In a white lunar landscape a curled rock, almost taking the shape of a wave, casts its shadow on a wall. Next to it stands a handbag, which seems to be cut out of the same white rock. A bit further there is a green dream landscape, with alcoves, spider webs, and various shapes made out of pebbles forming Archimboldo-esque figures, while dramatic lighting highlights various handbags in the same green hues.
Welcome to the dream world of Leïla Menchari, creator of Hermès's most iconic shop windows, eight of which have been recreated in Le Grand Palais in Paris until December 3. Born in Tunisia in 1928, when Menchari arrived in Paris in 1961, she was but an art student. On showing her drawings to Annie Beaumel, then director of Hermès, who said: "You are a dreamer, aren’t you? Draw me your dreams!" Something Menchari has been doing ever since, she explains:
“When designing a scene, there must always be some mystery, because mystery is a springboard to dreams. Mystery is an invitation to fill in the gaps left by the imagination. A window display is a way of telling a story, and there are all sorts of ways of telling them. It is almost like a theatre where every object has to play its role.”
Hermès trusted Menchari blindly, giving her carte blanche to install a new display for the vitrine of 24 Faubourg Saint-Honoré four times a year for 35 years. Elevating window display into a form of art, the quarterly installations became highly anticipated – not surprisingly in Paris, home of the flanneur, the phantasmagoria of electric light and arcades, as brilliantly described by the cultural philosopher Walter Benjamin.
“We wanted to be surprised. We never asked her what she would do,” says Axel Dumas, head of the fashion house. “Hermès would not be the same without Leïla,” he adds. The luxury brand is known for going the extra mile in its quest for beauty and elegance. Whereas initially the tableaux were made for the handbags, at the presentation in Le Grand Palais - which slightly differs from the original displays - some handbags have even been specially designed to fit the setting. Definitely going for the extra mile.