Peek Inside Hermès Petit H, The French Maison's "Laboratory Of Ideas" Coming To Singapore This Month
They say creativity is driven by constraints. They also say that freedom is necessary in order to produce truly groundbreaking work. Seldom do these two conditions collide, but this is exactly the case at Petit H—something I witnessed first-hand when I visited the atelier in March.
Considered the younger sibling of the Hermès family, Petit H is the brainchild of Pascale Mussard, who established the workshop in 2010 with the idea of giving new life to “sleeping materials”.
Essentially, the creative alchemy relies on a robust exchange across three entities—beautiful materials culled from Hermès’ operations, the expertise of in-house artisans, and a curated list of artists and designers who are tasked to conceive limited edition pieces. One may think that Petit H is restricted by the materials it receives from the various métiers, but its experimental approach—a “creation in reverse”, as the brand calls it—results in boundless possibilities. Its mantra is to let imagination reign, and the operations are intentionally kept small to foster an environment of close collaboration.
Petit H creative director Godefroy de Virieu first came into the fold as one of the designers chosen by Mussard. “What drew me in at the beginning was the materials and the techniques behind them. Transforming materials through an artisan’s know-how remains, for me, the most interesting aspect,” he shared when we spoke in Paris.
Having worked closely with Mussard, de Virieu is personally invested in protecting the magic that runs through the atelier. “Pascale is incredible. She represents all the values of Hermès, and Petit H is her baby. She planted a beautiful garden and now I take care of it. I’m not here to assert my personality, but to continue Pascale’s story.”
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Creation In Reverse
All three elements—the materials, the artisan and the collaborator—are of equal importance but the genesis of the creative process is always the same. “Every time you come to the workshop, you discover a treasure trove of materials. That’s where everything starts for Petit H—the materials,” affirmed de Virieu. “When you first come to Hermès, you think of leather and silk, which are very iconic materials of the house. You quickly realise that it’s not limited to these and that the heritage of materials and know-how is immense.”
But what exactly happens inside this place referred to as a “laboratory of ideas”?
“We’re always looking for solutions. One of the objectives of Petit H is to combine materials that normally don’t exist together. How do you combine crystal with leather? Porcelain with silk? That’s when it becomes a real laboratory—when you find solutions and create something new,” said de Virieu. “Indeed, Petit H is a laboratory of experimentation and applied research where the grand aim is to create an object.”
When you see the whimsical pieces of Petit H (see a selection in the slideshow above), you’d be forgiven for thinking they are an exercise in pure creativity. However, de Virieu stressed that practicality remains an utmost consideration. “Hermès objects are always useful, and that intention is something we keep at Petit H. Take the Fluid salt shaker, for instance, which is made out of Saint-Louis crystal, a button, cork and leather. Superb materials mixed to give a new meaning to the object. There’s a lot of charm and poetry… it makes you smile; it surprises you.”
We’re always looking for solutions. One of the objectives of Petit H is to combine materials that normally don’t exist together. How do you combine crystal with leather? Porcelain with silk?
— Godefroy de Virieu
Spirit of Exploration
Since joining Petit H as creative director, one of the changes that de Virieu has implemented is reducing the number of collaborators to ensure the intimacy that is integral to the brand. This direction informs other touchpoints as well, including the pop-ups it conducts in select locations up to three times a year. From November 22 to December 15, Petit H travels to Singapore, bringing objects inspired by and conceived specifically for the country. It will also feature scenography by local designer and Gen.T 2018 honouree, Olivia Lee.
(Related: Balancing Good Design With Practicality Is The Mantra Of Olivia Lee)
“Olivia has a lot of finesse, plus she’s always listening. We have a valuable exchange, which is really what we’re looking for. The most important thing in Petit H is dialogue,” shared de Virieu. “Dialogue doesn’t just refer to the exchange between artists and artisans, but also about where we take Petit H. It’s not a caravan of objects sold abroad. We aim to create a real link between the places we choose, and the pieces we create that are anchored in the country. For me, that’s the best way to share the essence of Petit H.”
Petit H is in Singapore from November 22 to December 15, 2019. Find more information here.
- Images Hermès Petit H