See them first hand in Vancouver September 21 - 25, 2016
It seems today that we stand up and applaud every new gizmo that makes things faster and cheaper. There are apps that deliver logos in a day, and website template sites that ten-year-olds can whiz through in minutes. Push a button on your phone and food arrives. Push a button on your 3D printer and you can hear the global manufacturing sector grumble as a new pair of eyeglass frames (or whatever) appears on your dining room table.
Still, despite the whiz-bang convenience, there's something dehumanizing about all of this. The race towards automation and convenience creates things and experiences that feel a bit less than whatever came before. That home-cooked meal that arrives when you activate the right app on your iPhone? It's not really home-cooked. And it's a far cry from the meal your Mom or Grandma spent hours shopping, chopping, and stirring in her kitchen. Those eyeglass frames that squirt out of the 3D printer on your dining room table are fine and cool, but can't compare to the artisanal frames made by a second-or-third generation bespoke frame-maker like Maison Bonnet.
We all know and feel the malaise of this lessness in one way or another, and we are showing it by patronizing companies that have an antidote. Just look at the resurgence of interest in heritage brands like Redwing Boots, or the mass appeal of a lovingly-crafted-small-batch producer like Earnest Ice Cream. And unquestionably the ultimate example of sticking-to-the-old-ways has got to be the luxury leather goods maker Hermès.
Still owned by the descendants of the same family who started selling saddles and other equestrian accessories generations ago, the coveted bags and briefcases and wallets from this centuries-old producer are still made by hand by real-live people in ateliers across France. There are experts at Hermès who do nothing but cut leather: and have been taught how to do so properly by the people who did the job before them. There are others who just stitch leather, who learned how from the last generation of stitching specialists. In fact there are at least ten specialities in the Hermès Ateliers, with nearly-extinct verbs to describe them like Fileter, Perler, Cadrer, Griffer, Bichonner, Putoiser, Chantourner, Remater, Astiquer, Tarauder and more.
Full disclosure: I have a bit of an Hermès fixation. It's not because of the logo or the brand or the reasons you might think. It's because when my 10-year-old wallet starts to look a little tired, I take it to the store, and it gets sent back to the atelier where it was born, and in most cases lands on the workbench of the person who made it. He or she fixes it up, mends the wounds of everyday wear-and-tear, gives it a little massage with some secret ointments of some sort, and then ships it back to me.
And to me, that's very cool. I'll have this wallet for the rest of my life. It will be with me every day.
Every time I use my wallet I think about these things. Not overtly, or in some kind of reverent chorus-of-angels-and-sunbeams-through-the-clouds way, but more simply. Each little second-or-two that wallet is in my hands feels a tiny bit special. There is a sense of ritual and heritage. Call me crazy but it's like a tiny hit of some kind of quality-drug.
The things we touch every day should and could touch us, if they were all made with the same love and attention.
Seeing an Hermès artisan at work is a rare privilege. Hermès fans are legion, and are a very devoted bunch, and the House of Hermès would spend all day touring busloads of people through the secret ateliers if it was easy to access. They are kept secret for a reason: so they can get some work done.
But now we can get a peek behind the curtain.
Vancouver is one of the few places in the world where the French artisans are putting themselves on display for all of us to see. From September 21st to 25th, from 11am -7pm each day, Jack Poole Plaza at 1055 Canada Place will be the site of a pop-up Atelier. Hermès is flying in artisans from France, along with their leather and tools, so we can all see what has been going on in those secret ateliers for generations.
So why should you care?
Well, it's something few people have had an opportunity to see. At the very least you will get some experience points and a great story you can use to entertain people at dinner parties for years to come.
But more importantly, it will give you a chance to reflect on the tradition and quality of doing things the old-fashioned way. Perhaps you'll leave with some ideas about how to bring a little bit of that subtle magic into your daily life.
Maybe it's a simple as taking the time to write a handwritten thank you note after a wonderful evening with friends.
Maybe you find a way to personalize and customize your work for your clients, regardless of what your profession is.
Maybe you'll be inspired to go home and prepare a meal, instead of ordering one up using some bluetooth connected thingy.
I'm not sure what you might take away. But it's a free opportunity to see how traditions from the past can not only be relevant to the present, but perhaps even inspire your future.
Hermes AT WORK
VANCOUVER SEPTEMBER 21 -25
JACK POOLE PLAZA, 1055 CANADA PLACE
daily from 11am - 7pm