Monday, October 15, 2012

Hermès Scarves: Pride in Printing

Peter Malachi, SVP Communications for Hermés US and Kamel Hamadou, Responsable Communication for Holding Textile Hermès.

For my first visit (of three) to the Hermès Festival des Métiers, I wore my Napoleon scarf and an exuberant man met me halfway across the room exclaiming in a French accent, "You have the Napoleon! And it's a jacquard!" I was hoping to get a little appreciation for my scarf, but this was beyond my expectations. He introduced himself as Kamel Hamadou, master printer and passionate  Hermès communicator. I unfurled my scarf and Kamel held it up, describing the story of the scarf and the designer. He called the dashing Peter Malachi, SVP Communications Hermès US, over and said "You see! We must reissue the classic designs of Philippe Ledoux!

Three times each day during the five-day festival, Kamel gave a talk and demonstration of the silk scarf printing process. The talks were scheduled for an hour, but Kamel had so many stories to tell and is so proud of the artistic process and product that he spoke for almost two hours for the demo I attended. It takes two years to complete a scarf, from the artist's design, to the engraving, to the printing. The scarf, or carré, pictured above, is the image of the Indian Princess Wa' Ko-ni. With 46 colors, it has the most colors of any Hermès scarf. It took Nadine Rabilloud, master engraver, 2000 hours to translate the artist's design onto 46 acetate sheets for printing. According to Kamel, Hermès has a passionate and close connection with their designers.

The first step of the printing process is to lay the silk on the printing table. For the demo, two scarves at a time were printed. Where the silk is printed in Lyon, France, a hundred scarves per table are printed. Hermès began making scarves in 1937 to celebrate their 100th anniversary.

The white cylindrical object that Kamel is dangling is a cocoon of the mulberry moth silkworm. It takes 450,000 meters worth of this thread or 300 cocoons to create one 90 x 90 cm scarf. Hermès controls every step of the process. They own the farms in Brazil south of Sao Paulo where they raise the silkworms, then this highest quality (6A +++) silk thread is shipped to Lyon for weaving and printing. There is end-to-end quality control from farm to factory to boutique. Kamel poetically says "One butterfly equals one scarf."

The distinguished Henri Leli masterfully and methodically placed the screen over the silk, poured the ink and squeegeed the ink through the screen on to the silk. Henri was taught the trade by his father forty-four years ago when he was fourteen.

The intensity of Henri's focus is unwavering as he critically analyzes his work. The first screen is the most important as it must be perfect for the other colors to be right. The printer starts with the darkest color and the smallest motif.

A second screen is printed, adding more detail.

Another screen...

Each pass of the ink presents another opportunity for a mistake. If anything is barely, slightly, practically unperceptibly off, the scarf is destroyed. I read that approximately two-thirds of the printed scarves are rejected. The rejects are shredded and recycled, used in many ways, even as filler in car seats.

The printing process is very physical. There is no rush and the printer must maintain a calm pace. Henri used extreme economy of motion and material; every move was directed to printing the scarf, every extra drop of ink was scrapped up and put back in the ink pail.

With each printing pass, the design comes more alive. 

"Would you like an omlette?," Kamel asks as he scoops up the vivid rich goo. This is one of 75,000 colors of ink made from a secret recipe in the "kitchen" in Lyon by four women. Kamel did mention something about Provençal olive oil?

Another screen. The stretching and bending the printer has to do is unbelievable. The average scarf has thirty colors. If there are a hundred scarves to print, each with 30 colors, that's 3000 passes of the ink through the screen and each must be perfect.

More details appear and the audience says "Ah!"

The final product. If it is approved by quality control, it is then washed and treated. This design is Eperon d'Or with fourteen colors and was first issued in 1974. The approved scarves are given to the roulotteuses, the women who hand-roll and hand-stitch the hem. Rolling the hem back-to-front, the signature Hermès style, it takes about forty-five minutes to finish the hem.

Each design gets fifteen colorways or "ambience of color." A selection committee in Paris then chooses ten of the fifteen. Not a simple process, it takes three months with many trips between Lyon and Paris. Two collections are created every year; Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter. There can be twelve or more designs each season, some being new designs and some reissues in new color ways.

Pictured above is a "Book" of colorways for one scarf design. In January and July the buyers of each Hermés boutique come to Paris to look at the books and select what is best for their boutiques. They must have excellent knowledge of their clients as they have only one chance to order. There are no reorders.

Kamel showed us his two favorite scarves. These were designed by Kermit Oliver, a mail processor in Waco, Texas and the only American to design scarves for Hermès. His story is fascinating and you can read more in Jason Sheeler's Texas Monthly article here.

The theme for the scarves this year is The Gift of Time. Time is one of the most important ingredients in Hermès creations. The time the artisans take at every step to create their luxurious yet practical objects. And the gift of time is the years and even generations that they are used and appreciated. 


  1. This is a great post. Do you know who the artist who created Wa'ko-ni is and do you know if this is a brand new design? It looks like it's in the style of Kermit Oliver so I am curious if this is his design. Thanks!

  2. Good question! I was somewhat baffled by the various American Indian themed scarves and who designed what. Wa'ko-ni did not feel like a Kermit Oliver design. With further research (and a call to the Beverly Hills boutique), I discovered that the Indian Princess Wa'ko-ni scarf was designed by Antoine Tzapoff. According to an article on, "The Battle for Hermès," Pierre-Alexis Dumas, the creative director of Hermès, admired Tzapoff's paintings of American Indians and asked him to design a scarf. He designed the "Cosmogonie Apache" for 2011-2012 collection. But I still haven't learned the timing of the Indian Princess scarf. If you find anything out, please let me know!

  3. I was searching the web for some info on my Wa'ko-ni scarf (it just came out in HK and I was lucky to get one yesterday) and I found you! Thank you.

    May I add a link to your post on my blog?