Hermès Puts a Whimsical Spin on Sustainable Design

At the petit h workshop, Pascale Mussard repurposes Hermès' leftovers to make one-of-a-kind art objects

Pascale Mussard knows that today “family” comes in many forms. Some families celebrate the holidays together under one roof, while others make the rounds, perhaps visiting aunts and uncles who don’t live close by. That’s why the sixth-generation Hermès descendent gave the green light to craftsmen in the luxury house’s petit h workshop (of which she is artistic director) to create a fantastical, one-of-a-kind object for this holiday season in collaboration with artist Isabelle Leloup: a collapsible Christmas tree.

The holiday game changer is made from crocodile, calfskin leather, crystal and glittering gold and silver, and Leloup’s green leather version can be hung like a mobile, while several other freestanding editions in red and purple can be placed near the hearth. A portable tree may not be what comes to mind when you think of Hermès, but for Mussard that’s the point—to do something entirely different.

With petit h, Mussard is gently leading Hermès into the realm of sustainable design. The workshop sources its materials from the house’s other shops—leather cutouts and glass beads to silk patterns and porcelain cups—and Mussard and her ever-growing team of Hermès-trained craftsmen and artist collaborators (the number is hovering somewhere near 150 now) operate what can only be likened to a Willy Wonka-style workshop where dreams are made reality.

Pascale Mussard of petit h.

Pascale Mussard of petit h. Kaitlyn Flannagan for Observer

“I generally ask all the designers ‘What was your dream when you were young that you had or you didn’t have?’” Mussard tells me when I visit her at the petit h holiday factory inside Hermès Madison Avenue Boutique. “All of them have designed, for their first object at petit h, something that they dreamed of.”

Petit h is perhaps Hermès most progressive and unique workshop to date. While the house’s other operations generally specialize in a single material or object, with many designs unchanged since their inception, petit h craftsmen are constantly reinventing the wheel—literally, as they did when they created a series of multi-colored leather pinwheels that today rank among their top-selling designs.

That brings us to Mussard’s dream object. “I was living not far away from Hermès, and there was a park where we were going, my sister and myself, and I was dreaming of a pinwheel, in paper, that I never got because we were a lot of sisters,” she says. “When I started petit h, I was saying that to the designers…‘I’d love to have a pinwheel’ and we did it in leather, and it’s selling very well.”

petit h and Marjolijn Mandersloot's Poney Shape with Fringes Sculpture.

Marjolijn Mandersloot’s Poney. BFA

Mussard’s pinwheel has already sold out at the Madison Avenue pop-up, but is still available online for $335. Prices for petit h’s wares start around $100 for a silk ornament and go up from there. And by petit h standards’, the pinwheel is a relatively simple and conservative design. Sculptor Marjolijn Mandersloot created a nearly life-size horse from excess pieces of caramel-colored leather, which stands sentinel at the front doors of the holiday factory to greet shoppers. And Charles Kaisin was invited to create a series of tissue box cases from orange calfskin, gold buttons and luxurious mink.

The ornament bar.

The ornament bar. BFA

At the holiday factory, open through January 7, shoppers have the opportunity to participate in the creation process with some of petit h’s collaborating artists, who will be available in person to guide people in making their own custom Christmas ornaments. When I stopped by, Leloup was at the ornament bar gluing colorful dots of leather to squares of silk, and helping visitors assemble leather pieces into the shape of a flying elephant.

“I really want everyone to touch the materials and…not to be afraid to work with your hands,” says Mussard. “Sometimes it may seem easy to recycle something, but it’s not easy. Everything is a question and an answer.”

petit h's holiday factory at Hermès Madison Avenue.

petit h’s holiday factory at Hermès Madison Avenue. BFA

In keeping with the holiday spirit, a selection of other objects available at the holiday factory could make ideal multi-purpose stocking stuffers. There’s Mussard’s take on the Christmas stocking—a leather pouch shaped like a shoe—that can be repurposed as a smartphone holder once the holidays wrap. And Laurence Marchese’s traveling tea set folder made of silk and leather, which could very well hold jewelry or toiletries in place of cups.

Aside from giving new life to Hermès’ leftovers, another mission for Mussard and her “traveling caravan,” as she likes to call it, is to try and save the fading traditions of the artisans and craftsmen with whom she collaborates. A four-tiered “cabinet of curiosities” made from chestnut wood and topped with colorful bits of leather, designed by Christian Astuguevieille, is one such example. The wood for the cabinet was cut by a recently retired craftsmen from France who uses a dangerous technique no longer practiced to cut the chestnut directly against his body with a large knife. Mussard tells me that a designer from petit h spent a month watching the man work, with the hopes of gleaning the secrets of his dying art.

“It’s very, very important that we keep some know-how,” she says. “In crafts, sometimes it’s only small tricks, like in cooking. You steal the gesture by the eyes…It’s a matter of a lot of experience and time…I always say that our craftsmen, who have like 20 to 25 years working at Hermès, in reality they have 170 years of working at Hermès.”

Cabinet of Curiosities.

Cabinet of Curiosities. BFA