Colourful kites danced in the air above Dubai’s Sunset Beach as part of a pop-up illustrating Hermes’s playful side.
The Hermes Kite Festival made its debut in Indonesia in October and, after its recent sojourn in Dubai, will make stops in Argentina, China and South Korea. Open to the public, it is an opportunity for people to engage with the brand in a relaxed, informal way. “This is something I like very much,” says Christophe Goineau, creative director of men’s silk and men’s universe designs at Hermes. “It is an entry to experience Hermes as a playful, colourful but also accessible maison.”
The French fashion house's charming silk scarf designs, Plumets et Panaches, Robe Legere and Sur mon Nuage, were transposed on to technical fabrics and then set loose in the wind, as part of the Dubai event. The beach itself was transformed into a whimsical playground, with live music, a kite-making workshop and plenty of comfortable seating from which to watch the aerial displays.
“Sometimes, especially for silk, we like to create a meeting point for our customers, or our friends,” says Goineau. “We want to invite them to just share a moment with us — to talk, have a drink, listen to some music, play, do some workshops and have fun.”
There are a lot of things Hermes takes seriously ― its craftsmanship, artisans and the quality of the materials it uses and the objects it painstakingly creates. But there is also a sense of humour and playfulness that events such as the Kite Festival aim to highlight. “We are not so classic,” says Goineau.
This is particularly true of the silk scarf, an Hermes signature that acts as a blank canvas upon which stories can be told. Hermes started creating its scarves in 1937, and there are already thousands of iterations in existence. But the possibilities remain endless, says Goineau. “We can work on the design, we can work on the colours, the shape and the materials. If you change something slightly each time, there is a never-ending story."
The maison collaborates with independent designers, artists and illustrators to ensure that inspiration never runs dry. “We love to meet exciting people,” says Goineau. “We love to meet new designers, illustrators and artists, and we love to have a conversation with them. And then, they bring to Hermes their own universe. We try to create a good balance between their style and the Hermes style, so you may recognise the artist but, at the end of the day, it is 100 per cent an Hermes scarf.”
Also falling within Goineau's remit are ties, which, perhaps surprisingly, he says are still popular, despite the continued casualisation of men’s fashion. The obligatory tie for daily office wear may be a thing of the past, but this has just made Hermes’s beautifully designed versions more covetable.
“As you are not going to wear it every day, and you are not buying it as an obligation, you now enjoy buying the tie. You may wear it less, but at least it is beautiful. We haven’t seen that the tie business is down at Hermes. What makes a big difference is men are buying ties for pleasure. Before they were all buying the same tie, like it made them part of some kind of group. Now they want something more specific.”
In response, Hermes has expanded its offering, providing more choices than ever. “We developed the collection in a very specific way,” says Goineau. “It’s a lot more open. Now we have a lot of different ties — woven, knitted, cashmere, or cotton for summer. To be honest, it’s more interesting to do a tie collection now than it was 10 years ago.”
Menswear may be evolving, but in a business context, there are still limited opportunities for men to truly express their individuality. Your watch may be concealed beneath your shirtsleeve and your shoes may be hidden under the table, but your tie is there for all to see. “It says something about you. And in the silhouette of a man, it sits right in the middle. It’s not big but you can’t miss it. In the first three seconds you meet someone, that is the first information you get,” says Goineau.
Top of Goineau’s mind at present is the exploration of new materials. At Hermes, casualisation translates as comfort. “Right now, I’m thinking of lifestyles and the way people are living,” says Goineau. “So far, it is not in the collection, but I am looking at mixing different fibres, as well as fibres that are not natural, to create something that is useful.
"For example, something that doesn’t crease or something that is rainproof. People want things with less constraints. If something is rainproof, or you can put it straight in your washing machine, anything that makes your life easier, that’s something I’m focused on.”
For Goineau, a move away from purely natural materials, the bedrock of Hermes — whether in the form of exquisite leathers, the purest silks or the best bone china — has required a change in mindset.
"I have so far worked with 100 per cent natural fibres, whether it is cotton, silk, linen, cashmere, yak or whatever. But I think in the next collection, I will start mixing in other things. For the next summer collection, I am working on linen, but it creases a lot, so I’m trying to find a way to get all the characteristics of linen without the inconvenience.”
Either way, the Hermes commitment to quality — tied in with that trademark touch of fun — will remain unchanged.