Hermès scarves may have adorned the heads of countless sophisticated celebrities, like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Queen Elizabeth II, and Grace Kelly, but the company didn’t get its start as a distinguished fashion house. “Our first customer was a horse,” explained the great-great-grandson of the company’s founder, Xavier Guerrand-Hermès, in a 1980 article for “People” magazine.
Hermès was founded in 1837 as a harness and bridle shop in Paris. It took another hundred years before the company would design a scarf, using the same silk that lined its riding jackets. The first print, called “Jeu des Omnibus et Dames blanches,” debuted in 1937, and was created from a woodblock engraving by Robert Dumas, a member of the extended Hermès family. Named after a popular parlor game, the scarf featured a group of women enjoying the sport at center, encircled by two concentric rings of horse-drawn buses. Over the next few years, Hermès’ silk canvases would feature such romantic imagery as sailing ships, constellations, jungle animals, and, of course, horses.
The 36-inch square silk scarves were soon a mainstay of the luxury goods company, as different artists were commissioned to create their own designs with elaborate detailing and bright color combinations. An individual scarf typically incorporates 20 to 30 different hues, each printed from a unique silkscreen in a process that can take hundreds of hours to complete. More than 2,000 different designs have been produced since 1937, and vintage prints are frequently re-released in new color palettes.
Beginning in 1987, with the “L'Annee du Feu D'Artifice” (or “The Year of Fireworks”), Hermès chose an annual theme for its scarves to dictate the season’s subjects. Regardless of the year, the patterns often feature intricately rendered objects, like a collection of antique canes, elegant riding boots, or a hunter’s weaponry and spoils. Many artists draw inspiration from the contents of the Hermès company museum, whose collection ranges from antique silverware to Middle-Eastern textiles to Victorian toys. Others incorporate flora and fauna, whether creatures of the American Southwest, a flock of flying ducks, or a swirl of French wildflowers.