Hermes brings show of goods made from reused materials

When growing up in the 1960s, Pascale Mussard spent time with her uncle Robert Dumas vacationing on the beaches of Normandy.

Dumas, who designed the famous Kelly bag for Hermes, would ask Mussard to pick pebbles from the shore with which he would make her pendants.

Since then, Mussard, now a sixth-generation member of the French luxury house Hermes, has been inspired to create unusual objects.

The workshops of her family company were her playground after school. She would help the craftsmen make things from unused leather, silk, buttons and zippers that she had saved.

After studying law and business management at the European Business School London, she joined Hermes as a fabric buyer in 1978. But she never thought her girlhood hobby would become a meaningful mission until one day when she heard a young member on her staff report on the company's efforts toward sustainable development.

"She (the staff member) asked what would we do if the materials we now use are all gone by 10 or 15 years?" Mussard tells China Daily.

Pascale Mussard with three Chinese designers at the ongoing Shanghai Petit h exhibition. Photo: China Daily/ANN

The question led her to start an in-house unit for reusing materials that were among waste at Hermes to create works including furniture, accessories and toys.

In 2009, she and half a dozen craftsmen created some 100 items from discarded and unused materials, calling Petit h.

The first collection of works under the name Petit h hit Hermes stores in Paris in 2010, and since then the line has been popping up like a caravan of colour at Hermes boutiques around the world. Now, its latest edition is in Shanghai for the first time on the mainland, with more than 1,000 pieces on sale through Nov 29.

The pieces include a leather panda, a bamboo horse, pebble stoppers and leather handles for doors, and a teacup case made of crocodile skin with a Hermes silk scarf inside the case. The teacup case was designed at a Chinese customer's request.

As a child in the years after World War II, Mussard, 58, was influenced by the attitude of "use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without".

"Our motto is, 'We don't throw anything away!' This is a different way of looking at things," she tells China Daily on the sidelines of a media preview ahead of the Shanghai sale.

Photo: China Daily/ANN

Petit h is about creative reuse of materials, says Cyril Feb, the managing director of Petit h.

The French word "petit" means petite or small, usually referring to a woman's body type.

In this case, it is the name given to a "grand mission of breathing a second life" into otherwise junked materials, Feb says.

"I am always shocked when you throw away something. It makes me more than sad," Mussard says, adding that she can't imagine why people wouldn't try to save something by putting it to another use.

"Creativity generally means you have an idea and your look for the materials. For me it is the reverse."

Photo: China Daily/ANN

Mussard and her craftsmen let their imaginations run wild for Petit h products, using everything from leather trimmings that have fallen off the cutting tables of a workshop to crocodile skin with irregular scales to air bubbles trapped inside glass crystals to chipped porcelain or the buckles of Hermes bags.

When searching through such materials, Mussard says, she thinks to herself: "What can we invent?"

Mussard credits her ability to look at things from different angles to her family roots. Aside from the pendants her uncle made for her by the sea, she shares another story.

During a trip to Canada when the WWI was raging, Mussard's great grandfather Emile Maurice Hermes found a zipperlike device on car-top carriers. He though it could be used in France to make other things. So, he returned to Paris with a two-year patent on the zipper and put it on leather jackets. The zip then became to be known as Hermes Fastener.

Photo: China Daily/ANN

For the Shanghai Petit h exhibition, Benwu Studio, composed of three young Chinese designers, has created a "forest" to display the items. The green and yellow leather pieces are cut and decorated like leaves while the dark wood is used in making small tree houses of different shapes.

Designer Wang Hongchao, 26, says that they got the project last November and started to work on it in April.

Hermes' theme this year is from the French word "flaneur forever", which refers mostly to a Parisian strolling about idly.

Photo: China Daily/ANN

"A modern metropolitan like Shanghai is also a concrete jungle, where people live and work under high stress. The idea of a forest is to allow them to relax and release that pressure," says Wang.

Born in Suzhou, East China's Jiangsu province, Wang learned art and design in the Unites States and Switzerland. He founded Benwu Studio in New York along with his childhood friend You Peng in 2011. You, also 26, graduated from Royal College of Art in London.

"We stayed at a Hermes workshop to pick the materials and work with designers and craftsmen," You says. "We are impressed by Mussard's passion for creating things from what we usually consider useless stuff."