Did you know that some of the most valuable vintage Hermès scarves were designed by a postal worker in Texas?

Or that at auction, a Hermès box can be worth its weight (if not in “gold”) than surely”silk”?

Can you spot a fake Hermès scarf quickly?

Here are some quick tips for buying or selling Hermès scarves.

Forget the scarf, let’s talk Hermès boxes…

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They’re orange and brown…and at resale original Hermès boxes can add one-third more to the selling price of a vintage scarf.

At Paris auctions, vintage Hermès scarves are currently going for 60 to 100 euros. If the scarf is in its box of origin, add 30 to 40 euros more to the price. The estimated price for a Hermès carré (a 90cm x 90cm square) is determined by age, condition and whether there are price tags and the original packaging. (It might seem bleeding obvious, but it is a good idea to save packaging from any luxury item whether it be Hermès, Cartier, Chanel or Baccarat.)

Over my dead body would I sell my Hermès scarf!

You say that now, but once you’re cooling, your millennium heirs might. Small luxury items can be grouped within a larger auction of succession. Every euro might count to your offspring. Or, if you are not wearing your scarf, why not sell it now while you are alive and kicking? (Treat yourself to bungee jumping or a spa weekend with the proceeds.) After a “certain age”, Hermes scarf wearing and vintage in general, can be tricky to pull off…so perhaps relieve yourself of the thing now.  Granted, the antique auction market is somewhat dismal these days, but vintage mode is thriving and Hermès scarves often fetch better prices than 18th or 19th c. period furniture.

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Vintage can be difficult, but not for the Queen in her vintage Hermès “Regina”.

I threw out the box when we moved.

Now you are in a pickle. Hermès is rather stingy with its packaging. Don’t even think of waltzing in and asking for a box, even with your scarf in tow. It seems that the Hermès mother ship sends “just enough” boxes as scarves to their stores. One occasionally sees Hermès boxes for sale online, although eBay has banned the practice. Caution should be exercised as there seems to be a brisk business in fake boxes easier to copy than the scarves.

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Huh? It seems that Martha Stewart’s design stylist stores his boxes in the shower.  (We only hope the poor chap has a bathtub for his daily ablutions.)

I have no room to store boxes.

Think again, flat boxes are the best way to store precious textiles. And, you can always opt for “storage art” as seen below:

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Style blogs like Apartment Therapy suggest mounting the boxes into an objet d’art next to an appropriately colored floral arrangement.
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Polish artist Carolina Khouri piled Hermès boxes up into sculpture for ARTeria 2013
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This framed “Feux d’Artifice”, in honor of the 150th anniversary of Hermès, topped at 100 euros last week at the Hôtel des Ventes, Chatou.

Lost the box? Don’t wear the scarf? Why not frame it? Considering the price of framing, these pieces of Hermès art priced in the range of loose scarves, could be seen as a bargain at auction. It does seem a shame, however, to hide the back of an item prized for the color on the reverse side. Besides, half the aesthetic challenge is the way the scarf looks folded rather than unfurled.

The Hermès scarf market in France right now…

It is currently a buyers market. Most French auctioneers use the 60-120 euro base for their estimations for the Hermès carré. I have found that auction houses rarely bother to call in an expert to evaluate any scarves in a sale – they are mostly concerned with the more traditional furniture and art. Very few commissaire priseurs in France sideline an expertise in vintage mode, so they are guessing. Many of the most collectible “rare” Hermès examples simply get away from them. With a minimal knowledge of Hermès scarf history, at auction you can find a 60 euro scarf with a resale value of 300 euros and over. A recent article in the Financial Times quotes a retired fashion executive, “I started buying really seriously when the price of gold went through the roof. Because of the recession, vintage carrés were being put on the market by people looking to liquidate some cash and I began to see them as a form of futures.”

For the “buyer”, the prices at Drouot Paris auctions are a bit lower than in the rest of France. If you are a “seller”, try online sales or auction houses outside of Paris.  The clientage for the most part are not vintage experts and bidding is often based on a coup de coeur rather than on collectibility prices. A run of the mill issue fetching 60 euros at Drouot might go sky-high in a provincial bidding war between two ladies who just happen to like the same color.

Here are some tips and “names to drop” when buying (or selling):

The US Postal worker in Texas who moonlights as a designer of Hermès scarves…

Years ago I attended a tea with the late US Ambassador to France Pamela Harriman. I was amazed that the elegant Mrs. Harriman had chosen to wear a Hermès scarf emblazoned with…a giant turkey!

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Lady Pam’s turkey scarf or”La vie sauvage du Texas” by Kermit Oliver (1986)

I assumed that this scarf was Lady Pam’s good-natured attempt at getting ready for Thanksgiving. Ah, how youthful aesthetic taste can be deceiving…this scarf (which I considered rather god-awful at the time) is highly collectible and now fetches up to 1000 euros at auction. Looking at an example now, I can appreciate the variety of colors. Folded, the color combinations are magnificent.

Hermès does not have just one design artist. In any given year, they employ fifty freelance artists who produce some twenty new designs. “Turkey” scarf designer is Kermit Oliver, a postal worker from Waco, Texas. Kermit, known for his paintings of native Americans and western flowers and fauna, is one of America’s most successful African-American painters…when he isn’t sorting mail. He is the only American to have designed a Hermès scarf…make that 16 Hermès scarves.

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Finished sorting mail for the day…Kermit Oliver at his studio in front of his first Hermès design.

It was the founder of the Dallas department store Neiman Marcus who brought Oliver’s work to the attention of Hermès. Kermit Oliver designed his first scarf in 1984, “Pani la Shar Pawnee” depicting a Pawnee Indian chief. This scarf, although not rare, always achieves top prices at auction, even outside the US.

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“Pani la shar Pawnee” (1984) Oliver’s first Hermès design.

Although more than 2,000 Hermès scarf designs exist in the “frigo” (a white metal box in the firm’s offices on rue Faubourg St. Honoré), not all have been produced. Although the artists retain the property rights to the original design, the final creation is very much a collaboration between the artist and the firm’s artistic directors. Hermès tends to work with individual artists, eschewing projects like the enthusiastically proposed “Barbie Doll” scarf, out of fear of royalty battles.

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The Hermès spirit is in the color combinations that are created when the “unfurled” design gets “folded” on the body. Here an example of Kermit Oliver’s (1992) “Kachinas”

It’s all in the cost of labor. After a design is finalized, it moves to the Hermès workshops outside of Lyon where is takes 750 artisans 18 months to produce a final scarf. Flottes, or skeins of raw silk, are shipped from Brazil to the Perrin company in Lyon, who has been weaving the silk for Hermes for a half century. It takes three months to weave the silk for one Hermes scarf.

Hermès’ Queen Mother of Color: Leila Menchari

There can never be too many colors in a Hermès scarf. Each scarf has an average of 27 silk-screened colors. Obviously, the more colors, the more value to an individual scarf, so whip yours out and count the colors.

“Bad colours don’t exist, only bad combinations.”, says Hermès’ Leila Menchari. At the age of 90, Madame Menchari is somewhat of a Hermès legend unto herself. For years, she has been responsible for the windows at the Hermès flagship store.

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Leila Menchari in her Hermès atelier working on her window displays.
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Menchari’s sumptuous Hermès holiday 2010 windows featuring American artist Timothy Martin.

Displays so extravagant that their unveiling is an important event in the Paris art world.  (A volume on these Hermès windows is one of the most expensive coffee table books in Amazon.com history…but I deviate from the subject at hand.)

Menchari, herself, designed a number of highly collectible “colorplenty” scarves like the “Regina”. (The “Regina” was even used as background for the cover of Rosamund Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers.) This design has6736999-m been reissued several times in a number of different base colors. If you own a Hermès, it is highly likely that it might be this popular design. Special editions were produced like the “Regina Prix de Dianne” issued in 1986 or a special “Regina” only available in the United Kingdom, in honor of Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee in 2002. The “Regina” in all its forms, although not rare, is highly collectible.

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Leila Menchari’s classic “Regina” (1972) is hardly rare, but very collectible.

Grygkar, Ledoux and Poret: early classics

Hugo Grygkar (1907-1959):  The very first Hermès scarf, a 1937 collaboration between Hermès family member Robert Dumas and artist Hugo Grygkar, is obviously very much in demand by collectors.

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The very first “Jeu des Omnibus et Dames-Blanches”(1937)

Reproduced from a woodcut, it depicts a traditional French board game (kind of French “Candyland”). The original design was reissued in several colors in order to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Hermès scarves in 1987, and reworked even further for Hermès centennial. Grygkar, the principal Hermès designer after

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…followed in 1957 by a colorful reissue for Hermès’ 50th anniversary…
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…and a complete overhaul of Grygkar’s basic design in 2007

World War II, was responsible for over a 100 Hermès designs which have been issued and reissued over the years. If your scarf is horsey or nautical, there is a good chance it is a Grygkar. Unfortunately, he never signed his work.

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Grygkar’s “Combats de Coqs” (1954) is considered very rare as it was issued only once.

Philippe Ledoux (1903- 1975) was an artist/illustrator responsible for some 90 Hermès scarf designs. In 1947, Robert Dumas of Hermès, impressed with Ledoux’s ability to draw horses, asked him to turn his talents to the carré.

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Philippe Ledoux’s “L’Océan” (1959) with his ever-present nautical theme.

A marine enthusiast (Ledoux was illustrator for the publication Neptunia for the Musée de la Marine in Paris), Ledoux emphasized nautical themes in designs like Musée, L’Océan or Vielle Marine. His last two carrés, La Marine (a Rames) and Les Trois Mousquetaires, were finished by his nephew after Ledoux died from a motorcycle accident. Hermès issued a number of Ledoux’s carrés after his death.

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Ledoux’s very collectible “Groenland” (1982) design. If you are a fan, there is one coming up for auction at Drouot later in the month.

Xavier de Poret (1897-1975)

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Poret’s “Les Ecureils” (1967) is an example of his sketch-book like designs.

You may be already familiar with Poret from an exhibition of his animal illustrations in 2013 at the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in Paris. Poret is also known for his sketch-book like renderings of horses, dogs and animals of the forest as

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Detail of “Les Renards” (1956), Xavier de Poret

Hermès scarf designs. Amongst the Hermès designs, Poret’s work is easy to spot and a rare find for collectors. Luckily, he signed his designs prominently with an “X Poret”. If your scarf is more “pen and ink” than a wash of color, it could be a coveted Poret.

Commemorative Hermès issues

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Re-edited design by Henri d’Origny for the Queen’s 90th birthday.
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This “Air France” issue is EXTREMELY rare as it was offered for sale only on airplanes. At auction it can fetch up to 400 euros.

Scarves which were issued only once demand top auction prices, as well as scarves issued for special commemorations or even designs for companies. (Don’t snub your nose at that “Air France” scarf you got on the plane years ago, the resale price is more than you paid for it.)

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This design by Joachim Metz, celebrates the centennial of the Statue of Liberty in 1986, and at auction can fetch 400 euros.)
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Detail of the “Cosmos Pegusus” commemorative issue for the 70th anniversary of Air France.

…and then there are were the jacquards

Jacquard is the term used for a raised pattern woven into a fabric. Hermès stopped producing jacquards in 2001 due to costs. A jacquard scarf will typically sell higher than a silk twill. According to Carré de Paris (a treasure trove of information on Hermès scarves), there is a pecking order in jacquard value…for example:

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…”Les Fêtes du Roi Soleil” by Michel Duchêne (1994) with its much less intricate design
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“La Comedie Italienne” (1962) a jacquard design by Phillipe Ledoux will typically sell for more than…

…latter day Hermès classics

Caty Latham is known for her design “Les Clés” which is one of the top ten best-selling scarves in Hermès history.

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Caty Latham’s “Les Clés” (1965) is one of Hermès’ top ten sellers and with her “Ferroniers” (1970) does well at auction.

Also known as Cathy Latham-Audibert, her first two designs (“Les Clés” and “Vendanges”) have no signature; in later issues one finds “Caty”, and in the last issues “Latham”. She has been designing for Hermès for over 40 years.

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“Neige d’Antan” (1989) consistently brings 300 to 800 euros at auction.

 

                                                                                                                                                                     

Claudia Stuhlhofer-Mayr:  This Austrian designer, former Artistic Director of Augarten Porcelain in Vienna, is responsible for the scarf design which is one of the most sought after of the Hermès carres…the “Tohu Bohu”(Chaos).

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The”Tohu Bohu” (2004) design has been reissued in a variety of colors, and even  on Hermès art objects.

Both at auction and vintage resale, this scarf always brings in top prices. (I must say that I am stumped as to why this particular design is so popular and if anyone can elucidate here, please do.)

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Of course Pavarotti is laughing. He has a “Tohu Bohu”. We hope he saved the box!

…and a most expensive tote bag sums it up

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The “Cas de Sac” (2005) shopping tote that deserves a second glance. There is one coming up for auction later in October at Drouot.

In 2005, Hermès issued a shopping tote for the exhibition “Cas de Sac” at the Museé de la Mode et Textile, Paris. Each bag was constructed from some 20 chides (scraps) from popular Hermès scarves. If you have one, remove your baguettte, bananas and clementines at once….these totes sell for over 700 euros at auction.

How to quickly spot a fake Hermès scarf

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Scarf hem is folded and machine stitched…NOT Hèrmes

This is actually not too difficult – even if you are in the bowels of the Vingtimiglia Friday market. Modern imagery technology has enabled the more dubious sorts the ability to reproduce complex designs, but there is one thing that cannot be done cheaply – the hand-stitched hem:

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This IS a Hermès. Scarf hem is rolled and hand-stitched (neatly, but like most items made lovingly by hand…not perfect – so if it is too regular be wary).

Also note that… © Hermès… is found on scarves dating after 1967.

Great reference sources for Hermes scarf research

Carre de Paris  -a marvelous shop and blog dedicated to the Hermes carré

Hermes Scarf Guides -a facebook page which is an excellent encyclopedic reference with many, many photos

Hermesology – a top-notch reference by a true scholar of the Hermès carré

8 thoughts on “Hermès Scarf Hearsay

  1. Fascinating article, Kristina! I love the story about Kermit Oliver. I too may have some forgotten treasures that I need to resurrect.

    Like

  2. Fantastic article, Kristina! I loved the story about Kermit Oliver. I too may have some forgotten treasures in my collection.

    Like

  3. Kristina,

    I’m so glad that -quite by chance – I clicked on “Read Comments” at the bottom of the scarf page. Such a lot of fascinating info – and in your inimitable style. Bravo!!!!

    Now I’m going to see if I can do the same for the marqueterie de paille.

    But am I wrong in saying one doesn’t see your name anywhere??

    XXX

    Sally

    Like

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