At yesterday's opening of 'Wanderland', the Hermès exhibition at Saatchi Gallery that travels to Paris and Turin later this year, creative director Pierre-Alexis Dumas recalled the words of the great French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau: 'I like to be busy doing nothing, … to come and go as the whim takes me, to change my plan at every moment, … to while away the day without purpose.'
Walking through the streets of most major cities, it seems that the art of aimlessly wandering is long lost. 'It's nice to just sit at a café or on a bench,' muses Dumas. 'To watch people and not do anything and watch time go by. I think it has become a luxury today, when everybody's so busy.' Dumas refers to a human habit that emerged in post-Industrial Revolution Paris in the nineteenth century, the activity of near non-activity: 'flâner'. An almost untranslatable French word, it means to wander, to stroll.
The birth of the house of Hermès in 1837 coincided with that era, prompting Dumas to choose 'flânerie' as this year's annual theme, which celebrates a poetic part of the luxury leather goods house's history.
Wanderland, with its title reminiscent of that other almost untranslatable German term, 'wanderlust', is a feat of trompe l'oeil spread over 11 rooms. Conceived by curator Bruno Gaudichon and set designer Hubert Le Gall, the exhibition, featured in our May issue (W* 194), combines pieces from the Hermès archives with odd items from Emile Hermès' personal collection, most of which relate to horses or walking.
Walking stick - the essential accessory of the flâneur - appears in the form of various wonderfully crafted canes that possess hidden features. The hunting ground of the flâneur - streets, squares, the typically Parisian covered shopping arcades and sidewalk cafés - are realistically rendered with the addition of some surreal touches - upside-down lampposts or a miniature video playing in a coffee cup, for example. Dotted about are curiosities, like a 1920s golf watch designed to be worn around the waist and the 'Spoutnik' pendant designed by Pierre Hardy for Hermès in 2009. Contemporary artists have been invited to contribute too. Visual artist Magali Desbazeille, together with her partner, the musician Siegfried Canto, have developed an audiovisual installation while British graffiti artist CEPT has created a mural on site, a local street art touch that will change according to each location.
Paying homage to places and objects that speak to our subconscious and have a soul, Wanderland summons up feelings of curiosity and wonder at the hands of precious finds, Hermès or otherwise. Gaudichon's goal was to get 'people to smile inside when they come out of here. To understand that luxury is about the pleasure of something that is not useful. I like that art de vivre: the mixture of something natural with something sophisticated.'
To read more about the lost art of wandering and the creation of 'Wanderland', turn to pg. 83 of the May 2015 issue of Wallpaper* - out now