I like to be busy doing nothing, to start a hundred things and finish none, to come and go as the wind takes me, to change my plans at every moment, to follow each twist and turn of life, to dig up a rock to see what is underneath it.
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau
This whimsical quote embodies a fabulous 19th-century notion of the well-dressed dandy, saucily swinging his cane as he strolls the city's streets (or boulevards). While it won't surprise you to learn that this stylish voyeuristic stroller is French with no English equivalent, there should be. For in our goal-obsessed, 24/7 world of "you can sleep when you're dead," the time has never better for the flâneur to cross languages and cultures.
And you can now join a flâneur on his route at Hermès Wanderland, an 11-room takeover of brand immersion within London’s Saatchi Gallery. “It was to put flânerie back into Paris, to find a way of creating a passage through the exhibition full of surprises,” says the experience's curator, Bruno Gaudichon. “The idea was to at the same time evoke nostalgia around the idea of what flânerie is, but to completely put it into a contemporary context."
How? With sets designed like an arrondissement in Paris to feel familiar - yet not - thanks to tiny sensors embedded in the floor panels that "speak" and augment the faux reality with video. A room filled with canes comes to life via videos which animate like graphic windows through which you can watch a dancer juggle with his cane and perform the (warning: pun alert) cane-cane. Another wall depicts well-known spots in Paris and mashes up chicks in miniskirts being chatted up by gents in tophats from an earlier era, as cars zoom by a carriage drawn by horse. Yet other walls are tagged with the pop-art graffiti of Cept.
And at the Cafe des Objets Oubliés, treasures owned by the founder of Hermès, Emile - a notorious collector who amassed over 30,000 objects - keep company with items that didn't sell. A bike (yes, Hermès) leans against a wall near an umbrella that is dripping. The resulting puddle is actually a cloud containing a film of a blue sky filled with clouds and birds. Objects on the café's tables contain digitally-generated treasures, as do the teacups and paint palettes. "It's so much fun I wish they'd open a real one as a pop-up – they could call it the Hermès Hideaway," notes The Telegraph's reviewer.
"The fascinating part of the displays," adds fashion writer Suzy Menkes, "is the mix of historical and digital, as in a room where the candelabra is made of champagne glasses and where a mini Eiffel Tower suddenly swings out of a mirror. I was charmed by an open post-box with envelopes addressed to Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolf. And I was mesmerized by a paint box with some colors digitally treated to create miniature squares of video, showing moving water...But this theater of illusions has a clear message when it reaches the final curtain. That is, in fact, a door, which appears to be three dimensional with curlicues and decoration. In reality, it is a flat surface given twenty-first-century digital depth...And that turns Wanderland into Wonderland."
For one thing, with this kooky concept, Hermès has keyed in on the element of surprise that people love, generating that sense of discovering new things many of us feel we have lost. We're all so busy being been-there-done-that and ironic, we've almost forgotten how to fall into the embraces of that most fabulous of childhood feelings: a sense of wonder. "It is our ability to be curious; it's our ability to stay connected with our instincts and intuition, able to be connected to our subconscious,"agrees Pierre-Alexis Dumas, artistic director of Hermès’ - which is running an ad campaign theme flâneur forever. "Flânerie is really at the root of what we do," he continues. "We are a strange house, with a strange and interesting relation to craft, we are in a way very rational and yet very poetic and investigative in our work."
Which is a pretty stealth and genius approach to branding in theluxury sphere. "It's not about marketing the brand," says CEO, Alex Dumas, "it's more about conveying who we are." Which is the right way to stay luxury going forward, because luxury isn't actually about the brand, per se. Brands are just that: brands. Not luxury. "If you are a luxury brand," observes management consultant and author Peter York, "the thing that you make is the brand. Luxury is a business model."
- Lesley Scott
NOTE: This post was about what appeals to the Supremium fashion tribe - spendy, style-conscious fashionistas that enjoy jetsetting, globetrotting and shopping their way across the globe. For more of my posts about the Supremiums, CLICK HERE. To learn more about each of fashion's four mega-tribes that I track, START HERE.