Image credit: Sasha Marro

PARIS: I’m standing at the counter of the famed Du Pain et des Idées boulangerie of the 10th arrondissement in Paris, trying to decide between an escargot aux pralines or a pain au chocolat. According to sources, the pastries here are some of the best in the city – maybe even the world. A slew of Google reviews such as “I’ll never forget the incredible smell of this bakery” will only convince you further. After a moment’s deliberation, I get both. Flaky and fluffy all at once, each bite is better than the next. I leave with no regrets

If you haven’t been, let me be the first to tell you that Paris is not the place to do (or eat) things in halves. One pastry, one shop at Le Bon Marché, one stroll around the Jardin des Tuileries is never enough. It’s not a city of excess per se, but instead a purveyor of the finer things in life be it food, literature, art, romance or architecture. It’s for this reason Paris is a mecca of all that is beautiful and imaginative – a statement that rings especially true when it comes to fashion.

I found myself in Paris not just for the pain au chocolats but as a guest of a fashion house that epitomises said beauty and imagination in spades: Hermès. Of course, French-born high fashion is in no short supply, but few transpose the true ideals of luxury quite like Hermès does. It’s commonly grouped with other luxuriates, but it tends to hover just a little bit higher. It’s no mistake that even the richest people in the world wait months to own of one of its revered Birkin bags.

The pilgrimage to Paris though was not all about Birkins, but rather a launch that had been almost two decades in the making. For the first time in its history, the house was gearing up to launch the Hermès Beaute Métier: a complete introduction to the landscape of colour cosmetics. While the métier has incredible plans set to transform beauty over the course of coming years, it has launched with one single, perfect product: Rouge Hermès, an object devoted to the beauty of lips. “We approach this new métier in our own way, and with a great deal of pleasure,” says CEO of Hermès Axel Dumas. “Hermès Beauty is part of who we are: a house where everything comes from creation, driven by artisans who seek to accompany the men and women of today with elegance, and with the integrity and authenticity that we represent.”

However, to appreciate the Hermès Beaute Métier (and the Rouge Hermès jewel in its crown) one must firstly understand all that came before. The atelier’s 183-year history is one that’s long and rich in detail. With origins in saddle-creation, the essence of the house has always been in craftsmanship – in deft creation and an impossibly high level of quality. Founder Thierry Hermès was a man who was good with his hands – a legacy that has since translated through six generations of the still family-owned business. And while the heart of Hermès still beats firmly for the intricacies of leather goods, two centuries have seen the introduction of menswear, womenswear, jewellery, accessories, home, fine fragrance and now, beauty.

Within all of its métiers, the real calling card of Hermès is perfection, something I was fortunate enough to witness at one of the leather ateliers in Pantin, Paris. A sacred place, phones are confiscated on entry to protect the work of artisans who expertly transform leather and thread into bags. Right from conception, every single thing is done by hand – an unsurpassed tradition involving tools like mallets and knives. Bags are not shared among the group but rather kept by an individual to build and finesse until completion. I wondered if there’s an emotional attachment – how could one spend 30 hours labouring painstakingly over something only to let it go? But I imagine it could be likened to an author writing a literary masterpiece only to not let anyone else read it (which would be a damn shame to put it bluntly). As somewhat of a finality, each craftsperson leaves a tiny signature somewhere on the bag, so that for the entirety of its life, it can always be traced back to who, when, and where it came from. The entire process is magic to witness, especially without any digital proof it happened. They say seeing is believing, but even now I can hardly believe my eyes.

Image credit: Joaquin Laguinge

It’s intricacies such as these that have lent themselves to the creation of Rouge Hermès: the meticulous crafting of leather goods, the rich, vivid tapestry of silk Hermès carrés, the love for all that is whismy and wonderful. Tiny, vintage beauty objects from decades past also played an inspirational part, hidden deep in the vault of the Emile Hermès Museum – an astonishing hideaway tucked above the Le Faubourg Saint-Honore flagship store. The original workspace of Emile-Maurice Hermès, the space is akin to a magpie’s nest, crammed and crowded with shiny, pretty objects (like a rocking horse that supposedly belonged to the son of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte and a painting that sparked initial inspiration for the Hermès horse-and-carriage logo). Now, it’s a place of inspiration for the brand’s artisans, including those involved in the creation of Rouge Hermès – not just a lipstick, but rather 183 years of colour, creation and craft.

According to the brand, Rouge Hermès involved five years of development and years of prior dreaming by Artistic Director Pierre-Alexis Dumas (who has been with the house for some 25 years) and CEO of Hermès Perfume & Beauty Agnès de Villers. Rouge Hermès comes in 24 superb shades spanning both matte and satin finishes inspired by Hermès Doblis and Box leathers. To arrive at this edit though was no simple task. Dumas assembled a team of the best, including Artistic Director of the Hermès Women’s Universe and Creative Director of Women’s Silk Bali Barret and Creative Director for Hermès Beauty Jérôme Touron to investigate colour, a journey that saw them consult an archival collection 75,000 Hermès silk swatches and 900 leather samples. There are staples like slick cherry red and a rendition of punchy Hermès orange, but also surprising hues like rich bourdeax and deep plummy-purple. “At Hermès, colour is an irrational, intoxicating passion, a craftsmanship of nuances, an obsession with striking the right tone, and a language all of its own,” explains Barrett. Each shade transcends the notion of trends, timeless as opposed to timely. With that being said however, Rouge Hermès will feature three limited shades per season – a true collector’s dream.

The lipstick itself however is not where the magic ends. Creative Director of Hermès Jewellery and Hermès Shoes Pierre Hardy certainly tapped the virtues of his artistic abilities when it came to designing the packaging. The result is a striking, graphic bullet so beautiful it almost seems criminal to keep it anywhere that isn’t a glass display cabinet. The tube is made of lacquered, brushed and polished metal in black, white or permabrass gold hardware. As Hardy explains, “I love the simplicity of pure shapes that colours have the ability to animate. Intuitively, to become timeless, this object had to be able to morph, remain iconic, but stay fluid, be part of a connected sequence, and perpetually recognisable.”

And it wouldn’t be Hermès without an element of surprise – each bullet is refillable, and you can add a tiny lip brush made from lacquered wood, Poppy lip shine, lip care balm, translucent liner, a mirror-pendant, or a tiny leather case for safekeeping. In-house perfumer Christine Nagel even designed a custom scent for the product: a soft, woody redolence, or in other words, the perfect incarnation of what a luxury lipstick should smell like. Categorically, it’s a colour cosmetic, but all the elements synonymous with the house – detail, creativity, quirk – make it less object, and more objet d’art. It’s lipstick heaven of the Hermès variety. And finally, it’s here.

Crafty, witty, ingenious Hermès. I can’t wait to see what you do next.

The Rouge Hermès collection will be available from 4th March 2020 in selected Hermès stores and retail outlets in 35 countries.