces to form a table top; and a saddle tree acts as the backbone of an electric guitar. In the Petit H workshop, the possibilities for transformation are limitless.
Established in 2010, Petit H is one of the most intriguing metiers in the Hermes stable. Materials that would otherwise be discarded — leather left over from its priceless bags, silks unused in signature scarves or porcelain that would otherwise be shaped into pretty plates — are given a new lease of life.
Here, creation takes place in reverse. The material is the starting point and its potential manifestations are infinite. Designers, artists and artisans work together to shape these “scraps” (albeit from some of the best materials in the world) into unexpected, one-off objects.
There are silky travel masks, jaunty shoelaces, canvas hats, colourful ponchos, leather-covered clothes pegs and a tea cup that doubles as a candleholder. Great pride is taken in imbuing the smallest, most everyday of objects with beauty. And even the most humble of creations become precious when reinterpreted and reassembled by the maison’s team of world-class craftsmen.
“I don’t differentiate between big and small pieces,” says Godefroy de Virieu, Petit H’s creative director. “A small piece can give you such an idea of the way we work. A good example is a little salt shaker that we made from a pret-a-porter button, combined with glass from Saint-Louis, leather and cork. It’s a very small piece but, for me, it speaks so well about what Petit H is.
“The piece speaks to everybody, which is very important. We are telling people that with creativity and imagination, you can give new life to resources that are not used any more. Particularly these days, with issues such as overconsumption, when you look at this little button that becomes a salt shaker, it becomes a powerful message.”
Creations by Petit H are currently on show in Hermes’s Dubai Mall boutique, as part of the temporary Petit H Souk. On until November 27, the immersive display was created in collaboration with Emirati artist Abdalla Almulla and draws parallels between the region’s traditional marketplaces and the Petit H ideology.
“We wanted to speak to visitors and our customers about humble beginnings. Abdalla proposed a very immersive walk through a souq,” de Virieu says.
“There is a comparison between the souq, where people work, create things and sell them, and the way we work. The souq is the place where you can really find treasures. It also speaks to the way we work because we are very nomadic, actually. We arrive, almost like a caravan, bringing all our treasures with us.”
For Almulla, the notion of the souq aligns with Petit H's design value of "creations in reverse".
“The souq was the hub of crafts, where craftsmen and women showcased their skills and capabilities,” he says. “The craftsmen and women used materials from their everyday surroundings and local context to create these products. For Petit H’s scenography, the souq becomes the hub and journey to experience their creations within the Dubai context.”
The preciousness of resources in a region dominated by desert also aligned with the Petit H ethos, and is artfully expressed in some of the objects on display. A series of clay bottles are topped with crystal stoppers by Saint-Louis, one of Hermes’s subsidiaries, while traditional terracotta vases are transformed into bags with the addition of leather straps.
“Leather and clay are very primitive materials, but the combination creates something very precious,” de Virieu notes.
The idea is expanded upon in a falcon stand that combines terracotta with leather, porcelain and crystal. This piece highlights how Petit H creations are able to bring Hermes’s various capabilities together within a single object, creating a bridge between the maison’s various metiers.
The use of terracotta, which is crafted by a clay factory in the South of France, also shows how Petit H’s creative director is inviting new and unexpected crafts in to the fold. This is seen again, perhaps even more strikingly, in an electric guitar built from a saddle tree, the hidden part of a saddle that allows it to keep its shape.
The horse is part of the Hermes origins story, since the house started life as a bridle-maker in 1837 and to this day creates a range of equestrian accessories. When the Petit H workshop received 60 saddle trees that were no longer needed, de Virieu invited its artists to create anything they wanted — as long as it wasn’t a saddle.
“We added a piece of wood and decided it was going to be an electrical guitar. Musical instruments have never been developed in Hermes, but with that object and the freedom we have at Petit H, we had the opportunity to collaborate with very skilled musical instrument makers. And we made a guitar that works very well,” he says.
De Virieu clearly relishes in the idea of bringing together crafts that might otherwise never meet.
“It opens our minds,” he says. “It brings new energy to the team and new know-how to Hermes.”