I pulled open the heavy door and stepped inside onto the mosaic tile floor of 706 Madison Avenue. My eyes swept the first floor as I tried to decide where to begin my tour of the Flagship. It had opened four months before in October and I was finally making my first visit. I inhaled deeply smelling a fragrance that I could not name, but smelled of money, old Hollywood stardom, and polished leather. I knew it would not be the last time I’d visit.
So much of my seeing is done with the tips of my fingers. A Do Not Touch sign an invitation to violate the wishes of the author, or to leave. To abide the request, for someone with a desire as innate to me as the beating of my heart, can only be accomplished through separation.
The curators of the collection had placed most of the objects they suspected the general public might attempt to touch behind glass. There were long display cases on thin tall legs, shadow boxes for traveling exhibits and tall glass enclosures that housed the largest pieces – the signature Kelly Bag in its original stiff leather, no longer in use due to its easy scarring and lack of give – a lady shouldn’t have to wrestle with her purse to extract her wallet or keys, they should be given up to her as if a butler were balancing her belongings on a silver tray by the door as she prepared for exit. They modified the design accordingly, minus the metaphorical butler of course.
There were trunks for travel and riding boots for bandying about the countryside on one’s thoroughbred, and finely stitched leather gloves of course. While I appreciate the craftsmanship, the fine quality of the goods, the status that is bestowed on those that have the financial wherewithal, and refined sensibility to purchase the goods, that is not what drew me to 706, the new home of Hermes, it was the architecture.
I feel the same way about museums of a certain caliber, the art is a bonus, as are the enamel bracelets, the sunflower yellow place settings – artistic jewels in their own right, the silk scarves, and the signature “H” belt buckles which over the years have become a part of my uniform, giving gravitas to whatever mass market find I have donned. While I love art and believe that when you buy something from Hermes you are indeed purchasing a collector’s piece, I was there for the architecture, for the design, for the sublime pleasure of running the pads of my fingers across the curve of the limestone stairs that spanned four stories. I traveled all the way to the top to stare at the oval dome with its expansive medallion skylight. The plasterwork, the ingenuity of a Japanese artist, who created a collage of local trees, perhaps some they had seen as they strolled Central Park.
When I first spotted the technique on the wall inside the men’s third floor salon, which is housed in what was once the Bank of New York. It was low enough on the wall for me to touch the stucco and fully appreciate its delicate beauty. A 20,250SF, massive, yet welcoming store that would make the perfect setting for a first date, free champagne and salons in which to lounge are provided throughout. The wall that supports the four story stair serves as a gallery showcasing over 300 works of art and objects from the family’s collection, giving a couple plenty to discuss as they lounge in teak wood framed chairs, with simple mint green leather cushions, that look beautiful but ordinary until you sit in them. You’ll never want to sit in another chair again.