>> The expression on a well-to-do French couple's face yesterday as they walked into the almost unrecognisable interior of the Hermès store on 155 New Bond Street was priceless. They looked confused and befuddled as they surveyd the temporarily clinical white space designed by Studio Toogood, dotted with islands of repurposed red leather and built up layers of scarlet painted foam. "I just want to buy a tie," scoffed the man. The time-poor cash-rich customer with no imagination can still head up to the first floor for all the normal Hermès goods. However for the next fortnight, Hermès staff will probably have to face similar responses from their normal clientale, as the ground floor of the store has been taken over by a truly dramatic installation by Faye Toogood and her team, to launch petit h in London - the upcycled arm of Hermès, which I had the opportunity to discover when I went to their atelier on the outskirts of Paris a few weeks ago.
I was eager to see the final fruits of labour where petit h would be displayed in a less-than-conventional way. Toogood sought to bring her own take on the "slickness" of luxury retail by literally applying a slick surface to everything - by dipping Hermès silk scarves in rubber for the windows, painting layers of foam in a glossy red with paint drips fully visible and even the Hermès staff got involved by wearing upcycled leather aprons, rubber dipped garden gloves and matching silk sleeves. Toogood knows a thing or two about respecting craftsmen as her own debut collection of coats pay homage to the people that truly graft. So the neon light shapes hanging in the store echo the shapes of Hermès bag pieces and Hermès crafsmen' tools are displayed in a decorative formation.
In amongst this striking and purposely unorthodox store fit lies petit h's special menagerie of playful objects. As I found out at the petit h atelier, every object must emerge with a proper use, be that a flying tea cup that is also a lamp or a leather covered dog sculpture for holding newspapers. Call it useful whimsy. If I was the sort of person that frequently graces Hermès stores to drop a wad, I too would consider a giant calfskin leather stuffed bunny rabbit head to prop up on a sPublishilk covered stool. After the store had opened to the public, a curious gaggle of Chinese customers came in pondering whether to buy a croc-clad toy motor car. How the other half live, eh?
The reuse and repurposing of Hermès' famous silk scarves are probably your best bet for something vaguely affordable with lattice cut bags, braclets and necklaces in the £100-£300 bracket. Purchase or no purchase, it's definitely worth popping into the store just to see how customers react to Toogood's daring antidote to West End posh.
Photos above from Studio Toogood