Gambling | The Smart Money

On the right track

Paris is the home of next month’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe – and also of Hermès, the brand that’s as synonymous with saddlery as it is with fashion.

September 26 2010
Jamie Reid

If you like beautiful and luxurious things – you are reading How To Spend It, after all – you’ll know that the flagship Hermès store at 24 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris is a treasure trove of delights. But long before the fashion house became famous for its silk scarves and leather bags, it was renowned for the quality and craftsmanship of its saddlery – and that reputation continues to this day.

The company, which was founded in 1837 and started out making harnesses for the carriage trade, moved to its present address in 1880. Every Hermès saddle since has been handmade in the store’s top-floor atelier, which looks out over some of the grandest rooftops in Paris. The room is airy and bright, and the atmosphere studiously quiet. From the stocks of lustrously burnished leather – buffalo hide, calf- and crocodile-skin – saddles are cut, prepared and assembled by a small team of artisans. There are no short cuts. Everything is still crafted in the traditional manner, notably the joining of the seat of the saddle with the skirt – the lining between the leather and the horse – which is secured with a hand-stitched seam using two needles.

After hours of work, the saddle is branded with the “E Hermès” stamp and given its own registration number. Thanks to this individual signature, a saddle’s history can be continually monitored. If it ever needs a seam restitched or a saddle tack hammered back into place, it can be returned to the Parisian workshop and, if possible, the same craftsman who made it will carry out the repairs. The characteristics of every saddle are entered by hand into the fascinating leatherbound journals that are stacked around the walls. The records date back to 1919, documenting the many Hermès saddles that have been handed down from one generation to the next like family heirlooms.

Hermès makes saddles for a range of equestrian disciplines, from show jumping and dressage to polo and cross country, as well as those for hunting and riding for pleasure. The weight of each saddle, the length of the flaps and the size and width of the tree, or frame, can be adapted not only to different pursuits but also to the shapes of both horse and rider.

For 2010 the chief designer and saddle master at Hermès, Laurent Goblet, has produced a revolutionary new high-tech saddle called the Talaris (named after the winged sandals worn by Greek god Hermes). The underframe, usually made of wood and steel, is constructed from carbon fibre and titanium, making it light and supple yet still durable and strong. The seat is covered with a layer of injected polyurethane foam, which helps to spread the rider’s weight and maximise comfort while also protecting the horse’s spine. The result, which has just one seam around the edge stitched in orange thread, is the epitome of simple, streamlined elegance and, costing from €6,240, pretty much the ultimate equestrian accessory.

The Hermès store is a favourite destination of the racehorse owners and breeders who stay in this agreeably upmarket quartier for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on the first weekend in October. Fame And Glory, a seasoned battler, is favourite to land the spoils this year, at 100-30 with Hill’s. But I’m also a fan of the colt Planteur, owned by the art-dealing Wildenstein family who have won the Arc four times already. Trained specifically for the race, he offers each-way value at 14-1 with Paddy Power.