Celebrating Fashion That Can Be Seen But Not Bought

Celebrating Fashion That Can Be Seen But Not Bought


Pierre-Alexis Dumas, the artistic director of Hermès, said, “More than anything else, we wanted to pay homage to Leïla and her work for Hermès. We could not leave out our brand, because we cannot separate Leïla and her career from our house.”

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A sculpture of Pegasus inside a geode.

Credit
Benoît Teiller

The Hermès pieces in the exhibit are one-of-a-kind works of art and not for sale. (The same was true when Ms. Menchari was creating her windows: Most of the pieces that Hermès artisans were assigned to make for them were never available for purchase.)

Each display in the exhibition is constructed like an intimate, open stage, on a larger scale than an actual Hermès window, but without a barrier of glass that would have created distance from the viewer.

One display, based on a window in 2011, features a horse sculpture of stainless steel and tawny brown leather pieces by the French sculptor Christian Renonciat; it is flanked by matching silver and brown leather-trimmed suitcases.

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“Her windows were accessible and free for anyone who passed by,” Axel Dumas, the C.E.O. of Hermès, said of Leïla Menchari, who oversaw the creation of the luxury house’s picture windows at its flagship location until 2013.

Credit
Benoît Teiller

Another display in shades of white and pale cream evokes India, with an elaborate antique carved wooden screen and a marble fountain from Rajasthan, two marble panels from Jaipur showing Indian women holding lotus flowers and seven Hermès handbags of different sizes. It is inspired by a window from 2008.

A third display includes several intricately hand-carved animal heads from Indonesia against a woven Tunisian backdrop. Exotic dried pods and leaves spill onto the floor. A saddle was embroidered with silk threads and pearls to look as if it had been made with leopard skin; other pieces were made to resemble wild animal skins.

The exhibition coincides with the release of “Leïla Menchari, Queen of Enchantment,” a book published in French and English by Actes Sud and Hermès. Illustrated with 137 window displays, it traces Ms. Menchari’s life and work, from her birth approximately 90 years ago into a family of wealthy landowners to her fine arts studies in Tunis and Paris, her arrival as a window display assistant at Hermès in 1961 and the extraordinary career that followed. (Hermès declined to disclose her exact age.)

“When I came to Hermès, I didn’t know I would come into the most beautiful trap of my life,” Ms. Menchari said at the exhibit, comparing each of her windows to a tiny theater set in which the role of every object must perform beautifully. “You have to seduce, absolutely. Things that are made well never leave you indifferent.”

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