The National Museum of Qatar (NMoQ) is hosting, till 11 June 2022, a fourth chapter of the Hermès Heritage cycle of touring exhibitions, which explores the story of Hermès from its origins to the present day. After Harnessing the roots, Rouges Hermès and In Motion*, the Once upon a bag exhibition retraces the history of bags, which offer a veritable compendium of know-how and design, transcending eras and generations.
This artisanal and creative adventure, part memory and part modernity, is presented here with the assistance of Bruno Gaudichon, curator of La Piscine museum of art and industry in Roubaix, and scenographer Laurence Fontaine. With a narrative approach that juxtaposes the languages of time, the scenography draws parallels between fifty or so contemporary models and objects from the house’s Conservatoire of Creations and the Émile Hermès collection – a remarkable cabinet of curiosities.
The display begins with the history of the Haut à courroies bag, which appeared in the early 20th century. This artefact with equestrian roots bears witness to the house’s expansion into leather goods. Structured into themes, the exhibition continues with an area devoted to the different families of bags – the clutch, the ladies’ bag (Kelly, Constance, Simone Hermès, etc.), the men’s bag (Sac à dépêches, Cityback basketball backpack, etc.), the travel bag (Plume 24h, Herbag, etc.), and the sports bag – and presents the defining stages of their respective stories.
Over the course of the last century, these objects were to undergo great change, accompanying the changes taking place in society. From 1923, Hermès seized the spirit of the age and turned to designing more functional bags for women, like the ‘Sac pour l’auto’, its first model to incorporate a zip, which Émile Hermès brought back from the United States and used for novel purposes. With the growth of travel, the house developed models that were ever lighter and more innovative.
Still today, Hermès continues to invent bags with surprising forms and unique wearing styles, and create emblematic models that become part of its rich heritage. This blend of creativity, artisanal know-how and agility has demonstrated its capacity to adapt to a perpetually changing world and to men’s and women’s evolving requirements.
This presentation of Hermès’ leather goods, which are an ideal playground for innovation, is accompanied by a rich array of iconography to illustrate changing lifestyles and uses.
A room is dedicated to exquisite clasps cleverly engineered with a watchmaker’s precision (Verrou clutch, Mosaïque au 24 bag, etc.). This gives way to more whimsical models with the ‘Bags of Mischief’ collection from the 1980s, designed by Jean-Louis Dumas, chairman of Hermès from 1978 to 2006, which translates fun and quirky designs into leather marquetry.
The exhibition concludes with a dreamlike world. The realms of imagination and reality come together with models that evoke distant horizons, with fairy-tale pieces that illustrate exceptional know-how (Birkin Sellier Faubourg, Kelly plumes, and more). Once upon a bag invites visitors to travel back and forth between past and present to discover bags that are both poetic and functional, crafted for the long term, the fruit of boundless imagination.
*The first exhibition, called Harnessing the roots, was devoted to harnesses and the changes they have undergone. In Motion presented objects that reflect the draw of the outdoors, a desire for fresh air, relaxation and travel; and Rouges Hermès exhibited Hermès’ attachment for shades of red and its palette of nuances.