Photos: Matthias Ziegler
Text: Silke Bender

 

One horse, two unusual riders: it might seem a little odd that in 2014, an architect and a book publisher were entrusted with overseeing the home furnishings range of one of the most renowned luxury brands in Paris. Architect Charlotte Macaux Perelman made her name in hotel and restaurant design, working for Philippe Starck, then later for David Rockwell and André Balazs after moving to the USA. In 2005 she launched her own company, Studio CMP, now based in Paris and New York. Alexis Fabry is an expert in Latin American photography and curator of various art exhibitions. He also founded Toluca Editions, publishing high-quality art books on the topics of photography, design and literature. No headhunter would have dreamed of proposing these two professionals from such different fields for the roles–and yet that’s exactly what the top management at Hermès did. Steeped in tradition, the company has been owned by the family since 1837 and things are a little different there. Formerly a harness and saddle workshop, its story begins in Krefeld, Germany, to where the French Protestant ancestors of founder Thierry Hermès had once fled. Hermes became an apprentice there before moving to Paris and opening his first shop. Hermès is today a global player with 308 shops and 12,834 employees worldwide; last year, the company reported record profits of EUR 1.1 billion. All the more impressive given that Hermès is not like other listed companies that think only about quarterly profit maximisation. Rather, at Hermès longevity is the priority–a mentality to which both Perelman and Fabry are also committed. In the showroom of the Paris headquarters, they share insights into their perception of design and their company’s philosophy. And slowly but surely, what once seemed odd suddenly becomes logical.

 

Hermès Maison
The family-owned company was founded as a harness and saddle workshop in Paris in 1837. Before long it was also creating suitcases, handbags and travel accessories. The Hermès Maison collection was launched in 1928 by the celebrated minimalist interior designer, Jean-Michel Frank. He commissioned his leather furniture from the in-house atelier with its hallmark piqué sellier saddle stitch. Textile sports accessories have complemented the range since 1950, while ceramics and decorative interior pieces were added in 1984. In 1986, interior architects Réna Dumas and Peter Coles created “Pippa”, a series of nomadic folding furniture, which has now been relaunched by Charlotte Macaux Perelman und Alexis Fabry. Around one-third of the sales floor in the Paris flagship store at 17 rue de Sèvres and a whole floor in the new boutique in Munich are today dedicated to the Hermès Maison Universe.

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DISCUSSION

with
Charlotte Macaux Perelman
Alexis Fabry

Let’s start with a simple question: how did you come to be chosen for such a coveted role?

 

Charlotte Macaux Perelman

We were initially invited to lunch a long way in advance by Pierre-Alexis Dumas, the Artistic Director of the whole company, and CEO Axel Dumas. Alexis and I both pondered for months over what it could possibly be about. I had previously worked privately for the Dumas family as an architect   outside Hermès   so initially thought this was probably just a new project.

 

Alexis Fabry

We were taken aback, to say the least. In my case, this role is anything but familiar and I would never have dreamed of taking it on without Charlotte by my side. I think it’s our personal approach to our work that made them think of us: the way we do something, rather than what we actually do. The inner mindset that drives our primary activities. In my view this thinking outside the box, interweaving areas of creative expertise which might not appear to belong together, is one of the special strengths of the company.

And was there an immediate yes! to celebrate?

 

 

Charlotte Macaux Perelman

No. We took a little time to think about it, and there was a second lunch. What ultimately made the  decision easy for us was that Axel Dumas insisted we continue our own companies and work outside Hermès, rather than switch to Hermès full time. He regarded this as an advantage rather than a hindrance. And we agree.

Is your personal friendship a blessing or a curse in your work?

 

 

Alexis Fabry

We’ve known each other since we were 19. In fact, we did have lengthy discussions about whether we would be risking our friendship and whether we could work together in this way. After three years, I can confidently report that we can! We still like to meet up privately just as often, and we even manage not to talk about Hermès when we do (laughs).

 
 

Charlotte Macaux Perelman

That was a promise we made to our friends and families! In fact, I’ve always experienced friendships at work as positive, because it means there is a basis of trust and understanding already in place, which can make many things easier.

 

How do you divide up the work?

 

 

Alexis Fabry

We don’t. We’re not designers; we’re the curators of all Hermès Maison products. As such, we manage and guide the in-house design team or source external creatives for certain items together.

 

Charlotte Macaux Perelman

We go into the company on the same days, coordinating with the design studio about the main ranges they and we envisage. Through our other work, Alexis and I get to meet many artists, designers and architects, who inspire us and give us ideas for things that might be perfect for Hermès. Sometimes that may be only a very abstract idea or question, such as: what would a certain Hermès product look like without using leather? And then these people contribute their own ideas   this is how a design gradually evolves. There is no fixed sequence; instead, everything is the result of open, collective work.

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