When Hermès artistic director Pierre-Alexis Dumas approached Milanese architect Michele de Lucchi to create the French maison's first ever lighting system, he delivered a one sentence brief: 'I simply said, "Mr de Lucchi, please can you design us an Hermès lamp?"'
Dumas laughs now at this seemingly simple request. But the task of transmitting Hermès' unique alchemy of tradition, refinement and functionality - plus wrapping it all up in a perfectionist's package - is riddled with complexity.
Indeed, development for the new project took nearly three years. 'Every piece had to be engineered and studied very carefully,' says de Lucchi of his six-piece collection, which debuted this week at Milan's Salone del Mobile. 'But designing lamps is always very exciting. It's the crossing point for many design topics - from technology and sculpture to furnishings.'
De Lucchi designed two collections for Hermès with three designs in each. The Pantographe, inspired by a draftsman's instrument, is a mechanical sculpture of leather and steel whose lithe arms swing with eerie silence. The Harnais nods to Hermès' equestrian roots with a base made from saddle-stitched leather straps that recall a horse's harness. Each is fit with double dimmers, hidden wires sheathed in leather, and bull calf trinket trays. Each lamp and every last detail has been crafted entirely by hand, an anomaly in today's technology focused lighting world. 'It's not surprising to find fantastic quality today in an armchair. But you normally don't find this quality in a lamp,' de Lucchi remarks, referring to the collection's extreme attention to handcraft.
Hermès presented the collection (which also includes a Lantern light designed by Yann Kersalé) in Milan's magnificently baroque Palazzo Serbelloni. De Lucchi designed an installation that sheathed the monumental environment with two enormous curved wooden parentheses. 'It gives you a sense of protection but it's also transparent,' says de Lucchi. 'You know the story of Pinocchio - it's like being inside the whale.'
'And you know who Pinocchio finds when he goes inside the whale?' Dumas asks, eyes twinkling. 'It's Gepetto, carrying a candle.'