The Birthday Bunch
When you finally get around to building that time machine, be sure to place 1837 at the forefront of your travel plans: Queen Victoria ascended the British throne that year, while in downtown New York, America’s melting-pot culture took on a decidedly more sophisticated character when two Swiss-raised brothers opened the first fine-dining establishment in the US, an opulent restaurant they christened with their family name, Delmonico’s. It also proved to be a year that ultimately would bode very well for fashion, as Charles Lewis Tiffany and Thierry Hermès each founded an eponymous, luxury-driven label from comparatively humble beginnings—Tiffany with the “stationery and fancy-goods emporium” he opened with two partners in Lower Manhattan, and Hermès with his harness workshop in Paris; 175 years later, each is securely positioned amid the upper echelons of craft, design, and luxury. But wait: Skip ahead 64 years from 1837, and you’ll find two other men—Herman Bergdorf and Edwin Goodman—teaming up to create a similarly dedicated philosophy for retail, likewise rooted in that elusive, oft-desired, and yet rarely accomplished quest, to be the best of the best.

Fashion is nothing if not a precarious business, sometimes all too dependent upon the success of one collection or the whims and rapidly changing tastes of the consumer. Which only makes the considerable milestones achieved by Tiffany & Co., Hermès, and Bergdorf Goodman all the more impressive and undeniably worthy of celebration. Here, three top executives from the brands discuss their companies’ illustrious pasts, as well as their respective anniversary plans in New York this month, which are sure to redefine our notions of a stylish present.

Atop Hermès’s Paris headquarters on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, you’ll find a series of rooms that have been converted into a de facto museum, although not one that’s open to the public. It is here among the copious saddles and spurs, books and engravings, uniforms, ancient leather cases, and other assorted bric-a-brac that you’ll survey not only a wonderful visual record of the storied French house, but also a comprehensive history of equestrian and travel gear. Emile-Maurice Hermès, grandson of Thierry and the man who led the company from the 1920s until his death in 1951, was a devout collector, traveling the world to gather artifacts he saw as related (however tangentially) to his business, much to the delight of all who worked for him and followed him. His considerable collection, displayed throughout this labyrinth of climate-controlled rooms, continues to inspire Hermès designers and artisans, who might take the smallest detail from an 18th-century engraving, for example, and turn it into the primary element of a 21st-century silk scarf (that category, coincidentally, celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, having been introduced by Emile-Maurice in 1937). Indeed, if you name an iconic Hermès design—the Brides de Gala scarf, the Chaine d’Ancre bracelet— chances are you’ll find its origins in these rooms.

Festival des Hermés
This fantastically expansive archive and how it inspires the house’s unending love of craft took center stage as talks of how to address the 175th anniversary commenced. “The conversation started about three years ago,” recalls Robert Chavez, who has served as president and CEO of Hermès of Paris, the US arm of the label, since 2000. “It was really a conversation about celebrating our heritage and that which we’ve adhered to for 175 years, which is quality and craftsmanship, and our commitment to those ideas. And the key question was: How do we celebrate everything we’ve held true to for the last 175 years?”

The answer: Festival des Metiers, an exhibition intended to be equal parts education and celebration of Hermès artisans. Following the Leather Forever anniversary exposition that took place in London in May, Festival des Metiers travels to New York this month with a five-day event set for September 5–9 at 583 Park Avenue (located around the corner from Hermès’s Madison Avenue flagship, which has been open since 2000; the label’s first stand-alone New York boutique debuted on 57th Street in 1983). From 11 am to 5:30 pm each day, Festival des Metiers attendees can get a first-hand look as artisans handcraft Kelly bags exactly as they would in the Hermès leather workshops, while printers demonstrate the silk screen process, adding individual layers of color to the coveted square silk scarves known as carrés. Saddlemakers, silk engravers, crystal and porcelain painters, jewelry craftsmen, watchmakers, and other artisans round out the exhibit.

“We definitely knew we were going to bring this to the US, it was just a matter of timing,” Chavez notes. “By making it a true festival, we saw it as an opportunity to bring together a variety of craftspeople and allow you to observe and learn about what we do and our processes, many of which have changed little since some of these products were first introduced.”

Chavez points to the saddles as one example, noting that the stitching process has changed not at all since Thierry Hermès opened his harness workshop with the goal of cultivating a clientele of French noblemen. “Pieces such as these give you such an appreciation for what handcrafted really means,” Chavez says. “You know, you walk through one of our ateliers, and the only things you hear are the slightly muffled sounds of hammering as the craftsmen work the leather, a little tap, tap, tap noise that has a bit of a musical rhythm to it. It’s a fascinating thing to watch both the talent and dedication that goes into something like that.”

For festival attendees who might be seeking anniversary-driven product—those coveted limited editions that are not uncommon in such instances—Chavez says he doesn’t mean to disappoint, but this moment is not about any one or two Hermès items. “This is a celebration of our history, but more importantly a celebration of craft and our craftspeople,” he says. “We’re focusing on the idea that in today’s fast-moving world, some things are still done very slowly, with great attention and great care for detail. And to us, that’s quite magical.”

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