By: Fiona McKay & Xenia Capacete Caballero
As an icon of luxury, the classic Hermès scarf represents quality, craftsmanship, and timeless style.
Founded in 1837, the French luxury house Hermès was established as a bridle and harness company for equestrian pursuits. In 1937 - one hundred years later - the design for the first Hermès scarf was born. The scarf or carré, meaning ‘square’, was based on a woodblock drawing by Robert Dumas, a member of the Hermès family. It was made with raw silk from China, which was spun into yarn before it was woven into fabric and screen-printed.
The carré has proven its power to transcend age and to appeal to a diverse range of wearers. Famously adopted by 20th century icons such as Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn to Queen Elizabeth II and Madonna, the wearer has the versatility to adapt to any style and situation.
Today, the Hermès scarf still proves to be an essential part of the contemporary wardrobe, popular with both young and older generations, as well as by both genders, alike.
Since 1937, there have been up to 1,200 individual Hermès scarf designs created, with additional designs still being released on a seasonal basis. Even today, the timeless scarves are still produced in France in the same manner: silkscreened by hand with hems being hand-rolled and hand-stitched. Taking up to six months to produce, this level of precision is reflected in the high quality and cost of the scarves.
Often commemorative, designs can range from the more popular and classic motifs such as equestrian, military, and nautical, to the more playful botanical, natural, and mythological themes, to quirky and contemporary. Each one of the Hermès artists, who work freelance, are known for a particular style; artists such as Hugo Grygkar and Robert Dallet have achieved a highly collectable status. Other sought after artist names include Leigh Cook, Kermit Oliver, Zoé Pauwels, Leila Menchari, Annie Faivre, Laurence Bourthoumieux, and Eugene Brunelle.
In recent years, the luxury house has also successfully bridged craftsmanship with contemporary art through a series of collaborations, namely Gloria Petyar, N.S. Harsha, Ding Yi, Julio Le Parc, and Hiroshi Sugimoto.
"I prefer more adventurous and abstract designs by Zika Ascher - and these are becoming quite popular with contemporary art dealers. Their value at auction can vary, starting at around £200, but the most striking designs can sell for several hundreds if the bidding is competitive," says Kerry Taylor, director and owner of Kerry Taylor Auctions and textile consultant to Sotheby's. "Our highest achieved price was a bold monochrome printed Alexander Calder for Zika Ascher, 'La Mer' printed silk square, which sold for £1400 (hammer price) in 2013."
Tips From a Fashion Expert
Whether you are looking to start a collection as a future investment or are keen to make a worthy, classic addition to your wardrobe, Meg Randall, Designer Fashion and Handbags Specialist at Chiswick Auctions in London, offers some useful advice.
Search for limited editions. "Hermès often re-releases popular scarf designs, but there are some that were only released once. The Ispahan scarf (pictured below) was first designed in 1966 by Maurice Tranchant and is particularly rare as there was only issue of this scarf ever made. Scarves such as this are particularly sought after for this reason."
As a measure of authenticity, the hand-rolled edge of a true Hermès scarf should be arrow-straight and beautifully finished. "Any scarves with machine stitching or messy stitching should not be trusted," says Randall.
Designs continue to be re-issued in numerous colors, which can make authentication more challenging. Randall highlights that "the printed designs will be crisp and use bright colors. Most scarves will have their title somewhere in the design, and often will feature the signature of the artist."
Maintain quality. "Scarves in good condition, and those that come with their original boxes, tend to do best at auction as they make great gifts."
Wearing Your Hermès Scarf
If you decide to wear your scarf, opt for professional dry cleaning, ensuring that the hand-rolled edge should never be pressed. “The boxes and acid free paper Hermes scarves come with are the perfect way to store your scarf, and this particular example looks as fresh as it would have when it was bought 24 years ago,” says Randall.
Other ways to keep your scarf in excellent condition: avoid wearing it on a rainy day. Silk may be damaged by contact with any type of liquid. Do not use any scarf clips, rings, or brooches that might puncture a hole or pull a thread. After you have worn your scarf, do not fold it right away, instead, leave it to “breathe” overnight.
"Keep your scarves folded, out of sunlight, and in their original box as they will be more desirable if they are re-sold in the future," says Taylor. While scarves are easy to store and are extremely versatile, "condition is extremely important, as stains and tears greatly affect value."
Hermès scarves are a great addition to a wardrobe, and can instantly add individuality to any style. They are also highly collectable and timeless, holding their value far better than any other scarves on the market. Taylor advises, however, that if you are planning to collect them, buy at auction rather than retail, as you are likely to get a better price for even the most attractive prints by known designers.
If you're hoping to dodge possible wear and tear, you might instead consider hanging your Hermès scarves on your walls. "Hermès scarves are beautiful when mounted and framed," says Taylor. "They make for interesting alternative artwork to display in the home."
Looking to start a collection of Hermes scarves, or add to your existing collection? See an extraordinary mix of pieces up for offer in Auktionshaus Eppli's Luxury - Fashion, Jewelry, Luxury Accessories, and More (November 12), Koller Auctions' G59 Vintage (November 16), Chiswick Auctions' Designer Handbags and Fashion (December 7), and more.
About Fiona McKay & Xenia Capacete
Fiona and Xenia are the founders of White Line Projects, a curatorial and creative studio based in London. White Line Projects curates, designs, and produces a diverse range of projects including exhibitions, installations and digital experiences, and websites for clients in the fashion and cultural sectors. Fiona, Xenia, and the team at White Line Projects bring a diverse combination of skills and background experience, from visual communications and 3D technologies, to architecture, art history, and exhibition design, to theatre design and performing arts.
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