63 grams is the weight of an Hermès scarf

We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.

Monday, February 28, 2011


Philippe Ledoux
First Issue: 1958
Catalogued: 4D

Dear Lily did it again and kindly lend me her beautiful, extensive research on this vintage jewel, thank you Lily, you are the best!


I received my lovely Phaeton this week and couldn't resist doing a bit of research. (BkM this is especially for you and for shelby for her assistance in authenticating it!):

PHAETON – PHILIPPE LEDOUX (originally issued in 1958)

Any Hermes scarf collector, no doubt, is familiar with one of Hermes’ often used design motifs – the carriage. After all, it’s even part of their iconic Ex Libris logo. Ledoux seemed quite fond of the carriage, as well, and often incorporated various styles in his designs for Hermes.

The carriage in question here is a phaeton, from the Greek phaethon - to shine - and dates to the early 19th century when it was fashionable in France to use classical references (we’ll get to that a bit later.) In carriage speak, the phaeton was defined as a sporty open carriage, drawn by a single horse or a pair and was owner driven. Typically, it featured four extravagantly oversized wheels and was very lightly sprung with a minimal body. It was fast, and it was dangerous. It was also quite elegant, as one can see from the painting by George Stubbs below. Because of its speed and grace, the aristocracy adored it.

And, here we see the various phaetons depicted in Ledoux’s design:

But, there is so much more to this scarf than simply the haute monde out for a pleasant carriage ride on a lovely spring day in the Bois de Boulogne.

Phaeton also refers to the disastrous ride of Phaeton, the son of Helios (Apollo to the Romans) and the ocean goddess, Klymene (or Clymene, an Oceanid), who set the earth on fire in an attempt to drive the chariot of the sun. Phaeton was raised as the foster son of Merops, the King of Ethiopia, and one day his friend, Epaphus (the son of the king of Egypt) taunted him about his parentage.

“Son of Helios?” the other boy said. “A likely story. Your mother is ashamed to admit her liaison with some commoner, and so she claims a lofty lover who’s too 
far away to deny it.”

Phaeton was distressed by his friend’s taunts and went to his mother, asking again about his true father. Even though she had told him many times, she told him once again:

It is Helios. I swear by the River Styx, the dread river of the underworld on 
which the gods of Olympus themselves swear binding oaths. Your father is
Helios, and if you doubt me, you can go to him yourself, for his halls are to the 
east and not far from here.”

Delighted and relieved, Phaeton set out to seek his father’s house, following the directions provided by Klymene. His adventures in the eastern lands were many, but they are no longer remembered. In those days, there were no searing deserts but instead, lush gardens, verdant forests and shallow lakes. Still, he was wandering in wild lands, which according to Herodotus, were inhabited by strange and dangerous creatures. So, it took wile and courage to at last reach the Mountain of the Sun.

He declared himself at the gates, and servants led him up to his father’s great hall to await the chariot of Helios at day’s end.

Helios, when he descended the sky-track and found his son waiting in his halls, was very pleased that Phaeton had sought him out. He embraced the boy and affirmed Klymene’s words that he was, indeed, his true son. Moreover, Helios swore by the River Styx that we would grant Phaeton a wish – any one wish.

“Then let me drive your chariot, Father,” said Phaeton. "For then, no king's son will mock me as a bastard."

“Not that,” said Helios, in distress. “It is not safe for you, my son. The horses
that pull the Sun are fierce and wild. Only I may handle them. Ask me another

“That is my wish,” Phaeton insisted. “Father, you promised.”

At this, Helios was distraught, for even the gods dared not break an oath sworn upon the Styx. At last, he gave in to his son’s pleas and led him to the stable shortly before dawn.

“Fly not too high,” Helios instructed him. “Nor too low. Keep to the zodiac.
That is the middle way.”

Then he put the whip in Phaeton’s hand and helped him into the chariot. He placed the golden helmet on Phaeton’s head, crowned him with his own fire, winding the seven rays like strings upon his hair and put the white tunic girdlewise over his loins, clothed him in own fiery robe and laced his foot into the purple boot. Overjoyed and proud, Phaeton took the reins with great joy and looking down, thanked his reluctant father for his gift.

Meanwhile, the four horses of Helios, Aethon (Blaze), Eous (Dawn), Pyrois (Fire), and Phelgon(Flame), kicked at the gates, anxious to be off on their daily journey.

The bronze doors of the east opened with a clang, and Phaeton stood tall in the chariot as the horses leapt into the sky. They vaulted upwards, red sparks clattering from their harnesses. At first all went well . . . 

(“Phaeton & The Chariot of the Sun,” Athenian red-figure krater, 5th century BC, British Museum, London)

But Phaeton feared that his friend would not believe him unless he had some proof, so he tried to coax the horses to drop lower over Africa, so Epaphos might see him. The steeds fretted in their harness. His weight was lighter than his father’s, and the chariot was already swinging wildly from side to side. Abruptly, they bolted. 

Down they plunged. The sun rattling behind them burned the lower air and set the forests ablaze. Rivers and lakes smoldered and dried up. The lands were parched to deserts, and the people living there were turned brown in the heat. Desperately, Phaeton tried to jerk the reins back and turn the horses upwards. They reared and raced heavenward, leaving the smoking earth behind. The lands below cracked under sheets of ice, and the sky itself began to burn, leaving a white scar in his wake – the Milky Way.

Phaeton drove harder still, drawing the chariot close to Notos (the South), to Boreas (the North), and close to Zephyros (the West) and then to Euros (the east.) With wonder, Luna (Selene, the Moon goddess) saw her brother’s team running wildly below her own. She sensed the impending disaster. There was tumult in the sky, shaking the core of the immovable universe. The very axle, which runs through the middle of the revolving heavens (and holds the constellations in their place) bent under the strain. Libyan Atlas (another son of Klymene) could hardly support the rolling firmament of stars, as he rested on his knees with back bowed under this great burden, and all the constellations and the stars were thrown from their paths in complete disarray.

As Phaeton looked down from this great height, he grew dizzy and ill. With the furious horses of fire running madly before him, he wished he had never set foot in his father’s chariot. But now the chariot was speeding head-long toward the gigantic Scorpion, and the huge monster raised its tail in an attempt to slash Phaeton with its stinger. Fear-struck, the boy dropped the reins completely, and the unchecked horses galloped downwards.

The horses bolted down, then up, then down again, burning and freezing the earth and sky. Zeus, the king of the gods, heard the cries from his suppliants, praying at the temples and looked out from Mt. Olympus. Seeing a stranger in Helios’ chariot, he launched a thunderbolt. There was deafening crash as the lightening shattered the chariot, and Phaeton fell wrapped in sizzling flames. The horses of the sun, now driverless, broke free of their harness, bolted and headed back to their stables on the Mountain of the Sun.

(“The Fall of Phaeton” Peter Paul Rubens, 1605)

(“Fall of Phaeton” by Sebastiano Ricci 1703/04)

The ill-fated Phaeton dropped like a falling star and plunged into the river Eridanos. His sisters, the Heliades, gathered on the banks of the river, and in their mourning were transformed into amber-teared poplar trees. 

(“The Sisters of Phaeton” Tito di Santi for the Studiolo, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, 1572)

“Helios, mad with grief, his bright sheen subdued as in the gloom of an eclipse, loathing himself, the light, the day, gives way to his grief, and then with grief turning to rage denies his duty to the world. 

'Enough,' he cries. 'Since time began my lot has brought no rest, no respite.
I resent this toil, unending toil, unhonoured drudgery. Let someone else take out
my chariot that bears my sunbeams, or if no one will, and all the gods confess they can’t, let Jove (Zeus) drive it, and as he wrestles with the reins,
there’ll be a while at least when he won’t wield his bolt to rob a father of his son; and when he’s tried the fiery-footed team and learnt their strength, he’ll know no one should die for failing to control them expertly.'

Then, all the deities surround Helios and beg and beseech him not to shroud
the world in darkness. Zeus, indeed, defends his fiery bolt and adds his royal
threats. So Helios took in hand his maddened team, still terrified, and whipped them savagely, whipped them and cursed them for their guilt that they destroyed his son, their master that dire day.” (Ovid – “Metamorphoses)

After his death, Phaeton was placed among the stars as the constellation Auriga (the charioteer), or else transformed into the god of the star the Greeks called Phaeton – the planet Jupiter or Saturn. 

His devoted friend (some claim lover), Kyknos, who dove repeatedly into the river Eridanos, attempting to retrieve his body, was turned into a swan (a bird sacred to Helios) by the gods in an attempt to relieve his grief. (You can see his swan’s image in “The Sisters of Phaeton” above.)

Ledoux’s portrayal of the doomed youth, Phaeton and the centerpiece of the scarf:

Obviously, he’s chosen to portray the ill-fated Phaeton prior to his disastrous destiny and fiery death. He is still in control of the horses of the sun at this point, but, sadly, we know the fate that awaits him. 

And, in closing, two of the four lovely corner details - much more docile horses, who, no doubt, would be happy to pull a phaeton through a Paris park on a tranquil day and avoid the fate of Phaeton and his ferocious team.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


First Issue: 1993
Catalogued: 3B

Not only is Hubert de Watrigant a brilliant equestrian painter but he is also a connoisseur of the world of tauromaquia, the art related to bulls and bullfighting as we can see in many of his paintings:

In Plaza de Toros he depicts the traditional elements of a classical Corrida de Toros. The scarf is designed around a broad circle which represents the bullring (La Plaza). In the very center we can see the entourage of authorities (alguaciles) who officially open the corrida, the montera (matador's hat)  two pairs of banderillas and a Matador jacket (la chaquetilla). 

This is the main piece of the Traje de Luces (Suit of Lights) called so for the reflections produced by the thousands of hand embroidered sequins and gold thread. A suit of lights can cost over 4000 Euros and some of the best known toreros wear it only once. Until the 18th century it was made of suede but since then is made of silk and adorned with gold for the matadors and silver for the banderilleros, the hat called montera, is made of astrakhan and lined in taffeta. This is a detail picture of the back of a chaquetilla:

Since the Traje de Luces is entirely hand made by accomplished artisans, it's not wonder that it inspired fashion designers like Galliano, Dior, Gaultier, Lacroix, etc:

Bullfighting and art have always walked hand in hand. The visual intensity of bullfighting has greatly fascinated plastic artist like Goya, Picasso, Dalí or Miró:

Several contemporary photographers have also gotten inspiration from bullfighting, like the French photographer Josephine Douet in her wonderful series on the handsome Spanish matador José María Manzanares:

Back to the silk, we can see other characters depicted on the scarf, like the Mozo de Mulas, Picador and Rejoneador (shown in the next pictures). Around the central motive, there are toreros performing different pases, meaning different figures of bullfighting art: Verónica, Pase de Pecho, Natural, etc. In the corners we can find four alamares, traditional decorations on a classic Traje de Luces.

Although it's the most popular, Plaza de Toros is not the only Hermès scarf inspired by bullfighting, Toros, by Hugo Grygkar is its predecessor from 1952, this scarf is a real rarity, I'll post more pictures of it in my future review on "The rarest Hermès scarves"

Although bullfighting is a sensitive issue for many people, it's also unquestionable that it has drawn the attention of several celebrities from the world of art, like Ernest Hemingway, Grace Kelly, Ava Gardner, Greta Garbo, Charlton Heston, Orson Welles, Mario Vargas Llosa, Mme and M. Sarkozy, etc.

Let's say hasta luego by now with a display of different color ways of this beautiful H. de Watrigant's design:

Friday, February 11, 2011


Dear vintage lovers, I have decided to discontinue the review on Hubert de Watrigant for the time being, the reason is that my dear friend Lily has made the most beautiful review on a vintage treasure, Haute Lice by Ledoux from 1969 and she has been kind and generous enough to allow me to post her wonderful work, read and enjoy!

Text and pictures credits: Lily (thank you so much, dear!)


Philippe Ledoux
Catalogued: 3C

Another wonderful look into the past, compliments of Hermes and artist, Philippe Ledoux.

Haute Lice (pronounced ho-t-li-s) translates to high warp and applies to the process of weaving rather than to a tapestry itself.

In the haute lice manner, the warp is vertical, and the weaver stands behind it while weaving in the figures (or the woof). In the opposite method, basse lice (low warp), the warp is horizontal, and the weaver works in the pattern from above. In the haute lice method, he works from the wrong side of the tapestry (but in the basse lice, it is worked from the right side.) The work of the former method is slower, more difficult and, therefore, more expensive to produce and is considered of a “higher order.” 

These tapestries, which were used as elaborate wall and floor coverings, have their beginnings in the Middle Ages, and the most famous were known as the “Tapestries of Arras,” which were worked exclusively in the high warp method – haute lice - and often included the addition of gold or metallic threads.

From Les Tapis de Haute-Lice (Galerie Girard, Lyon, France, which still produces these tapestries today, worked on a high warp):

It was during the Crusades that Europeans discovered “hairy” carpets in the Near East. The Europeans endeavored to create their own versions and to compensate for economic losses sustained as a result of importations.

From the early 17th century, orientalizing styles are superseded by carpets from the Savonnerie Workshops (cotton is used for both the warp and the woof), and in the 18th century, by those of Aubusson and Beauvais (a combination of cotton used for the warp and wool and/or silk velvet for the woof). As status symbols and statements of good taste, these carpets were for the privileged kings and gentry, but they spread throughout Europe and the West: Spain in the Golden Age; Great Britain and its Moorfields, Exeter and Axminster carpets; America, Eastern Europe, Ireland, Scotland, Austria, the Netherlands and its Deventer workshops; Tournai in Belgium, etc. And in the last two centuries, designs by William Morris, Walter Grane, Charles Mackintosh, V. Horta, J. Olbrich, Frank Lloyd Wright, Sonia Delaunay, Picasso, Starck, Hockney and Harding.

Towards the end of the 20th century, the Aubusson workshops, the last great manufacturers, experienced ever greater difficulty producing and, even more so, selling the last Savonneries, as the cost of labor in the West had priced them out of the market. The last entrepreneurs “burned their boats,” setting up shop where labor was plentiful, qualified, inexpensive and skilled in the old ways.

Very few would succeed. Indeed, only those who already had the know-how in Aubusson technique and who settled in the very area where the most amazing textiles of the ancient world had been in production for quite some time with the enduring legacy of the masters of silk managed to succeed.”

And now – to the scarf.

In Ledoux’s little masterpiece, we see the artisan or licier at work on his high warp frame in the center of the scarf, and he closely resembles this drawing I found. He’s working from the wrong side of the tapestry, and you can see the various shuttles hanging from the weaving he’s completed, each of which used to weave a different color into the woof.

The center ground is a representation of the actual cotton warp – the basis and foundation for the weaving, and the four border panels represent various tapestries in production. I can’t identify them, but I would imagine that an historical tapestry expert could, as I’m sure that Ledoux probably used famous examples as his inspiration. Interestingly enough, Ledoux also incorporated the actual date of the design in Roman numerals in the center plaque - 1969.

Panel I at the bottom is an historical battle scene, perhaps? The figures seem to be running into battle with lances drawn.

The right panel represents a hunt scene, and a rather violent one at that. Hounds have chased an unfortunate stag into a river, and one is leaping at the stag’s throat, while another pack of hounds bays on the riverbank, and huntsmen blow their horns, encouraging the dogs on. Servants push off the bank in a dugout boat, probably to transport the bloody prize back to their lords, who eagerly await a feast of fresh venison.

The top panel is, fortunately, a much more pleasant - a peaceful scene of noblemen and their ladies enjoying a day in the country. One beautifully attired lady plays a harp, while her gentleman friend obligingly holds the music scroll for her, and another gallant offers his hand to a lady in an ermine-trimmed gown, attempting to cross a fast moving stream.

(It’s interesting to note that the costumes in this panel and the left panel appear to be Medieval or Renaissance era, while those in the bottom and right panels look to be more period 17th-18th century dress.)

The left panel is my favorite of the four. The work in progress seems to be Neoclassical in theme due to the Greek temple with Doric columns in the background. 

To the right, we see the proprietress of the workshop accepting payment for the work in progress (an installment plan, no doubt.) She already has a sizable pile of gold coins under her left hand, but she has managed to extract one more from the nobleman’s purse, which rests on her counter. From the look on his face, he seems to be a bit dismayed by the process, akin to a modern day DH paying at Hermes, no doubt!

I’m puzzled by the four figures in the various corners. At first, I thought they were probably famous artisans of the time, but the two in the lower bottom corners seem to be classical sculptures – a boy with a dog jumping at his side and in the opposite corner, a womanly figure, holding a crown in her hand, with a putto, or maybe just a child, at her side and a swan at her feet on the left. Perhaps she is an allegory for Mother France or possibly a reference to the famous Leda of Greek myth. 

However, I'm leaning towards the Leda myth. Notice the putti, particularly the one bearing the crown in the first painting below.)

The two female figures in the top corners appear to be in medieval costume. The one in the upper right is expecting, holding her hand over her pregnant stomach. Perhaps they are patrons or artisans themselves. Unfortunately, they remain a puzzle to me.

What doesn't puzzle me, however, is the beauty and artistry, as well as the historical detail of this scarf. Ledoux continues to amaze me! He is truly a stellar example of Hermes at its zenith.