Culture & Art

Nov 1, 2017

ART OR MAGIC?

"Painters, sculptors, leather craftsmen, weavers, mosaic-makers, stone carvers, glass-makers: a host of expert artisans worked with the designer to create the objects and decorations featured in her stunning, fantastic, flamboyant shop windows", wrote the label in a press release.

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By MARCEL COMÈS

Hermès has announced that a major exhibition will be held in Paris this autumn, focusing on the world and works of Leïla Menchari. Over the course of 35 years Menchari conceived, designed and created the leather goods label's window displays. The exhibition is entitled 'Hermès à tire-d'aile - Les mondes de Leïla Menchari' (Hermès takes flight - the worlds of Leïla Menchari), and will be held at the Grand Palais from 8th November to 3rd December 2017.

The book 'Leïla Menchari, la Reine Mage' (Leïla Menchari, the Magus queen), a 432-page volume with 147 illustrations written by Michèle Gazier, will be co-published with Actes Sud for the exhibition.

The exhibition is designed to immerse visitors into the artist's fantastic, poetic world. Menchari is well-known for her travels to Asia, where she unearthed the most unexpected objects. The exhibition's set design is by Nathalie Crinière, and will consist of eight sketches featuring Menchari's enchanting decorations, in which materials play the starring role.

A graduate of the Fine Arts Institute in Tunis, Leïla Menchari then studied at the Paris National School of Fine Arts. Passionate about fabrics, she rubbed shoulders with the fashion world and modelled for Guy Laroche. In 1961, she showed up at Hermès with her book of sketches, looking for work. Annie Beaumel, who, at the time, was in charge of the window displays, asked her to "design her dreams".

It was just what the young Tunis-born artist needed to let her imagination run free. She became Annie Beaumel's assistant before succeeding her in 1978, when she also took charge of the colour committee for silk, which supervised among other things the palettes for the renowned Hermès scarves.

For generations of Parisians', and those who regularly make the trip to Paris, will tell you that Hermès' store windows are meant to make you dream. That is why crowds jostle for position to catch a glimpse of the fantastic scenarios crafted out of silk, coral and leather that are a voyage into the imagination of their creator, Leila Menchari. Her poetic displays have included a huge origami hoarse that looked as if it had been created from one of Hermès famous silk scarves, gazelles grazing amongst stacks of fine china piled high with colorful macaroons and Tuareg jewelry laid out on petrified wood that recalled the African Sahara.

Seated behind a large desk in her atelier, Leila Menchari resembles a cross between Nancy Cunard and Coco Chanel, exuding an effortless chic with her piles of bangles and carefully sculpted hair.

The space is filled with the exotic ingredients she uses to tell her stories; baskets of antique ribbons, mounds of costly fabrics, and even a number of densely embroidered saddles crafted from crocodile, ostrich skin and lace. Arranged along a shelf, directly behind her desk, is a collection of one of a kind Birkin bags destined for her own private museum. Hermès has given her carte blanche to create different variations of the famous bag for her window displays and no material seems to be off limits.

Some are made out of candy wrappers, fur, straw and even feathers. While other examples were conceived from outrageously colored silk scarves, plastic and glass. These bags were never intended for sale and are not even accessible to the public. On very rare occasions a member or close friend of the Hermès family is granted the right to have one, but even then Menchari is reluctant to part with it.

Four times a year, until 2013, she was tasked with the delicate mission of creating the famous shop-windows at 24, Faubourg Saint-Honoré, home to the store located at the label's historic headquarters, before the honour went to Antoine Platteau in 2014.

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