A flâneur is a collector by nature, she is an urban hunter-gatherer, borderline creepy connoisseur of the streets. If you’ve only just discovered that you are indeed what they call, a flâneur, you know very well that there is a drawer somewhere in your home full of ticket stubs and ‘pretty soap packaging’, not to mention the high chance that one of your dining room chairs might even be from the street. Heck, your entire belongings could be a collection stemmed on flanerie. Funny thing is, a flâneur is also a skilful voyeur, a peeping Tom (or Jane), and love a good, uninterrupted session of snooping. So, put two flâneurs together, and the energy created from the mutual snooping of each other’s knick-knack drawers/homes could quite possibly power a Hadron Collider and the world would never need oil. That’s my theory.
All kidding aside, the treat at the end of a day of flânerie in Paris was this – an invitation to a den of treasures atop the Hermès 24 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré store, the abode of the ultimate flâneur – bustling with artefacts, curiosities and objects in relation to horses, carriages and the phenomenon of movement and mobility: ‘Collection Émile Hermès’ as known internally. The collection is not open to the public, if invited though, there are no rules, labels or panels to read, no out-of-place museum apparatus and perky guides with ponytails. Our only chaperon was Menehould de Bazelaire, Director of the patrimony of culture at Hermès, a guardian whose sparkly eyes lit up as she unfolded the story behind each artefact we were drawn to.
Menehould de Bazelaire with a panorama parchment painting of London thames
Emile Hermes’ office
Accordion view of the Champs Elysees promenade
A rather special side-periscope for enhanced peeping, with hidden perfume compartment
An ancient walking stick with a hidden compartment for a pencil, golden thread-embroidered saddles from Afghanistan, an ancient book with browning pages, full to the brim with illustrated men holding pressed leaves… De Bazelaire encouraged us to touch, to see, feel and smell the objects – “these objects tell stories; they provoke and stimulate imaginations, dream, envy, and a desire to create.” A collection, started from one antique walking stick that Émile Hermès had purchased with pocket money at age 12, which had grown into over 15,000 objects, is now an internal source of inspiration for all designers from the Hermès metiers to feed on.
The very painting (19th century, of Duc carriage & horses) where the Hermès logo was derived from!
Japanese depiction of a ‘moving horse’. Before the invention of photography, the gallop of a horse was a thing of mystery.
A parasol lined entirely of pheasant feather
We ended the day at the final undisclosed location, the Jardin sur le toit (‘garden on the roof’), a serene parallel to the bustling street below, a perfect setting to gather our wandering thoughts and collections from the day’s flânerie, and to muse over them over a fruit tart and a rather heavenly pu-erh tea prepared by the Hermès in-house chef.
Experience your own flânerie at Hermès Wanderland exhibition; 9th April to 2nd May; Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York’s HQ, King’s Road, London, SW3 4RY. Open 10am-6pm daily. Free entrance.