Hermès has a history of interesting collaborations with designers who possess an outlook very different from its own (supposedly quite traditional) view – which shows, of course, that it isn’t traditional at all. Not so long ago it created shoes and bags with Yohji Yamamoto, while the latest venture involves asking another of the Japanese greats, Rei Kawakubo, founder of Comme des Garçons, to reinterpret the house’s iconic silk square in her inimitable way (with the results priced from £330 to £1,500). The idea came from a chance meeting between Kawakubo and Bali Barret, overall artistic director on the women’s side at Hermès, who links the fashion and accessories output together.
This is truly a merger where the sum equals more than the two parts. Kawakubo, with her penchant for mixing textures and patterns, including vintage inspirations, had free rein at Hermès, and her creations are elegant, harmonious and subversive all at once. She has chosen some of the most classic patterns, such as the equestrian Couvertures et Tenues de Jour (first picture and left in third picture) or the harness-detailed Coaching (left in second picture), and overlaid them with bold black checks, scribbled ink blots or graffiti-type slogans (see also Le Pégase d’ Hermès and Thalassa, both right in third picture). In some cases, rather than overwrite the design, she adds a strip of humble cloth, such as gingham cotton, to the printed silk. “I was looking forward to the change that would happen when I added something to the beautiful ‘paintings’ of Hermès scarf designs,” she says. “I think that through the addition of abstract images we have transformed them and created something new.”
The two collections prove her right. One is totally black and white (unusual for Hermès, typical for Kawakubo), in which five designs are interpreted in monochrome and overprinted with black, while the other comprises six patterns in carefully chosen, mellow colours, of which the largest is a quartered patchwork of military-uniform designs – such as a heraldic banner (Patch Géant, right in second picture). Each design is very different, yet the range as a whole is a brilliantly distinctive blend – an essential for fans of both brands.
There are only 200 to 300 of each design, and they are being carefully distributed at Comme des Garçons shops. The black-and-white collection went on sale in Paris on February 6 and will be released in New York and Tokyo on the 7th and 8th respectively, while the colour scarves will be at Dover Street Market in London from February 12. They will also be available on the Dover Street Market website on February 7, with the monochrome collection added on April 1.