Cross stitching a Kelly

Parisian artisans keeping fashion old school

The waft of leather filled the air as Parisian artisans handcrafted coveted pieces before the eyes of countless salivating women and men.

Fred Metrick, co-owner of home furnishing store Elte, and his wife Cécile Metrick, attended the Festival des Métiers hosted by Hermès at the Design Exchange on Oct. 4.

The event, which ran from Oct. 2 to 6, showcased how each desirable item from the brand was created.

Cécile Metrick, draped in an Hermès scarf given to her by her daughter, came to Canada during the Second World War.

As far as she can remember, she’s been gifted with Hermès scarves. One of the first was given to her by her father in the 1950s.

“We left Paris just three days before the Germans invaded. We lived two more years in France on the unoccupied side … from there we went to Portugal and the war was still on … I mean without realizing it my father was very stylish,” she said.

“She saw Canada and me she couldn’t go back,” Fred replied lovingly.

Vincent Léopold, a saddle maker, hammered away at a saddle on Oct. 5. After 19 years, Léopold still works in the Hermès workshop above the store in Paris. He was selected to work for the brand after three years of perfecting saddle making.

“I think anyone can learn the craft. I was a horse rider, which inspired me to become a saddle maker,” Léopold said.

“When I had to go to get my saddle fixed, the scent of the leather made me feel so good. I decided to go into the arts and eventually went into saddle making…now I don’t even notice the smell as much as I used to.”  Léopold said.

Léopold has even custom-made his own saddle. The cutting, preparation and mounting process takes about 25 hours to create a standard model saddle.

For a customized model, it takes 35 to 40 hours and it costs about 4500 to 6500 euros.

The distinguishable characteristic between Hermès and any other company’s leather goods is the cross-stitch sewing technique that originates from Hermès‘ saddles.

The very reason why it is ideal to recruit the craftspeople of Hermès’ designer bags as saddle artisans according to Léopold . Two needles are simultaneously pulled through a single hole from different directions and strung taut to ensure lifelong durability.

“Today we are the only ones to work like this,” Léopold said.

“I see counterfeit items all the time and what makes me angry is the fact that we actually do our stitching by hand and it’s not the truth (when competitors try to copy) because I can tell a saddle stitch from a regular stitch and if it’s not done by hand it is not Hermès.

Some things are done by machine and were not ashamed … if a competitor was to say they also do everything by hand they would not open their workshops to you.”

At the station at which he was creating his saddle, there was no machinery to be seen and everything was being crafted by hand.

Unlike Léopold, not every craftsman can enjoy the luxury of owning the piece they create.

Amandine Aulen, a bag craftswoman, creates a range of Hermès purses that are carried by the likes of Victoria Beckham and Kim Kardashian.

She creates models such as the Kelly inspired by Grace Kelly and the famous Birkin named after the English actress Jane Birkin but ironically, cannot afford one herself.

“C’est la vie,” she said.

The fact that Hermès stands by its standard of quality since 1837 also comes into question.

“For my older scarves the quality is heavier I don’t know why (considering they have always been made in Lyon),” Cécile Metrick said. “There are so many items made in silk now that with a poor quality silk you can just tell.”

One thing was for certain: the feeling of having something handmade is simply unmatched. The faces of passersby became enchanted with the idea of one day owning the coveted pieces themselves.