It’s the time of the year when Hermès unveils the theme that will help guide the inspiration of its creators and artisans in the coming months. And as tradition dictates, this event is kept secret until the last second. Guests are given only an enigmatic card indicating a meeting point at a train station or airport as their sole clue.
Meanwhile, all the bus shelters in Paris displayed the words “Astonishing Hermès”. There was no need to decipher the fabulous landscape painted on the invitation by Tom de Pékin or to analyze its colours to guess the program. Astonishment, the theme of Hermès’ new creative cycle, is already present even before the guests embark.
It was in the Camargue, between the river Rhône and the Mediterranean, that a network of small signs finally begins to make sense, including the latex boots and mosquito repellent provided for the journey. Tractors cross the landscape under the guidance of Henri Laurent, the manadier (ranch owner), who escorts the visitors along with his wife Annie, dressed in traditional attire and a black velvet hat. An initiatory drink of water infused with herbs is offered by a donkey handler carrying baskets and bottles. The Camargue and its rice fields, unfolds with magic at the twilight’s edge. Walking in single file through the vast expanse where land, sky, and water intertwine, one comes across a stranded glider —or perhaps is it ready to take flight. Then, in the deep silence of the falling day, an eerie voice emerges, neither female nor male. It fills the air, hovers over the gray earth, resonates with the tall grasses and the wind. Near the glider, singer @lyra.pramuk, resembling a steampunk nymph, shaped a vital sound that could belong to any element of the landscape, including the human. Speakers carried by members of the procession transmit the notes all the way to the end of the line. Slowly, accompanied by her partner Emiliano Maggi, she wraps up a copper-coloured parachute, where the pale light of that moment shimmers. Their gestures are a slow, organic, hypnotic dance.
Soon, the journey continues across the waters. Through the magic of the lighting created by Mathieu Cabanes and Éric Wurtz, every splash produced by the city dwellers’ feet emerging from the clay mud becomes a golden spark. At the end of the path stands a platform, and between the water and the platform, a circular arena. Emerging from the very sun or rather from the bed where the sun still hesitates to lay down, a herd of horses is faintly visible in the distance, a magnificent cavalcade whose power and breath can be heard even before the gallop—Camargue’s beautiful horses do not wear horseshoes. They run through the water, and the golden sparks transform into fireworks. And the sun sets. Its colours are nearly identical to those in Tom de Pékin’s illustration, which had seemed unreal. In the psychedelic pink of the Camargue twilight, the white horses turn pink, then orange, then purple. One might believe they are witnessing a ride of unicorns. Placing the horse at the heart of the performance, the collective @la.horde, under the direction of the National Choreographic Center – National Ballet of Marseille, delivers an acrobatic ballet in collaboration with the @ecurieshastaluego equestrian show stable. In the background, the voices of Deborah Bookbinder’s choir rise, a telluric litany, a pagan chant to the rising night. The riders depart and then return from the depths of darkness. They carry lanterns that shine in the dark like dozens of fireflies dancing through the now indecipherable wetland.
Again, the tractors. They cut through the night until they reach the Laurent manade, where a central bonfire already illuminates the arena that hosts the banquet. Armand Arnal, a botanist devoted to the terroir and Michelin-starred chef of La Chassagnette restaurant in Arles, has prepared a vegetarian meal that combines beets and raspberries, carrots and kumquats, artichokes, tartlets with Swiss chard, zucchini flowers, verbena, fennel, and even golden rice: a melting Camargue risotto. With their guitars and vibrant songs, the musicians of the Sol Y Arte troupe, an emblematic group from Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, the cradle of French Gypsy culture, add fire to the fire, contributing to elevate an evening where each sense will have received its share of the extraordinary.
“What is happening? Suddenly, we have lost all our bearings, to the point of being struck with astonishment. Our knowledge, our habits are in disarray. (…) What has been given back to us simultaneously is the enigma of the world which we had lost from sight, and the enigma of our presence in the world, so quickly forgotten. Astonishment takes us by surprise but awakens us from sleepwalking and indifference,” comments Pierre-Alexis Dumas, Hermès’ artistic director. In this regard, he recalls a small event from his childhood: “One afternoon, while my sister and I were sitting doing our homework after school, our father (E.N.: Jean-Louis Dumas, director of the Hermès group from 1978 to 2006 and founder of the Theme tradition) burst into our room and asked us to follow him. We ran after him without asking any questions. We found his car in the middle of the street, engine running. He drove through Paris at full speed and stopped on the Alexandre III bridge. There, he asked us to close our eyes for a few seconds. When we opened them, Paris was orange! He had noticed a cloud under the setting sun and knew that as soon as that cloud passed in front of the sun, the city would be bathed in that extraordinary light.”
The entire Theme event, built around one of the world’s most beautiful sunsets, undoubtedly stems from this memory. It symbolizes the entire culture of Hermès as it has been transmitted since the establishment of the house in the mid-19th century: rejecting ostentatious luxury, respecting craftsmanship and know-how, and bringing together all forms of art to give meaning and universal dimension to each creation, calling upon the world’s best artisans, and embracing diversity. No visible logos ever appear in these Theme events, where the spirit of Hermès reigns without the need for display. Understanding the workings of miracles, anticipating them, and sharing them with the world: so goes the magic of Hermès, never ceasing to amaze – or perhaps astonishing.
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