[WC News Service]
MONTREAL -- In the surreal world of ultra luxury shopping and privilege, nothing better conveys a lady's status as a regal One Percenter than a handbag from Hermès, the Parisian leather, scarf, and lifestyle goods maker and purveyor. Especially if that accessory is demurely coded as a Kelly bag, eponymously named after the blondish Hollywood movie star, fairy-tale princess, and Philadelphian.
Indeed, the bag might be another kind entirely, one that fits as comfortably over a saddled horse, as does Kelly nestles in the crook of an arm. Yes, a saddle bag -- and, yes, it's among an extensive array of horse furniture, including bridles, girths, saddle pads, and saddles themselves (starting price, from $6,750) that Hermès turns with the same kind of faithfulness to quality and the high art of customized workmanship that's imbued in other of its products.
To be sure, for most of the stinking filthy rich, Hermès is a household name linked to the rarified stuff that enhances their pampered lives out of saddle. All-silk scarves run between $400 and $500, and today's version of the Kelly bag, titled the So-Kelly 22, a smaller, modified version of the real-deal (now only available via after-markets like E-Bay) starts at $7,500.
Less known are the One-Percenters who turn to Hermès Sellier, Hermès Saddler, the official name of the shop that still occupies, since its founding in 1837, its first site on the legendary rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.
Despite Hermès' transition to its modern role (scores of branches dot the world, including in King of Prussia), the company has also retained its roots as tack shop to the rich and famous. This, most conspicuously at its Paris shop, where I first encountered its full equestrian range some years ago. Fitting now for an updated 21st-century emporium, the equestrian line is also found on its full-service website. (Free ground shipping, don't you know?)
How Hermès got into to the horse business is attributable to its origin in leather crafts and, equally, to its time. (In 1837, most forms of transportation were horse drawn or on horse-back). As significant was a dedication to horsey things by a subsequent horse-loving managing director, Émile Hermès (1871-1951) who, as his equestrian affection evolved, expanded to collecting all sorts of horse-related items. In other words, he was the keeper of the flame.
And, thanks to Emile's enduring collection, the 'flame' keeps burning, as demonstrated in a brilliant exhibition of about 250 objects, titled 'Of Horses and Men, The Émile Hermès Collection, Paris,' currently at this city's pre-eminent history museum, Pointe-à-Callière.
The full collection is still housed in the upper reaches of the Hermès Paris shop, where Émile once had his office. From time, over the years, I've been tempted to tour the collection in situ. Never have, and it was with serendipitous pleasure that the Hermès exhibit coincided with a recent visit to Montreal.
Included are numerous paintings, books, artifacts, and saddlery, depicting the interaction of horse and man at work and play in recent centuries.
The show, organized by Pointe-à-Callière in collaboration with Hermès, runs until 16 October.