The private Hermes museum in Paris and the beauty of a wheelbarrow containing gloves for the Duchess of Windsor
Today I was reminiscing about a trip to Paris four years ago with a couple of good friends, for some reason.
As I was looking at the photos, I found a couple of snapshots I took of the Hermes Museum, which I thought I’d share with you.
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FOR PRIVATE VIEWING ONLY
The Hermes Museum is not open to the public and it’s not quite a museum in the traditional sense since it’s just a series of rooms with all kinds of interesting items in it.
But it’s an incredibly fascinating collection that allows you a glimpse of a life of privilege and refinement over the centuries.
SPECIAL ACCESS TO A SPECIAL COLLECTION
Visiting this museum is usually only possible if you know someone at Hermes in Paris and make arrangements in advance — which is what I did, securing entry to this very private display for myself and some friends who had joined my trip from Manila.
It was our second trip together to Paris in four months, and we were doing Paris the Travelife way, after all.
Luckily, we were staying at an apartment just a few blocks from the Hermes flagship store in Paris — fondly nicknamed The Mothership by Hermes fanatics around the world — so on the appointed day, we just walked over from our apartment to Hermes.
As it’s not really accessible to the public, we didn’t even enter the museum from the store.
Instead, we were asked to go to the side entrance which is also used by Hermes executives and staff.
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HORSE STUFF BEFORE BAGS
We were first shown the Hermes workshop for saddles on top of the store.
Yes, Hermes is now a global ultra-luxury brand but on top of its main shop, it still makes saddles in an airy workshop manned by a leather craftsman with over 30 years of experience and a handful of apprentices.
A miniature carriage owned by the Hermes family
A SADDLE FOR ROYALTY
The master craftsman was hard at work on a beautiful saddle when we walked in.
I’m not a horse person, but even I could appreciate the beauty of this piece of leather.
We asked the price in euros and it was in the high five-digits. Someone whispered that it was going to a member of a Middle Eastern royal family.
From there, a lady took us up an elevator and then down a small staircase where we waited in front of a closed door.
This was the Hermes museum which many designers and dignitaries visit when in Paris, including Princess Diana, not long before her death.
A BEAUTIFUL BOUDOIR
After a few minutes, another lady came in and opened the door using a tangle of antique-looking keys.
MY FIRST IMPRESSION OF THIS VERY PRIVATE MUSEUM
When the door opened, my first impression of the Hermes museum was that of a storehouse of fine things.
There were clothes on dressmaker’s mannequins, bags perched on top of shelves, accessories laid out on tables, and all sorts of personal items strewn around casually as if the lady of the house had spent the day in her boudoir.
And now this boudoir was opened just for us, and we happily spent the morning here looking around unescorted for the most part.
“These are the personal possessions of different members of the Hermes family over the generations,” said our host, the museum curator.
She continued: “And some items come from the workshops themselves, or they were purchased by the Hermes family and used as inspiration for designs and products of Hermes.”
There were items from India, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East — but I didn’t spot anything really significant from Asia (apart from India).
Assorted military uniforms and medals
THE STORY OF
THE DUKE & DUCHESS OF WINDSOR
The most fascinating item in the whole collection was a little white wheelbarrow in the center of the room, that used to belong to the Duchess of Windsor who lived in exile in a lovely villa in the outskirts of Paris.
Apparently, both the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were great patrons of Hermes, and one day the Duke of Windsor had come into the store looking quite distraught.
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A MOST UNUSUAL BIRTHDAY PRESENT
“I need to find something for the Duchess’ birthday,” he had reportedly told the Hermes store manager, who he knew quite well. The manager then suggested, “What about a pair of gloves, sir?”
The duke reportedly responded: “What will she do with a pair of gloves? She’s got a whole wheelbarrow of them.”
The desk used by the founder of Hermes, complete with all his personal effects such as inkstands, stationery boxes and seals.
The quick-thinking Hermes sales lady then commissioned a little wheelbarrow as a present for the duchess, complete with little pull-out drawers for her to place her gloves in.
Since the duke had described her as having a wheelbarrow full of gloves, why not make her a wheelbarrow for her gloves? Both the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were reportedly very entertained by this novel gift.
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SERENDIPITY IN A WHEELBARROW
How did it come to be part of the Hermes collection? One day, it was put up for auction although I don’t think it was identified as belonging to the Duchess of Windsor when it was put up for sale.
This was long after both the Duke and the Duchess of Windsor had already passed away.