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La Serpentine de Pierre Charpin scarf 90 in silk twill.

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Pani La Shar Pawnee wash scarf 90 in silk twill designed by Kermit Oliver.

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Bali Barret: Artistic Director of the Hermès Women's Universe.

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One of the nine experiential sites of the Carré Club.

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Colours are an integral part of the creation of the Hermès silks.

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Washing of silk scarves.

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Hermès has registered over 75,000 colours, and for every carré design, there are eight to 12 different colour combinations.

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The Carré- Café is also equipped with arcade games.

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Artist Alice Shirley.

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The carré's unique rolled hem, the ''roulotté'', is a process done by hand.

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The printing process of the silk scarves.

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Engraving can take up to nine months.

Carrè On Style

Hermès kicks off the Singapore leg of its Carrè Club global tour this weekend. We look at how its classic silk scarf has became a timeless style icon.
Oct 19, 2018 5:50 AM

IN THE WORLD according to Hermès, good business comes from not letting people buy your stuff. It’s as if they make customer deprivation an art form, going by the fuss over the Birkin bag - touted as near-impossible to get and possessing the kind of investment value that gold and various listed companies would die for.

But it isn’t just the bag. Hermès real value lies in the carefully marketed universe that it has crafted over the years, in line with the family-owned French institution’s unwavering insistence on handmade luxury since its founder Thierry Hermès started his first saddlery workshop in 1837.

Creative Director Pierre-Alexis Dumas perhaps put it best when he was quoted as saying, “Hermès objects are desirable because they reconnect people to their humanity… Our customer feels the presence of the person who crafted the object, while at the same time the object brings him back to his own sensitivity, because it gives him pleasure through his senses”.

This may well explain the longstanding appeal of the Hermès carre - a handmade silk scarf that has been a style icon since 1937, way before the advent of the Birkin bag - at a fraction of the cost.

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The very first scarf design was based on a woodblock drawing by Robert Dumas, 100 years after Hermès was founded. It was made with imported Chinese silk, which made it twice as strong as any of the scarves available at the time, so it became an instant hit.

Even now, its appeal has never faded even as fashion trends change. Queen Elizabeth II is a fan. So were the late Jackie Onassis and Grace Kelly, who famously used it as a sling for her broken arm. Teresa May accessorizes her blazers with them, while Christine Lagarde is known to give her work uniform a pop of Hermès colour now and then. Pop royalty Rihanna, on the other hand, twists it into a bikini top.

Production of the signature silk square - comes under the purview of Bali Barret, the high-flying artistic director of Hermès’s women’s universe, who was handpicked by artistic director Pierre-Alexis Dumas to take care of everything from women’s fashion to bags.

HIP TO BE SQUARE

Under her watch, and working with scores of artists to design the scarves which then undergo a laborious process to make, Ms Barret has kept it on the radar of the style-conscious. She came up with Carrè Club when its popularity seemed to be growing among younger women. “I noticed on social media that many people were obsessed with the carré, that’s why I had the idea for a way to gather these people together, but also to invite new people to discover the liveliness of the scarf in a Hermès world.”

Enter the Carré Club - not a physical club per se but a rare four-day, inclusive event that the brand is hosting this week. Singapore is the only Asian stop - and the biggest - on a world tour that started in New York and Toronto in September, and will go on to Los Angeles and Milan in November.  

“The club strives to cultivate a sense of inclusivity, fun, and freedom, across different generations and cultures,” adds Ms Barret in an exclusive email interview. “The purpose of Carré Club is for people to understand the know-how behind the scarf, who the artists are, and how they work.”

Ms Barret has developed thousands of scarf designs with artists of different statures, and part of the draw of the Carrè Club is to “invite members to watch as our designers sketch, listening and sharing their own carrè stories”.

THE ALLURE OF CARRÉ

In Singapore, there is no shortage of carrè collectors including Iroshini Chua, a doctor in a private practice. She recalls how she was drawn to the enigmatic design and vibrant colours of the Hermès scarf when she first discovered it as a medical student. Many years after, she purchased her first scarf and till today she still remembers it vividly: “An ox-blood coloured horse, a carriage in Hermès’s eponymous orange and a black and gold saddle juxtaposed against a bright red background with a white border.”

Colours are an integral part when it comes to the creation of the Hermès silks. The 181-year-old French luxury house has registered over 75,000 colours, and for every carré design, there are eight to 12 different colour combinations. Ms Barret holds weekly meetings with the colourist team where they evaluate all colour combinations and fine-tune the design that will be printed directly onto silk.

Says Ms Barret of the emotional  effect of colours on their silks. “Generally speaking, bright colours are the most popular. But there is no rule, although we have noted different preferences across the continents.

She herself owns close to 200 scarves, and never leaves home without one. She styles them around her neck and even uses them as a bag (yes it’s possible). “I’m always looking for new ways to wear them,” she explains candidly.

Coming in close is Carol Lee, founder of luxury and lifestyle site Curatedition.com, who coyly admits she has around 150 pieces and always makes sure she has her carrè cashmere scarves for use in icy air-conditioned offices. Her first scarf was a twilly (which is often used to decorate Birkin bag handles) to give her Birkin a personalized touch.

Like Ms Lee, IT specialist Cressie Tan enjoys dressing her various Hermès bags with their precious silks. She purchased her first Hermès scarf when she bought her Birkin bag seven years ago. Says Tan. “I chose the blue scarf with the horse design because the blue was a nice contrast to my yellow Birkin.” It’s not surprising that she picked that colour. According to Ms Barret, blue shades have been proven to be “universally successful”.   

It can be an addictive hobby, says freelance veteran fashion stylist/writer Sharon Tulasidas,  who started her collection more than a decade ago. “There is really no other brand that creates scarf motifs like Hermès. Even the most minimalist of designs shows a dedication to the company's craftsmanship.”

WELCOME TO THE CLUB

Upon entry to the Carrè Club, you receive membership cards at the front desk, and you can also have your portrait done by Malaysian fashion illustrator and designer Keng Saw.

Keng Saw is no stranger to Hermès, having worked with them in 2011 on a campaign called J'aime Mon Carré (I love my Scarf).

Later, the campaign became an annual affair and Keng Saw has been designing a scarf for Hermès every year since.

Other frequent Hermès carré contributors include Italian artist/illustrator Gianpaolo Pagni. Pagni is an expert in stamping — appropriating old documents with custom stamps. He will demonstrate his skills by stamping directly onto the silk scarves featuring a new layer of illustration. Pagni has been part of the Hermès family since 2011.

Alice Shirley, a regular Hermès Carré contributor since 2012, will also be on site creating what she does best — vivid animal drawings in glamourised natural habitats, while the team of Ugo Gattoni and Jean-Simon Roch will animate and illustrate a recurring horse character named Mino.

If art is not your jam, fret not. There is a total of nine experiential sites which includes Carré-ok, a sealed studio lined in scarves that can accommodate four people for a karaoke session. There is also a photo booth where you can enjoy stories about the scarves as well take a picture or two for Instagram, and a skate ramp at the Carré Park.

And yes, you can purchase a limited edition Hermès Carré Club silk bandana sold exclusively at the event for you to add to or start a collection (it’s never too late), at the members-only gift shop.    

Ms Barret hopes that the Carré Club can be an outlet for people to witness the behind-the-scenes work invested in these glorious silks, understand the know-how behind the scarf and meet the artists — all in the name of fun. “The Hermès carré is not only a beautiful and contemporary scarf… it’s about fantasy, storytelling, colours, drawings. Not so square!”


THE CARRÉ CULT

Five reasons why people will forever worship the Hermès carré.

1. A scarf takes two years to complete — from conceptualisation to the end of production. There are two collections per year.  Ms Barret and her team have already started work on their Spring/Summer 2020 collection.

2. More than 2,000 designs have been created at Hermès since its launch in 1937. Every year, 30 new scarf designs are produced.

3. Everything is done by hand from pattern-making, engraving and colouration. Engraving can take up to nine months (depending on the complexity of the design) and the colouration process takes 6 to 7 months for each collection.

4. A design composed of 30 colours needs between 400 and 600 hours of engraving. The more complex ones take up to 2,000 hours or more.

5. The Hermès silkworm is Brazilian-born. It takes 300 silk cocoons to make one carré because a single cocoon produces about 1.5km of thread and a 90X90 cm carré requires 450km of thread.

The Hermès Carré Club is located at 3 Ladyhill Road, Opening hours are from 11am to 8pm until October 21. Complimentary shuttle services from Liat Towers and Plaza Singapura  run to and from Hermès Carré Club every 15 minutes from 11am to 8pm daily. Admission is free.