“I always encourage the greatest freedom in how one organises one’s own table,” shares Benoît-Pierre Emery. He should know, he is the creative director of Hermès tableware. And, right now, the man with surely one of the best job titles going is putting tableware into context today. “The uses and habits at the table have significantly evolved in recent years. The formats and types of containers have also changed a lot,” he says. “Overall, we take a much more relaxed and informal approach to the table and this is true even in gourmet restaurants.”
It’s something that’s reflected in the luxury maison’s latest tableware endeavour, a collaboration with the Italian artist Gianpaolo Pagni, with whom the house has previously worked on other homeware categories (embroidered rugs have been a success) as well as fashion accessories and its iconic silk carrés.
A tea set titled Hippomobile features an elongated horse across plates, a cake platter, a teapot and cups and saucers alongside a sugar bowl and creamer. It’s a witty and poignant addition to the Hermès' tableware collection division, which in the past has also included collaborations with the Irish artist Nigel Peake, two years ago, for Walk in the Garden - a combination of whimsical and botanical graphics in pastel-punchy shades.
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“Undoubtedly linked to the current period that we are going through now,” points out Emery, “we wanted a set that gives us back optimism, that is colourful, full of lightness and has a touch of humour.” He explains: “Gianpaolo has an aesthetic vocabulary which combines both very graphic and colourful forms mixed with fragments of old engravings.”
And a look on Pagni’s Instagram page finds you quickly drawn in by the compelling use of said lines and colour. The artist, who began showcasing his work in the early 1990s and has worked with various high-profile publications, was born in Turin and resides now in Paris.
“Gianpaolo humorously plays with the codes of the house and its history, bringing his personal sensitivity and contemporary outlook,” Emery says of Pagni’s designs, which have drawn inspiration from jockey silks. “Of course, the horse theme is very present throughout the house’s various collections. When it comes to the table, we are more used to telling stories that are not necessarily linked to this theme, but Gianpaolo’s very playful approach immediately convinced us!”
Pagni had come up with the idea of a horse - a notable Hermès leitmotif - as a “kind of limousine, with an elongated back that could hold several riders”. The artist said the visual was interpreted from an engraving from the Emile Hermès collection – a monochrome frame that he covered with graphic friezes evocative of jockey outfits. Pagni’s work starts out as stamps to create motifs; and it is the stamp technique that enables the lines of his designs to take on a sense of character and personality.
“The technical challenge of this set consisted of transcribing its textures as well as possible, and additionally its irregular aspects of stamp printing,” Emery elaborates of this graphic exuberance. “He combines these two sources through stamp work which gives a very particular texture to his creations.”
For Emery, working with artists to create new tableware sets and concepts is, he says, “a chance for a special meeting and creative exchange”. And with every new project two very specific universes – the artistic and Hermès – come together. “We wanted to develop a tea set centred around a gourmet break,” he says, “a happy and recreational teatime! Gianpaolo’s colourful, graphic and quirky spirit seemed perfectly suited to this.” Especially given that we will have all found ourselves taking a renewed interest in homeware and tableware (in lieu of going out to restaurants) these past months.
“The light spirit of this service strikes me as very appropriate for an improvised and informal table,” Emery recommends. “Its sweet and colourful side will go wonderfully with a snack, a break with friends to celebrate a good time in the afternoon or give a boost of good humour at breakfast.” And, back to his original point on tableware today, he explains how Hermès reflects this in the development of new shapes, such as salad bowls, more curved plates and small dishes, “which are very versatile”, he notes.
What is striking about this collaboration is how readily it brings a laugh to one’s lips. The horse stretched across three plates is almost customisable per your occasion. Desirable to those who may have never really thought about the appeal of nice plates. It is charming and colourful, the latter of which was something of a feat but one that with its years of know-how and rigour can’t phase Hermès.
“The development of colour is always a challenge on porcelain,” confesses Emery, who started out in graphic design and studied at the Royal College of Art. That challenge, however, is he confirms also exciting - one that requires patience. “Some pieces are entirely covered with patterns, I am thinking particularly of coffee cups and tea cups, which is a real technical achievement. We have the chance to work with craftsmen and wonderful workshops who push the limits of their know-how on each new project.”
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