Hermès may be best known for their iconic handbags – The Kelly and Birkin – and colourful silk scarves – but the storied Paris label was built on saddles.
On a sunny spring day, I was given a tour of one of their light-filled workshops four floors above their Paris flagship store on the rue du Faubourg Saint Honore.
Whether it’s a saddle made with the Saut Hermès in mind (the annual show jumping competition in Paris) or a custom creation in ostrich and silver metal for a private client, all of Hermès saddles are handcrafted here in Paris. Ten craftsmen toil here – each one steeped in Hermès leatherwork crafting, and each one passionate about horses. One craftsman will make one saddle from start to finish. Each saddle uses about 40 pieces – a mix of leather and padding shaped to either a wood or carbon base.
The size of the saddle is determined by the rider, the horse and the function – will it be used for promenade (basic riding) or dressage, polo or hunting perhaps. A dozen different saddles are crafted here. Five hundred are made annually and sold as raw leather – the saddle will be oiled and polished after purchase.
Our guide takes us through volumes of handwritten files, noting each saddle made with its dimensions, details, leather and client. The oldest book is dated 1909. Another volume pictures custom saddles including one embroidered by the couture beading supplier Lesage, another flashy one called the Pegasus with red and yellow leather wings. I’m told another Pegasus is currently being crafted for a wedding gift. Some custom orders also require a mini version to be made as a souvenir – each tiny saddle takes us much time (about 40 hours) as its bigger original.
Watching the craftsmen pound and stretch leather, and examine every detail gives a better appreciation of what goes into handmaking a saddle. And at Hermès, it’s that special quality touch that commands price tags in the thousands (The Talaris saddle starts at $13,000).