By taking inspiration from the commemorative handkerchiefs of Napoleon’s exploits, but also instructional handkerchiefs worn by soldiers during WWI, Robert Dumas brought life to one of the most iconic pieces in the history of fashion. By adding the aesthetics of the equestrian universe, always near and dear to Hermès, he was able to make his scarf out of the same material as that of the jerseys worn by jockeys – silk twill. By opting for a square – a form that would be transmitted from father to son – Robert Dumas designed the first carré scarf in history. Entitled “Jeu des Omnibus et Dames Blanches”, the piece took inspiration from a particular theme of the day: the public transportation network that was just beginning to emerge in Paris. Hermès’ strength is evident as Robert Dumas added a touch of humor, with the inscription “A good player never gets angry”.
The lightness of the carré scarf breaks with the austerity of the era. Its Bohemian fantasy instantly attracted a wide and enthusiastic clientele. This would become the very signature of Hermès – the themes that appear on the scarves are varied, from the equestrian world to homages to French history, love, travel, and the brand’s eternal codes. But the scarf’s success resides first and foremost in the exceptional savoir-faire necessary to create it. In Lyon, cradle of the French silk industry, the very same actions used to make the first carré scarf in 1937 are reproduced today. These techniques have been preciously transmitted from one generation to the next by the brand’s artisans, who define themselves as “passers”. Certain techniques are one of a kind and exclusively used by Hermès, such as ‘sabrage’, to which only three people know the secret. It takes about two years between the initial conception of the design and the finalization of the scarf with its last French topstitch. On average, close to 27 colors are represented on one carré scarf, a true feat of artisanal work. Narrative and figurative, the carré scarf becomes a carousel of color once tied on.
Today, with close to 2,000 designs, the carré scarf is an invaluable witness to artistic evolutions over the years. Jackson Pollock, Daniel Buren… numerous are those to have brought their imagination to the carré scarf. The most famous design is one imagined by Hugo Grykar, “Brides de Gala”. Far from fading into its own timelessness, the carré scarf is now available in new formats and materials. Each year, in addition to new designs, five old designs are rereleased in different colors as limited editions. This year, for the brand’s 180th anniversary, the carré scarf is paying homage to imperial Russia, which played a major role in the history of French saddlemaking.
A royal adornment in the hair of Queen Elizabeth II, a ready-to-wear piece for Jean-Paul Gaultier, a moving souvenir of France for a traveler, a bearer of heritage for some, illuminating for others, from generation to generation the Hermès carré scarf has left its mark on many and attracted a variety of fans, like a modern-day hero. Pierre-Alexis Dumas sums up the audacity of those who began this saga: “They didn’t know it was impossible, so they did it.”
The Hermès Carrè: Key dates
1957 : Hermès creates the legendary “Brides de Gala” carrè, by Hugo Grygkar.
1957 : Sophia Loren wears the “Brides de Gala” Carrè.
1986 : Queen Elizabeth II of England is a great enthusiast of the Carrè. In many occasion has been portrayed while wearing the Hermès scarf. This time it is the turn of an official photo shooting for a stamp celebrating her 60th birthday.
1995 : Luciano Pavarotti is portrayed while wearing an Hermès Carrè during a show in Modena when talking to Lady D.
2010 : The Hermès Carrè is protagonist during the great exhibition dedicated to Grace Kelly at the Victoria and Albert museum in London.
2010 : Hermès and the artist Daniel Buren launch the project “Photo souvenirs au carrè” at the Monnaie in Paris. For the occasion Hermès will disclose the collection “Photo souvenirs au carrè” signed by Buren: a 365 limited-edition line of scarves decorated with silk-printed photographs resembling film “frames”.
2011 : Hermès launches a capsule collection of Carrè in collaboration with the street artist Kongo.
2012 : Hermès presents a limited edition sold for charity.
2013 : Hermès launches a project for a special edition with the Institut Imagine.
2014 : It’s time for the short movie dedicated to the Carrè signed by the visual artist Olivia Bee.
2014 : Hermès gives life to the event “Silk ballet”, a ballet show with Carrè scarves and visual effects at Rome’s Opera Theatre.
2016 : A special edition of Carrè is created together with the artist Rei Kawakubo.
2018 : Hermès launches a special project for a limited edition of Carrè together with the artist Hiroshi Sugimoto.