12 Dec 2019 • Retail
How Hermès’ Petit H highlights its creative process via temporary takeovers
Set and retail design often overlap in the Hermès world. Imaginative store windows and installations are synonymous with the French luxury house’s name, a quality that crosses over to Petit H, an offshoot research-and design-lab-cum atelier.
Launched in 2010, Petit H, in its near-decade of existence, has established itself through temporary installations in Hermès flagships around the world. One stand-out example is a blood-red set-up, designed for London's store in 2013 by Faye Toogood. Most recently, Godefroy de Virieu, creative director of Petit H, called on Singaporean designer Olivia Lee, for a month-long, otherworldly takeover in the Asian city-state’s flagship.
Petit H is a workshop bringing artisans and artists together to create unique objects with materials that Hermès métiers have no further use for, including leather, silk and porcelain. At the moment, Hermès’ website offers a wide range of eclectic, upcycled Petit H products, from pocket brushes and rulers to aprons, bags and necklaces. The team advertises that it ‘works in reverse,’ letting available materials decide how design objects will take shape, rather than the other way around.
De Virieu explains that Lee made a perfect partner because of her ‘deep understanding of how to create emotions through scenography.’ To give setting to the current collection in Singapore while communicating Petit H’s values, ‘storyteller’ Olivia Lee imagined a fantasy-driven narrative. The installation itself references the workshop’s creative process: the team of creatives, in this world, is one of astronauts – astronauts that find themselves on a mysterious planet inhabited by material- and craftsmanship-worshipping aliens.
But the project was not just about creating immersive make-believe. The space importantly maintains the ‘functionality and clarity of a retail experience,’ says Lee. Planet H – an organic terracotta-hue landscape – and Habitat H – an area that juxtaposes tropes of technology and nature – are joined by a stairwell that’s been transformed into a Mylar-lined ‘airlock’. Planet H is an environment with undulating, clay-like platforms, fitted with dioramas of quarries, moving carts filled with Hermès materials and glass cloches with ‘reverential piles of haberdashery’ that subtly hint at the economy and social structure of the alien civilization.
For Habitat H, Lee took reference from the Stanford Torus, a NASA-designed conceptual Space habitat that relies on centrifugal force: here, visitors are encouraged to make themselves familiar with the materials and partake in the Petit H process. Scientific machinery dotting the area suggests the technical achievements of the workshop’s products.
The takeover of the four-storey store is completed by a large-scale window print and an interactive lighting installation. ‘Beyond being a metaphor for Petit H’s creative process,’ Lee explains, ‘The scenography also draws parallels with the origin story of Singapore, a city rooted in turning constraints into opportunity. The project was a pertinent opportunity to rediscover the optimistic imagery of space travel in the 1970s and a concept that emerged at the time, Spaceship Earth – an analogy that sees Earth as a spaceship with finite resources.’
Petit H's next on-Earth destination? Moscow.
Planet H and Habitat H are installed in Hermès' Singapore flagship until 15 December 2019.