Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Silence of the Birkins

kent vaughan

Who killed Bambi and Basil Brush? Hermès did! But here’s the good news: the august luxury leathergoods house is trying to bring them and their critter buddies back to life using the powers of visual merchandising. The flash new front window display in Hermès’ flagship Australian store, on the corner of Elizabeth and Market Streets, boasts a kind of Re-animator theme. According to Hermès' VM head Nicole Morgan – who also doubles as the company's Oz PR – the windows depict a mad scientist mixing fragrances in his laboratory in a bid to resuscitate a series of stuffed animals. The Boyac-wallpapered cabinet of curiosities showcases several deer, a warthog, wallaby, buffalo, horse, zebra, eagle and a grey squirrel – which looks to be relieving himself on a vintage Kelly bag.

Not everyone is going to like the contents of these windows, but in frockwriter's opinion, if other Sydney retailers demonstrated half of Hermès’ imagination and initiative with their visual merchandising, we’d have a much more vibrant retail landscape.

Like many other luxury leathergoods houses, Hermès uses leather, fur and exotic skins to make its products. Among the items showcased are a crocodile skin clutch and a deerskin cap hanging adjacent to the warthog (frankly, frockwriter thinks the warthog should be wearing it.)

However Morgan did not seem concerned that in flaunting dead animals in its front windows, the company is rubbing the issue in the face of the animal rights lobby.

Morgan insists that all the taxidermy featured is either antique or else sourced from roadkill, via either eBay, Sydney antique dealer Hunters & Collectors or the Macleay Museum at Sydney University. The only sacrifices made for the window, revealed Morgan, are two Hermès Click Clack ‘H’ bracelets that have been permanently glued to a pair of glass beakers by way of clear resin, as props in the scientist’s lab.

"They're not coming back" she noted.

But the display's humans don’t get off too lightly.

The scientist himself appears to be suffering from overexposure to his chemical cocktail and has wasted away to the fashion industry’s ideal body type – an actual skeleton. There is also another small skull in one inset window.

And adding moreover to the Silence of the Lambs/Buffalo Bill vibe, one window features the legs of a dismembered, kilt-clad female mannequin climbing a step ladder into an imaginary attic.

Frockwriter is bitterly disappointed that we missed Morgan’s last Gothic horror VM masterpiece.

With a ‘Murder at midnight’ theme, those windows, according to Morgan, told the story of a woman who – we kid you not - tried to blackmail, poison and then ultimately stab to death an old woman, to procure the funds to buy a Kelly bag.

Most of the violence was implied, says Morgan, but the mannequin did hold a pair of bloodied scissors in its hands in the final tableau.

Sales of handbags
have helped both Hermès and luxury juggernaut LVMH weather the economic downturn better than some of their competitors (even if the current climate has just prompted Hermès to cancel plans to open two new stores in China). Last week, Christian Lacroix filed for bankruptcy.

For 2008, Hermès reported sales of 1,764.6 million euros, up 10.2percent on 2007. Sales for the first quarter of 2009 grew 3.2percent to 428.4million euros - with first quarter sales in Asia outside Japan up 25.7percent up on the same period last year, to 99.4million euros.

Helping keep those cash registers ringing are the insatiable luxury appetites - and apparently bottomless wallets - of super-rich clients such as Victoria Beckham. Beckham reportedly owns a collection of 100 Hermès Birkin bags, worth an estimated £1.5million.

Prices in the Sydney store start at $40 for a soap and $130 for a fragrance. The brand’s iconic Kelly and Birkin handbags start at $9,000 and $12,000 respectively.

The Sydney store once sold a $200,000 diamond-encrusted Birkin reports Morgan.

all photos: kent vaughan


Rebecca said...

can I mention a funny fact about taxidermy? a lot of pet owners put their pet in to be stuffed but then have second thoughts leaving the taxidermist high and dry and with extra puppies and cats laying around!
don't ask me how i know...

Alicia Bridges said...

Wow, I love this. Not necessarily the taxidermy, but the concept of having a storyline play out in the display window - especially one with such a macabre twist. With so many bright, slick and boring shop-fronts on the streets it's great to see Hermes buck the trend with a display that is more intriguing than clean and modern, not to mention its blatant irony.

Christy said...

The Hermes windows in Melbourne are fantastic at the moment too - full of crazy little robots doing all kinds of things. I've often wondered who on earth their window dresser is, they do such a fantastic job. It's one window I regularly find myself pausing to check out.

Super Kawaii Mama said...

This is pure genius and artistry. I love their imagination, conviction and translation. I recall seeing a sand filled window display (a few months back in Sydney) that seemed to be eating the models.

Dimity said...


TheLibrarian said...

Looks like someone had just visited Evolution in NYC and got all macabre, as they have a similar window at the moment, even down to the Bambi... at least Morgan stopped short of including a conjoined babies skeleton!! (theevolutionstore.com)

Patty Huntington said...

i see the theevolutionstore.com is flogging a stuffed kookaburra for US$1,489.00.

aren't kookaburras a protected species?

TheLibrarian said...

Umm, yeah - the Kookaburra is in the current window display as well. I suppose if it was a 'found dead' specimen, or from a zoo after natural death then okay...ish??

Much of what they offer is 'artist's representation' (re: conjoined fetal skeletons) but at that price tag I suspect the kooka is very real!

Bryanboy said...

beautiful photos

SkirtTheIssue said...

This looks quite imaginative, I like the idea of a top luxury company showing a sense of humor (well, besides the wittiness of their pricing...!)

Hermes is going to feel the wrath of PETA/the animal rights lobby in Australia not only for this, but also for the news that they are now specially breeding crocodiles in Australia for use of their skins;


Kelly bag owners may be needing to protect their wares from a paint assault soon methinks!

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