Cinematic Insight Into Artist Alice Shirley’s Contribution To Hermès’ Illustrious Scarf Process
EXT. CAR – MORNING (LOS ANGELES)
JENNIFER, a stylish woman, cruises down the Pacific Coast Highway in a white convertible—taupe leather seats, mahogany dash—with the top down. She is on her way to meet her art dealer at a gallery in West Hollywood. The silk Hermès scarf around her neck blows gently in the balmy breeze.
That iconic scarf is the product of two years of design and craftsmanship. With extraordinary expertise, threads, colors, and materials are precisely combined to give birth to the scarves of Maison Hermès in Lyon, France.
EXT. RAINFOREST – DAY (BRAZIL)
TIGHT SHOT of a butterfly fluttering its wings as it sits on a branch of a verdant tropical tree.
Here in Brazil two of these delicate insects will mate and give birth to around 300 silkworms. Each silkworm will grow 40 times its size, and 10,000 times its weight. As the caterpillar grows, it expels its weight in saliva, building the cocoon that will envelope it before becoming a butterfly. 1,500 meters of thread can be harvested from this cocoon—a little white ball that fits in the palm of your hand. However, this thread cannot be used at first—being too thin and fragile—so it’s mixed with other threads to obtain a tensile strength comparable to steel, yet maintaining an exquisite softness. An extraordinary 450 kilometers of thread goes into each Hermès silk scarf.
INT. HERMÈS OFFICES (PARIS, FRANCE)
Pierre-Alexis Dumas, General Artistic Director, speaks to an artist in the offices at Hermès. They move to a table where the artist spreads out several sketches.
But it also starts with a drawing. There are two possibilities: either Pierre-Alexis Dumas commissions an illustrator or artist to make a design, or it’s taken from the “sketch stash”—drawings that have been bought, used, or passed down the line over decades, living now in an incredible archive at the Maison Hermès. When a new drawing is ordered, the designer has six months to find their inspiration. Hermès works with over 40 illustrators, including regulars like Robert Dallet—a feline and animal specialist—or associates like their current one, artist Alice Shirley. Since the 1937 release of the first Hermès scarf, called affectionately “Le jeu des omnibus et des dames blanches,” dozens of designers have added their vision to Hermès, including luminaries like Daniel Buren and Hiroshi Sugimoto.
INT. HERMÈS SILK ATELIERS (LYON, FRANCE)
TIGHT SHOT of FABIENNE (engraver) leaning into a computer screen monitor deconstructing an image. She pours herself a drop of tea from an elegant teapot on her desk.
When the drawing arrives in Lyon, a new task begins: analysis. This is a crucial part of the process, whereby the drawing is carefully and meticulously broken down to determine how many frames will be used in the printing process, and to figure out how the colors will be integrated. Some drawings are incredibly difficult to transform into a scarf. It takes worker Fabienne between 600 and 800 hours to décomposer, or deconstruct, Alice Shirley’s “Under the Waves,” and Nadine spent 2000 hours translating Antoine Tzapoff’s “Wa Ko Ni” into silk. On average, there are 27 frames for printing. “Wa Ko Ni” required 46—the most possible.
INT. HERMÈS SILK ATELIER OFFICES
TIGHT SHOT of CAROLE (colorist) working over a drafting table on an image. She takes it to a large table where several colorists sit. They all look at the image, discuss, and take notes.
When Carole, the colorist receives the drawing she then has to propose 15 coloration options. She works with a team she calls the “color committee,” made up of five to six people whose job it is to choose from the 75,000 colors available. The general artistic director then approves their proposals, and production begins in earnest.
INT. HERMÈS SILK ATELIERS
GUY and MICHEL work in a large wooden warehouse. Daylight streams in through the high windows. Guy goes to some shelves on the wall, which are stacked with white pots filled with dyes. A placard on the shelf says “Stroll Versailles.” Michel walks over to the other side of the warehouse, which contains bolts of cream colored silk. The silk is stamped by the steel printing frames, coming out of the press in vivid colors. Michel inspects the silk to ensure that the drawing and color are correct before taking the freshly printed silk to be dried and then washed.
INT. HERMÈS SILK ATELIERS
A SEAMSTRESS takes the washed printed silk and rolls the edges before they are sewn. SYLVIE walks over to her station, and nods.
Once complete, the edge of the scarf is treated with a very specific technique whereby the edges are first rolled before being sewn. Everything is inspected between each step, and nothing is left to chance, but all is done in good humor in a jovial atmosphere. After Sylvie’s final inspection, Guy passes all the headscarves, silk scarves, and neckties through a metal detector to make sure no needles were left on the edge of the fabric. Finally, everything is sent into the world, ultimately finding itself in one of the Hermès shops, and there, from the flapping of a butterfly’s wings, to around our character’s neck.
EXT. GALLERY – DAY (LOS ANGELES)
JENNIFER strides into the gallery down a wide walkway paved in slate and bordered with bamboo. She is elated about the prospects of her appointment. Her Hermès scarf is tied around her wrist now.
JENNIFER kisses her ART DEALER on the cheek, and the two of them move towards a series of paintings on the far wall. Her dealer is speaking, gesturing at a large piece directly in front of them. We can’t hear what he is saying.
TIGHT SHOT of JENNIFER as she scans the paintings and smiles, almost imperceptibly. She moves closer to a small piece in particular, a placard revealing its having been painted by Alice Shirley.
I’ll take that one.
TIGHT SHOT of the RECEPTIONIST as she watches JENNIFER stroll out.
Written by Laura Daniel-Sainteff
Photographed by Louis Canadas