Hermès fetes its window dresser Leïla Menchari with Grand Palais exhibition
Hermès has feted the opening of a novel exhibition to the very particular art of its long-time collaborator, Leïla Menchari, legendary for her unique skill sets. She is France’s most famous window dresser. Entitled 'Hermès à tire-d’aile - Les mondes de Leïla Menchari', which roughly translates as 'Hermès in a flurry of wings - the worlds of Leïla Menchari', in reference to the lady’s famed flights of fancy.
Many visitors to Paris will be familiar with Menchari’s work – since she has been dressing the windows of Hermès Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré flagship since 1978. Tunisian-born Menchari is a graduate of the Beaux Arts and began working at Hermès in the Sixties, with the former head of windows Annie Beaumel.
“I’ve always felt I had two homes – France and Tunisia. Because chez Hermès I found the love of the artisan that I grew up with in the Orient,” says the 90-year-old Menchari.
Over the years, she’s dreamed up silver Rajasthan fantasies with princely thrones and silver gilt saddles; Moorish cavalry officer tents; remarkable golden crystal winged horses leaping from giant purple gemstones in a set littered with Kelly bags in matching hues; and Big Game Hunter safari windows replete with giant wooden elephants and Ashanti masks.
“Leïla’s very origins in Tunisia inspired the very colors of Hermès. It’s our diversity in Hermès that makes us stronger,” stressed Hermès president Axel Dumas, whose family is one of the great Protestant clans of France.
“Windows are a method of telling a story. Each window is a little theatre, but more difficult than a stage as there is no text or movement. So, one has to become designer, painter, composer and director to make a great window. It’s that simple,” said the benevolent nonagenarian.
Until she retired in 2013, Menchari traditionally presided over the unveiling of her new windows four times a year in a near religious ceremony where staff, Hermès fans and tourists would meet outside. A remarkable series of 137 windows, or as the French call them – vitrines.
Inside the Grand Palais, the house built eight massive windows tableaux, with scenographer Nathalie Crinière working in tandem with Menchari. From a remarkable ecru and white Arcimboldo setting of busts, torsos and masks; to a marvelous steel and leather stallion with a tooled leather space cowboy saddle, it’s a highly atypical exhibition. A tribute to a métier that in France becomes a work of art – where the sheer zest of the creation and assemblage of artisanal skill makes for images of real emotional power.
The exhibition, which opened Thursday, November and runs until Dec. 3, is free. “Window shopping always is too, so we thought that made sense,” smiled the house’s artistic director Pierre-Alexis Dumas.
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