CLEVELAND - As soon as you step into the Atrium at the Cleveland Museum of Art, your eye will immediately be drawn to a magnificent array of silk squares, a melange of rich color and images hanging high over artists at work on one of fashion's most coveted and legendary accessories: the Hermes "carre" or silk scarf.
Since the first scarf was commissioned by Robert Dumas in 1937, the meticulous weaving, engraving, and printing of Hermes scarves has generated a devoted following among women around the world. Artistic Director Pierre-Alexis Dumas said, "the Hermes scarf became iconic over time because great people, our clients, loved it. And it encouraged us, my grandfather, my father, myself, to continue that craft." Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Jacqueline Onassis, and Catherine Deneuve added celebrity panache to the scarves. Kelly famously used one as a sling for her broken arm.
But ordinary women appreciate their timeless beauty as well. Dumas said when he walks the streets of Paris and sees a woman wearing a scarf that he and his team designed, he feels it is "part of the Hermes soul."
Among the dozens of women in Cleveland who came out for the first demonstration on Wednesday, there were quite a few who wore a cherished Hermes silk square. Peggy Lipp of Beachwood said a friend in Taiwan had sent her one as a 50th birthday gift. "After seeing this today, the colors, the workmanship, the special things that go into making one of these beautiful scarves makes it iconic," she said. Lipp also acknowledged the heirloom quality of the scarves, which can cost several hundred dollars each. "It's something to be handed down, something to hold onto and pass to my daughter.'
Sara Orr flew to Cleveland from Washington D.C. to view the demonstration. She wore one of the scarves she has collected over the years. "They're just made with love, designed with love, and feel amazing when you put it on. You feel like a million bucks, but they cost less than that."
The roots of Hermes of Paris lie in the equestrian world, and there are many related motifs in the images on the scarves. But the extensive range of designs reflect a world of diverse images, cultures and storytelling.
"We spend a lot of time thinking 'what is the story we want to tell," said Dumas. "There is a lot of sourcing, researching, making the art. But at the end, there is an object which carries a lot of meaning."
Hermes scarves have been made in the Lyon region of France since 1948. The classic 90 x 90 centimeter silk square has been joined by other sizes and fabrications, over 2,000 designs and more than 75,000 specially created colors. And as Dumas noted, "it's incredible the number of things you can do with a square."
That's what women have been endlessly discovering for more than 75 years. A 36-inch square of silk, rendered in vibrant colors and designs with a hand rolled, hand stitched hem, that is the definition of wearable art. And might make you feel like a million bucks!
"Secrets of the Hermes Carre: A Demonstration of Silk Printing" continues at the Cleveland Museum of Art through Sunday, with several presentations each day.
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